Trump isn’t the other, as Obama suggested in her speech today. Trump is the man who catcalls us as we hurry to work in the rain, with our heads down trying to avoid notice, and he is the man who brushes up against us in the elevator, ever so subtly, yet ever so purposefully.
Speaking at a Hillary Clinton fundraiser in New Hampshire, Michelle Obama spoke out strongly against Donald Trump’s mistreatment of women and “bragging about sexual assault.” As I listened to her speech, it was tempting to get caught up in the power of her words and to believe that solving America’s problem with misogyny is as simple as electing Clinton to the presidency. Yet, hidden among her criticisms of Trump and her reminders that most men don’t speak of women this way was the acknowledgement that women are raped every day.
It’s easy to cast Trump as the villain. It feels safe. He is, as Clinton said last month, deplorable. He is so abominable that he is a caricature of misogyny. But, Trump is only one man. Without the support of millions of voters, he would be just another man in a sea of men just like him. He is powerful and dangerous precisely because he strikes a chord with millions of men.
Trump isn’t the other, as Obama suggested in her speech today. Trump is the man who catcalls us as we hurry to work in the rain, with our heads down trying to avoid notice, and he is the man who brushes up against us in the elevator, ever so subtly, yet ever so purposefully. Trump is the man who tries to get us drunk at parties, and he is the man who ignores us when we tell him no. He is our grandfathers, fathers, brothers, and even our husbands. He is all around us.
We all know the statistics around rape. The 1 in 5 number is burned into our brains. But when women were asked on Twitter to describe their first sexual assault, just their first, millions responded. It’s hard to find a woman who has never been catcalled, sexually harassed, or treated with disdain because of her gender. Yet, as of this writing, New York Times polls indicate that Trump has 40% of the vote; among men, he polls even higher. In fact, without the male vote, Trump would be losing by a landslide.
I’ve read many essays that appeal to Trump supporters in the wake of “pussygate.” They share their stories as survivors of rape and sexual assault, and they implore men to hear their stories and understand their pain. Their words are powerful, but beneath them I recognize a familiar pattern. It is victims begging their abusers to stop and pleading with them to understand. But the abuser isn’t just Donald Trump—it’s a cultural construct that normalizes sexism and misogyny.
I recognize this pattern because I’ve lived it. I used to believe that my abusers didn’t understand how they were hurting me. I shared my pain with them only to watch them distort or manipulate it to cause me even more pain. The more they hurt me, the more I begged them to understand. I recognize this same desperation in the words of the survivors who implore Trump’s supporters to reconsider their vote, as if just one more story or survivor account will erase their misogyny.
Trump voters have heard our stories. We have shared our pain. There is no amount of sharing that will change their minds. On a fundamental level, these men don’t love or respect women, and there’s no amount of talk that will change their minds. The more we try to make them understand, the more we allow ourselves to be victims; the more we hand our safety and rights to them, and the more we waste our time trying to change minds instead of springing to action.
Obama called women to action today, asking them to vote against Trump, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle. The most important piece is for women to reject our victimization. Instead of begging our abusers to make it stop, we need to take action from a place of empowerment. This means acknowledging that the men we love are hurting us. It means erecting firm boundaries with abusive individuals, even when they’re our family and friends, refusing to tolerate misogyny or casual sexism, and ensuring that we aren’t perpetuating toxic behaviors from a place of internalized misogyny or the self-hatred we feel when our own trauma isn’t heard or believed.
I know that this is impossible for some of us. We are all at different places in our own journeys and not everyone is ready to end toxic relationships or to demand something better from their loved ones. No one needs to take on every aspect of dismantling misogyny, but we all need to take on a piece of it if we want anything to change. We didn’t create this mess, but it’s clear that we are the only ones who are going to clean it up.
This, too, is familiar to many of us. As we recover from trauma, we learn to set healthy boundaries and to walk away from people who simply can’t respect them. We learn to own our truth, to speak out, and to be comfortable with who we are. We also learn that healthy people share their experiences to build intimacy and understanding; and those who use our pain against us, who twist and distort the truth, aren’t worthy of our stories or our trust.
I won’t be asking Trump voters to change their minds anymore. I certainly won’t be sharing my story in another feeble attempt to change their minds. I’ll be looking my father straight in the eye and asking him how he can vote for Trump when he knows my story. And instead of pretending it doesn’t matter, for the hundredth time, I’ll be prepared to let it be known exactly how much it does.