A man who groped a woman on a flight told authorities that Trump “says it’s OK to grab women by their private parts”. Here’s proof that the language used by politicians has real-world consequences, says Stylist’s digital women’s editor Moya Crockett.
It is now more than two years since the infamous Access Hollywood tape was leaked to the press, revealing that Donald Trump had gleefully boasted about sexually assaulting women.
Coming just four weeks before the 2016 presidential election, the recording prompted a scandal that many thought was certain to derail Trump’s path to the White House. Surely, millions of people believed, American women would not – could not – vote for a man who bragged about groping women’s genitals.
But women, or at least 52% of white women, did vote for Trump. In a textbook example of how Republican women brushed off his comments, Kathryn Serkes, the co-founder of Women Vote Trump, told Vice News: “Sometimes men are indeed pigs… Doesn’t make it right, but we know it goes on.”
How did women like Serkes perform the mental gymnastics necessary to vote for Trump? They had to convince themselves that his Access Hollywood comments were ultimately harmless and empty; macho repartee of the kind you could hear in any bar or gym, any day of the week. (Trump himself dismissed the remarks as “locker room banter”.) They had to believe that his words would have no real negative impact on the world at large.
But, of course, they have. For starters, many women feel psychologically and emotionally wounded by the knowledge that the most powerful man in the world once boasted about forcing himself on women and grabbing “’em by the pussy”. Even if you don’t live in the States, that truth still feels like a punch to the gut.
Then there’s the fact that the Access Hollywood tape has served to validate and embolden a particular breed of man. Think about all the men in the world who had little respect for the opposite sex and their bodily autonomy long before Trump ran for office; who view and treat women as nothing more than sexualised objects.
For men like this, the tape is confirmation that their attitudes and behaviours are not only acceptable; they are actively endorsed by the president of the United States. Trump’s remarks give them permission to treat women however they like.
We saw this toxic effect in action this week, when the news broke that a man had attempted to defend himself for groping a woman on a plane by citing Trump. Bruce Michael Alexander was arrested on Sunday on a charge of abusive sexual contact, after he allegedly touched a woman’s breasts on a flight from Texas to New Mexico.
According to an affidavit filed by the United States District Court of Albuquerque, 49-year-old Alexander told authorities upon being arrested that “the president of the United States says it’s OK to grab women by their private parts”.
Time reports that Alexander later changed his story, insisting that he had been asleep for most of the flight. But the woman, who has not been named, says he twice reached forward and touched her breast while sitting behind her.
It’s a disturbing story, but one that perfectly highlights how the rhetoric used by powerful people can encourage ordinary citizens to behave badly – and even abusively – in the ‘real world’.
We saw this in the UK when hate crimes spiked after the Brexit referendum, a period that saw certain politicians use divisive language and dog-whistle racism to drum up support for the Leave campaign. We’ve seen it in Italy, where a rise in racist attacks has been attributed to the new government’s anti-immigrant stance. And we’ve seen it in the US, where hate crimes, discrimination, bullying and harassment towards Muslims jumped 15% during Trump’s first year in office – a time when he frequently engaged in Islamophobic discourse and introduced policies targeted at Muslim countries.
And now, it seems that Trump’s misogyny is emboldening men who want to grope women. Given that this is a president who has been accused of sexual assault and harassment by over a dozen women, and who has openly mocked and dismissed credible allegations of sexual assault against his male political allies, is it any wonder that men in America believe they can do whatever they want to women without consequence?
Here’s hoping the feminist fightback against Trump is successful at the US midterm elections – and white women finally realise what they’re endorsing by supporting him.
Images: Getty Images, Pexels