Unless you have been living under a rock these past few days, you probably know that Donald Trump has attracted a lot of controversy (and rightly so!) for vile things he has said about women. But in case you missed it, the object of the media frenzy is a video from 2005 that was shared by The Washington Post last week.
This is not Trump’s first or last venture into sexism-land. In this particular video he is heard boasting about how he forces himself on women, kissing them without prior warning or consent and even grabbing them “by the pussy” (his words). For starters, I fail to grasp how the latter would be enjoyable even in a consensual relationship. But much more importantly, this is a lesson in toxic masculinity and male entitlement to female bodies, from a man who could be the future president of the United States.
He has since downplayed the comments by calling them “locker room talk”. What locker rooms? The ones of young entitled men, who later rape unconscious women and get away with light sentence, because they allegedly are assets to their school?
The fact that he said those things in the first place, that he is still in the race for presidency, and that there are still many people defending him are problematic indicators of rape culture being here to stay. It’s depressing, but it’s not surprising. Most sexual assaults and violent crimes are committed by men. Men are raised to be alpha males, taking their negative emotions out on others and imposing their desires, by a society that glamourises guns, war and violence and objectifies women. Vulnerability or talking issues and emotions out are considered too feminine for these “real men”.
I feel a bit sorry for Donald Trump. He is 70 but appears unable to question himself. I understand that he appeals to some people: he represents the status-quo, or some imaginary version of the status-quo in the United States, with no immigrants (full of Native Americans then?), but full of all-American pride and all the imperialism-fueled veteran-celebration nonsense that goes with it. If a bigot can become very rich, maybe I can too? If a chauvinist can become president, maybe I can too? If an ugly person can force himself on women, maybe I can too? A very unfortunate version of the American dream.
Without fundamental shifts in people’s mindsets, toxic masculinity and rape culture aren’t going to go away. There is however a little bit of hope in that there’s a step between believing one is entitled to other’s bodies, and actually doing something about that belief, i.e. forcing yourself on other people.
In a study on the power of our surroundings, F. Kuo and B. Sullivan compared the behaviour of two similar groups of people living in public housing in Chicago. The residents with trees on their doorsteps showed significantly less violent behaviour compared with their neighbours who had more barren environments. Numerous studies have further confirmed the calming power of nature. Natural scenes help generate empathy and altruism. Green spaces that look cared for are comforting and reduce the likelihood of heat-of-the-moment violence. And well thought-out public spaces can also encourage contact with people different from ourselves and thus foster mutual tolerance.
Therefore, may I suggest that until Trump and his apologists grow up enough to recognise women’s agency as equal to theirs, they take a short walk
off a long cliff in a wooded park?