How do we cope with the pervasive presence of a man who, in his fear of being outdone by a woman, advocated for her jail time and hinted at her assassination?
The moment of betrayal is the worst, the moment when you know beyond any doubt that you’ve been betrayed: that some other human being has wished you that much evil. ― Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
The week before the election, I couldn’t listen to him anymore.
His voice boomed over the radio: boisterous, gravelly, with a hint of syllabic drag suggesting some mysterious danger in the distance to keep supporters on their toes. THANK YOU, ANTHONY WEINER! to thunderous applause, and I punched the dial.
I had filtered out the witch-hunting masses’ chants to jail their demagogue’s opponent, their hands raised rapturously at rallies across the country. These hands crafted signs that read “Trump vs. Tramp,” and “Trump That Bitch.” They spray painted his name on burned black churches and onto banners hung from bridges, like the one I passed under on my way to work.
At least, I had told myself, this nightmare will be over soon.
Growing up, I knew men who belittled and humiliated women. Men who silenced their wives at dinner tables. Men who teased them when they put on weight during pregnancy. Men who revised the truth on a whim and exploded with narcissistic rage at anyone who questioned their new reality. Men who forbade their wives from working outside the home or, fearing competition and female success, sabotaged their careers. Men who used every unwashed dish, every below-average grade to mock and debase the women and girls closest to them.
Perhaps unsurprisingly as a result, I later became involved with a man who told me that a career in education was worthless and that I’d never amount to anything. Instead of being treated as a multi-dimensional person with my own interests and aspirations, I was reduced to a sexual object and harassed ad nauseam to fill this incessant demand. If I did not comply with requests that I found uncomfortable or degrading, I would be punished with the silent treatment or with threats, most of them related to humiliating me to our mutual friends.
When I see Donald Trump on television or hear his voice crackling over the radio, I am not just reminded of the psychological and sexual trauma of my past. I relive it like an open wound, a scab that needed more time to heal but has now given way to a trickle of fresh blood.
Donald Trump’s persona—and by extension his campaign—has been a composite of psychologically abusive tactics. He lies with the frequency and indifference of a petulant child, shaping his own reality and thereby the reality of his supporters. Anyone who threatens this alternate universe is eliminated from it via repetitive interruptions, projection, intimidation, or gratuitous acts of violence. This compulsive lying contributes to gaslighting—a psychological term for manipulating another’s reality. Gaslighting is meant to throw the victim off base, leading them to question their own recollection and judgment. It also builds on a continuum: If the victim is frustrated, confused, or afraid, they may not speak up, giving the abuser license to construct lies that are more elaborate and more difficult to distinguish from the truth.
His language reflects the isolation abusers impose on their victims. “I alone can fix it” dismisses the checks and balances of our democracy in the same way that friends and family are regarded as antithetical to the control in an abusive relationship. “I am your voice!” which Trump shouted at the Republican National Convention, negates the voices of his own followers by demanding unquestioned allegiance. His language is also habitually degrading: Aside from the obvious horror of “grab her by the pussy,” Trump’s reference to “blood coming out of her wherever” communicates a rather symbolic lack of concern for the anatomical structure and health needs of women.
I am far from the only woman sickened, exhausted, and re-traumatized by Trump’s rhetoric and actions. Many publications, including the Huffington Post, have reported on the surge of women seeking therapy during the election. “His efforts to control Ms. Clinton and the dynamics of the debate (through his interrupting, his talking over and more loudly than Ms. Clinton) coupled with his very well-developed ability to evade accountability of any kind certainly reminded me of how men who batter operate,” one domestic violence counselor noted. Lives spent walking on eggshells are the price we pay for keeping abusers like Donald Trump comfortable.
I have spent far too long feeling stupid and worthless if I am not good at something, and threatening if I am. How do we cope with the pervasive presence of a man who, in his fear of being outdone by a woman, advocated for her jail time and hinted at her assassination?
I have been told explicitly in a past relationship that my only worth was tied to my sexual function. That if I “withheld” this function, I was nothing more than a machine not properly servicing its user, and that if I operated as requested, I deserved to be treated “a certain way.” How do we look into the eyes of an elected leader who says you can just grab us by our genitals? You can do anything.
Women know that existing while female is a constant tight-rope of sacrificing intelligence, ambition, and opinion. We should be careful not to be too smart, not to be more successful than the men who have always been at the top, and above all, to be amenable in all matters so that our achievements never make anyone else feel badly about their own.
We must not publicly disclose who touched us, and where, and when, lest we tarnish the image of a beloved football player. We are liars, crooks looking for some extra cash while smearing a powerful name. We must be good girls and never speak of the ones who groped and harassed us, assaulted us, called us cunts on the streets and in our homes. We must stuff the muddy disassociation between our bodies and minds, the sensation of something having been stolen from us, down to a place so secret that it will never interfere with politics as usual.
How do we direct our helpless rage as the woman who cracked the glass ceiling, the social democrat who united a generation, and the First Family who stood up for the value of little girls across the nation recede into the distance, replaced by walking intolerance and corporate greed?
The hate we have seen throughout this election did not materialize out of a vacuum. It was squirming under a rock like the most repulsive of vermin, and this election turned over that rock. The most radical thing that we can do in the face of this mess is to love one another as much as we can.
We have to love. We have to listen to one another, especially those who are different from us. We must create art, music, beautiful things, to demonstrate that there is a spirit inside of us that can never be taken away. We must care for ourselves first and foremost even if it means turning away from his face on the television; we owe him nothing. We must hold on to our inherent value as women—as human beings—and hold on to the love that our male allies have shown us through their votes against and condemnations of this horror.
When they go low, we go high.
Chelsea Cristene is a communications associate and English professor based in Washington, DC. She has been published by the Good Men Project, Salon, xoJane, and MamaMia, and runs a film review blog, Catch Up, with fellow Role Reboot contributor Telaina Eriksen. Find her on Twitter.