Like many, — perhaps most –men, I long dismissed the idea of rape culture. Sure, I knew rape and sexual assault occurred. Some of the most important women in my life suffered from sexual abuse. But I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that such despicable conduct was widespread, or that there were aspects of wider culture that enabled this. I saw accusations of rape culture as a cudgel, used by a certain variety of feminist activist to criminalize ordinary sexual behavior. I was reminded of scholars like Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon, who were alleged to have suggested that, given power disparities between men and women, women can never really consent and, therefore, “all heterosexual sex is rape.”
But no longer.
I have had the benefit of having some remarkable women in my life: my incredible wife, Ellen, my best friend, Melissa Greenwald, the extraordinary Cathy Reisenwitz. These are smart, successful, sex positive women. When they talk about the issue and what they have experienced in their lives, I have to listen.
When 9.7 million women post their experiences with sexual abuse under #notokay, I have to pay attention.
When I look at the way rape and sexual assault are treated by the courts, I have to take notice. The case of Brock Turner was not an aberration.
But perhaps the final straw was the Donald Trump groping tape. Not so much the tape itself, but the reaction to it. My Facebook and twitter feeds have been full of messages making excuses for Trump’s actions. I am told that this was nothing more than “locker room talk” or “vulgar language.” No, it was bragging about sexual assault. Yes, men and women often talk crudely about the opposite sex, but we do not, one hopes, kiss women or grab their private parts against their will.
Others have suggested that it’s not really assault, since the women didn’t explicitly and publicly object. Wrong. It’s not up to women to fight back, it’s up to men not to rape. Similarly, women are not to blame for their assaults because they were in the wrong place, drank too much, dressed provocatively, or had sex in the past.
And still others downplay Trump’s responsibility by suggesting that even though he may have bragged about grabbing women against their will, there’s no solid evidence that he actually did so. There are a fair number of women who claim that he did act in this way, or otherwise harassed them, but I’m not going to litigate that here. Rather, even if Trump was lying, his words and attitudes convey the idea that such conduct is acceptable. That, by itself, contributes to a climate where other women can be assaulted.
(And, yes, if Bill Clinton is guilty of even half of what he is accused of doing, his conduct is equally to be condemned.)
I’m not suggesting that every drunken fumbling between college students should be turned into a criminal matter. I’m not suggesting that those accused of sexual abuse should be denied due process. I am saying that the playing field is not level. The culture today too readily accepts the idea of male sexual aggression and entitlement. We can and must change the social attitudes about gender and sexuality so that women are treated as equal partners.
Life is a learning process. I never thought I would be saying this, but thank you Donald Trump for continuing my education.