Last week, a tape was released of a private conversation between Presidential candidate Donald Trump and Billy Bush of Access Hollywood. You can read the transcript and listen to the video here.
One thing I promised myself as the Founder of The Smile Project was that I would stay neutral on all controversial topics. I wouldn’t make a “Happiness is” for or against a political party. I wouldn’t bring up charged issues. I wouldn’t place joy on anything that was disagreeable. Happiness should be something we can agree on.
That’s why I’ve waited so long to retort to last Friday’s scandals. I’ve thought a lot about the weight of those words and I’ve read articles from psychologists, doctors, politicians, and celebrities about the controversy.
As a disclaimer, I am none of those. I don’t claim to understand the human brain or the Electoral College or the pressures of stardom. I am simply a girl who lives in New York City and writes stories about Happiness.
But I do have one major qualification to speak about last Friday’s tape. I am a woman.
This is not a post about politics. This is a post about being a female in 2016.
*This post is also written from the viewpoint of a straight woman. I am aware that this behavior happens across all gender and sexual orientations and is not meant to overgeneralize.*
The entire tape is obscene, graphic, and not suitable for work. In the research I’ve done on this topic, I’ve found that most people are focusing on Trump’s use of the word “pussy.” And yes, it is totally unprecedented and wildly outlandish to hear those words come from someone who is running for President of the United States. But that’s not what got me.
I read another article that focused on the action verb of “grab” because “grab” denotes taking something by force, often times something that doesn’t belong to you. Grab is an aggressive word and while I agree with everything this article spells out, there was still something worse lurking a line later.
Trump says, “I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful... I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything."
Forget who said this for one moment.
To my ladies reading this now: how many times has a guy kissed you unexpectedly or pushed you past your comfort level and apologized with something along the lines of: “I can’t help it; you’re just so beautiful.”
Because that makes it okay.
Because it doesn’t matter that you didn’t want to kiss them. It doesn’t matter that you were minding your own business. What matters is the fact that they called you beautiful.
So it’s okay.
They said you were pretty. And from the time you were a little girl you were told to politely say thank you. To not make a fuss. To be respectful when someone does something nice for you or says something nice about you – even if it makes you uncomfortable.
And so they touched you or kissed you or worse without your consent and were so bold as to let the blame fall to you almost instantly. Because you were “too pretty.” Or you were “too beautiful.” Or maybe you even flirted just a little.
Does this sound familiar?
Because what I’m doing now is spelling out rape culture.
And I’m tired. I’m tired of seeing it portrayed by movies and media and god forbidden even somebody running for President.
I watched the debate on Sunday and I listened to Trump blow off his comments three times by saying the tape was simply “locker room talk.”
And I heard him say that they’re just words. And to him it might be. It might simply be his 30 seconds of humor but Mr. Trump, I would have to ask that you look into the eyes of the 78 American women that will be raped over the course of the next hour and tell them that it’s just “locker room talk.”
See, I’ve written about street harassment before. I’ve been worked up and angry about things that happen as I walked down the avenues as a single woman in New York City. And for a moment, in prepping to write this post, I was ready to dive into the story of the strange man who grabbed my hip as I walked down Broadway at noon on a Sunday.
But I want to take a different approach. Because most people recognize that’s bad. Most people have a conscience that can comprehend that kind of basic insanity.
What I want to address is the smooth talker. Because sometimes the bad guy isn’t the creepy older gentleman on the sidewalk. Sometimes the bad guy has a nice laugh and listens to your stupid stories.
Sometimes the bad guy seems well-meaning and good intentioned. Sometimes the bad guy calls you beautiful at a time when all you want is to feel pretty. And so sometimes you’ll listen.
And then sometimes that sweet, charming guy kisses you with the defense of, “I can’t help it; you’re just too pretty” and how can you respond to that? How do you respond when you’ve spent your entire life in polite eloquence – not causing a scene, not stirring up dramatics? How do you respond when the blame has already fallen to you? It doesn’t matter that he took advantage. You were at fault for being “too beautiful.”
One final point. This isn’t about politics. This isn’t even about Donald Trump. This is about the culture that is permeated when this behavior is written off as “okay” or “boys being boys.”
I’m proud of the professional athletes who retorted his claims that this is normal “locker room talk.” I’m sorry that an influential individual with a microphone attempted to degrade the sanctity of your profession in a morbid attempt at deflection.
But deflection can’t work anymore. Ignoring this issue hurts everyone – from professional football players to 12-year-old girls.
So let’s talk about it. Let it make you uncomfortable. Let your older relatives know that saying “boys will be boys” isn’t okay. Let your little cousins know that they are allowed to say no. Talk about sex. Talk about consent. Address the issues that seem taboo and for the love of all that is good stop treating women like we are nothing more than something that was created for your entertainment.
We are more than someone’s daughter or girlfriend or sister. We are architects of dreams and weavers of poetry.
And we are sick of being spoken about and treated as less.
With fatigue and respect,