In the aftermath of the release of the tape of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump casually bragging about how his status allows him to “grab women by the p*ssy,” the Trump campaign has become the embodiment of rape culture, taking the national conversation along for the ride.
Surrogates on national news platforms rushed to defend Trump’s comments as just “locker room talk,” something “all men do, at least all normal men,” as Carl Paladino put it. Other defenders have gone a step further, arguing that the GOP nominee was simply trying to be manly — his son Eric Trump characterized Trump as acting like an “alpha,” while TV pastor Pat Robertson said Trump was just trying to seem “macho.”
Ben Carson says he's heard lots of "locker room talk" like Trump's. @brikeilarcnn says she hasn't. Carson replies "maybe that's the problem"
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) October 11, 2016
Then, despite Trump’s argument the tape was irrelevant because it was “just words,” women started accusing Trump of sexual assault.
Of course, a long record of Trump’s behavior toward women was already public —back in May, the New York Times published an expose of Trump’s private behavior that contained more than one anecdote of unwanted sexual contact, and some women have filed lawsuits against him alleging sexual harassment and attempted assault.
However, since the story broke of Trump bragging about what amounts to sexual assault, more and more women are coming forward with their own stories of experiencing groping and harassment from Trump throughout the years. On Wednesday night, media outlets published accounts from several women who say they were assaulted by the presidential candidate.
“Here come the rape police.”
People writer Natasha Stoynoff came forward with a story of Trump pinning her against a wall and kissing her at Mar-a-Lago. Mindy McGillivray alleged that she was groped by Trump, also at Mar-a-Lago. Allegations made in June by Miss Washington 2013, Cassandra Searles, were brought to the forefront by local media. Searles said that while she was in the pageant, Trump “continually grabbed my ass and invited me to his hotel room.” And two women came forward for the first time, telling the New York Times that Trump had groped and kissed them without their consent.
In response, the Trump campaign and the conservative media quickly moved to deny these allegations — and silence and smear these women.
All these stories of sex, lies and videotapes. No mention of prosperity-inducing tax cuts DJT contrasting prosperity-killing tax hikes HRC.
— Larry Kudlow (@larry_kudlow) October 13, 2016
Conservative commentator and informal Trump adviser Larry Kudlow reduced the allegations to “sex, lies, and videotapes.” Fox News host Monica Crowley suggested the onslaught of victims coming forward would reveal the true victim — Donald Trump. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough said he was “skeptical about the timing of all of this dropping.” Former Trump manager Corey Lewandowski, now a CNN commentator, suggested the accounts were politically motivated. Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson suggested the women are seeking their “15 minutes of fame.”
“Here come the rape police,” Rush Limbaugh complained.
The campaign has also threatened they might take legal action against the women. A high-ranking source in the campaign signaled to CNN that the campaign might go after individual women, saying that “politically motivated accusers better lawyer up.”
“Comments that minimize the significance of sexual violence create feelings of shame and fear, and keep victims silent.”
The Trump campaign is downplaying assault, denying women’s stories, and actively attacking them for coming forward. And by implying that this talk is acceptable as “manly banter,” they’re normalizing a toxic form of masculinity that tells men they have a right to women’s bodies.
That’s textbook rape culture, according to Laura Palumbo, the communications director at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Rape culture “is reinforced by attitudes that normalize violence, myths about sexual violence, blaming victims and devaluing women,” Palumbo told ThinkProgress via email.
“Using sanitized terms such as ‘locker room talk,’ ‘crude language,’ or ‘It’s a guy thing’ makes invisible the real harms caused when people engage in behaviors that support rape culture,” Palumbo said. “It makes the violation of boundary and body invisible, numbs us to the sting of name calling and objectification and trivializes the responses of fear that are invoked in the thousands of people who have been grabbed on the bus, spied upon in dressing rooms, harassed in the workplace, or otherwise abused, raped and assaulted.”
Donald Trump and his campaign, right now, are highly visible — and they’re telling women that their stories of harassment and groping are unimportant, trivial, and untrue. They’re also telling men that it’s normal to treat women as objects over which they have some right. Many men have come forward to protest this characterization — but many others have backed it up.
Palumbo suggested that this may have a lasting impact on sexual violence survivors, who are watching the backlash that women are facing for coming forward with their stories about harassment and abuse.
“Comments that minimize the significance of sexual violence create feelings of shame and fear, and keep victims silent — which in turn keeps people who cause harm invisible,” she said.
Soraya Chemaly, the director of the Women’s Media Center Speech Project, pointed out that even the Republican men who are disavowing Trump are betraying the other side of rape culture: seemingly benevolent paternalism that casts select women as needing protection from strong men.
“Trump crossed a line, and the line that he crossed was he put on displays of a very predatory and exploitative core of paternalism and benevolent sexism.”
“This is a man who repeatedly says what all conservative politicians say, which is that we love women, we adore women, we put women on pedestals,” Chemaly said. That feeds into the widespread idea that protecting women is central to masculinity.
But the tape — which caught Trump crassly denigrating women in private, moments before switching into his smoother public demeanor — exposed the hypocritical core of this paternalism.
That helps explain why the ubiquitous frame for GOP men’s outrage is that Trump has denigrated their mothers, daughters, and wives.
Hitting on married women? Condoning assault? Such vile degradations demean our wives and daughters and corrupt America's face to the world.
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) October 8, 2016
— Brianna Keilar (@brikeilarcnn) October 8, 2016
And crucially, Trump was talking about women who looked like these men’s wives and daughters: white women, married women. This fits into the longstanding racially motivated trope that while most women are fair game, some good women — white women of a certain class — are supposed to be protected from predatory men, usually men of color.
“As with anything else related to rape culture in the United States, this is so deeply racist,” Chemaly said.
Trump himself has built his campaign on fearmongering about supposedly predatory men of color. Shortly before Trump’s hot mic tapes took over the news, he said that the Central Park Five — five black and Latino teens who were imprisoned for the brutal assault and rape of a white woman — should have been executed, despite the fact that they have since been exonerated by DNA evidence. He infamously kicked off his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and warning they’re bringing this crime into our country.
Imagine, for a second, if a black candidate had been caught on tape making Trump’s comments about women.
“As with anything else related to rape culture in the United States, this is so deeply racist.”
While Republican men purport to be horrified for their mothers, daughters, and wives, Chemaly suggests that outrage actually comes from a sense of shame over being associated with a man who broke the boys-club “locker-room” rules and exposed them, rather than from a real concern over women.
During the debate, she points out, Facebook released a trends analysis showing that Trump’s lewd comments were the number one issue on women’s minds. For men, the comments didn’t even make the top five.
“It is an abstraction for most men. To try to explain why sexual harassment, street harassment, the threat of rape, effects our ability to go to school, walk freely, to get jobs, to keep working in certain places, it’s like it doesn’t matter. It’s like its just a trivial thing. And clearly, women’s response to this indicates that its not trivial to them.”