So a couple of things happened this week.
Bob Dylan won the Nobel for literature. That was so wonderful it lifted me up and filled me with joy.
And Donald Trump’s history of sexual battery is now the big story of the week. This did not lift me up, but it is filling me with hope.
For a long while, “Things Have Changed” was my favorite Dylan piece: “People are crazy and times are strange/ I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range/ I used to care, but things have changed.” The older I got, the less things bothered me. I cut things out of my life that made me feel like less, embraced the things like Dylan that filled me with joy, and I thought I’d found a level of Zen that would see me out the door.
Then Donald Trump happened.
I was sure he’d be defeated in the primary because he was so vile, but it turned out that when there are sixteen candidates in the field, vile can get you a significant number of pissed-off white men to give you the nomination.
Then he proceeded to violate everything my country is supposed to stand for: He’s racist, anti-immigrant, sexist, and stupid. Any one of those things should have disqualified him but he kept moving up in the polls as racist, anti-immigrant, sexist mouth-breathers in this great nation fell in behind him and made America less great. (Or as he put it, “I love the poorly educated.”)
And then came the second debate. American debates have always had their weird moments–this may be my fave–but this debate had a question that changed everything. Anderson Cooper said, “You bragged that you sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?” and Trump denied it: “I didn’t say that at all.” And then the kicker: “Have you never done those things?” “No, I have not.”
And then the deluge. The thing about that kind of not-quite-rape-but-still-assault crap is that it lives in a twilight zone, that “Oh, big deal, so he touched you without your permission, get over it” zone, the “don’t make a fuss, just move on” place that so many of us have been in. We shove it back into memory and we think we’ve forgotten it, and then . . .
Almost every woman I know has had something like this happen to her, because almost every woman has had this happen to her. And we don’t say anything because it doesn’t do any good, because it’s no big deal, because that’s just guys being drunk or being assholes. We put up with catcalls on the street and comfort ourselves in old age because at least we’re not getting harassed and assaulted any more. It’s just life as a woman. Shrug your shoulders and move on.
What I realized this week, what I think a lot of women realized this week, is that I did not move on. I just shoved every grope into a dark place in my mind and locked the door on it all. And then Anderson Cooper asked the right questions and didn’t stop asking until he got an answer, and a lot of brave women said, “The HELL he didn’t do those things, he did them to me,” and the door just disintegrated. I’m so angry, not just because Donald Trump is a vile and evil human being but because of all the damn men in my past who knew that the most that would happen if they grabbed me was a fist to the nose, that their buddies would laugh and high five them and they’d be “winners” no matter what. There’s a reason most gropers smile when you confront them: They think there’s nothing you can do about it.
Donald Trump is plummeting in the polls because he thinks there’s nothing American women can do about him. But I think he’s unleashed something that’s going to change things. I’m enraged, not just by all the incredibly anti-feminist defenses his people are putting up, but also by so many of the half-hearted condemnations from men who can only see things in the context of their experiences. “As a husband and a father . . .” makes me so mad I could smash the TV. “Until they came for MY women, I wasn’t concerned . . .” How about “As a human being, I’m appalled by this molesting predator and think he should not only be defeated but go down in so many flames that he makes the Chicago fire look like a barbeque.”
Of course, his alt-right base loves this stuff; they’ve started the hashtag “#repealthe19th” because if women didn’t have the vote, Trump would win. (I find this suspect; there are a lot of deplorable men in this country, but there are a lot of good men, too, and I refuse to believe that the majority would vote for an evil human Cheeto.) They’re eating his misogyny up with a spoon, the same way they consumed his racism and fascism (“If I’m elected, I’ll lock Hillary up!”) and religious zealotry and utter inability to see himself and themselves as the nightmares they are. He’s Their Guy because he’s given them a focus: Elect Donald Trump and the world will belong to Poorly Educated White Christian Men Again.
But now Trump has given another group a focus: Women. He’s released so many buried memories that the weight of them is sending him plummeting in the polls. All that repressed rage–“Don’t be angry, sweetie, it makes you less attractive”–isn’t buried any more, it’s pouring out into essays and internet comments and conversations everywhere women gather. Hell, yes, it happened to me, and I was mad then, and I’m still mad, but now I’m not feeling guilty for being mad, now I don’t feel powerless about it, now I’m going to fight back, not just by voting against Trump because that was always a given, but by taking down anybody who says, “That’s just locker room talk,” (no, it isn’t, as any number of athletes and former athletes have stepped up to refute), or “If they were upset about it, why didn’t they say something?” (because saying something always makes things worse for the woman than the man), or “It happened twenty years ago, why get upset about it now?” (because you NEVER FORGET, that’s why, you sexist entitled asshole). I’m even angry with all the men who are saying, “My god, this is vile, I never saw any of this” because it was right there in front of you, it happens all the time, everywhere, and don’t tell me no man you know would do these things because unless there’s a small band of men roaming the world molesting women 24/7 for decades, you sure as hell do know men who do this. You just haven’t noticed because you haven’t had to. It’s not happening to you. And for a long time, when we told you, you laughed. Or you said it was no big deal. Or you patted us on the shoulder and said, “That’s awful, honey” and changed the subject. Because it wasn’t sexual battery it was just guys being guys.
It’s a big deal. And I think it’s an even bigger deal that women are talking about it now everywhere, sharing stories that make us angrier. For every Katrina Pierson making dead-eyed excuses from an alternate dimension there’s an enraged Mary Beth Glenn telling her fellow conservatives that this is a moment of reckoning: “If you can’t stand up for women & unendorse this piece of human garbage, you deserve every charge of sexism thrown at you . . . ”
I hope Glenn is right when she says to the Republicans, “. . . one by one you’ll watch more women like me go, & you’ll watch men of ACTUAL character follow us out the door. And what you’ll be left with are the corrupt masses that foam at the mouth every time you step outside the lines.” I hope this galvanizes the GOP to become a real political party again because the country needs true conservatives for balance, and I hope this changes the national mindset on sexual battery so that my granddaughters will at least be empowered to smack the guy who gropes them while loudly letting everybody in the room know that he’s a predator who should be shamed and derided.
But what I know is that it’s changed me by awakening all that buried rage. I wish that younger me could have fought back more than just smacking the guys who groped me, I wish she hadn’t grown up in a sit-down-and-be-quiet-and-don’t-make-waves anti-female society, but mostly I’m glad that Anderson Cooper asked the right question and Donald Trump gave the wrong answer and that Mary Beth Glenn tweeted from the other side of my political spectrum, and that women everywhere are talking and supporting each other and making speaking out the norm. That’s even better than Dylan getting the Nobel.
I used to pretend I didn’t care, but things have changed.