April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Our first blog entry of this month comes to us from Christy Ferguson of SIUE’s English Department and the SIUE Women’s Studies Program.
American culture dictates that we, as citizens of this country, respect and honor our leaders. However, how are we, as women, expected to honor a man that has been recorded saying the most incredibly demeaning things about us as sex? A man who has a proven track record of utter disrespect, not just for the women in his life, but for women in general?
The answer: We will not. We cannot.
Having leaders who openly and unapologetically express their dominance over women, not only perpetuates the misogynistic attitudes we have become accustomed to, but outright condones this behavior. We teach our children from a very young age to admire our leaders, who are expected to be positive role models. We encourage our children to follow in the same paths, study their lives, and respect them in their positions of authority in our country. So, when we elect a leader who embodies sexist attitudes and openly expresses them, this is incredibly problematic, not just to young women, but also to young men and our culture as a whole.
As our children grow and learn, more often than not, the media has quite an influence on the way that they see the world. They learn by following the examples set for them, not only in their households, classrooms, and peer groups, but through depictions of powerful people in the media. Of course, there are different levels of power from celebrity, to internet sensation, to the President of the United States. However, despite that distribution of power, children tend to emulate the things these people do. It is understood to most children that there are appropriate and inappropriate things that a person can do and say, not just in their lives in general, but in public to other people. Growing up in a society that has consistently shamed women for being sexual and men for being too sensitive, they grow to embody those ideals without even trying. Now, we have a president whose misogynistic comments and actions have been thoroughly documented. This was not just a minor slip up or words twisted by media outlets. The fact that they are being continually overlooked as if unimportant is a matter of contention.
Consider some of the ways we have seen President Donald Trump talk about/treat women:
- The content of his numerous interviews with Shock Jock Howard Stern
- His outright refusal to shake the hand of German Prime Minister Angela Merkel.
- His utter disrespect for women in politics and the media during the 2017 election debates. Examples:
- Megyn Kelly: “…blood coming out of her wherever.“
- Carley Fiorina: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?
- Hillary Clinton: “Even a race to Obama, she was gonna beat Obama. I don’t know who would be worse, I don’t know, how could it be worse? But she was going to beat — she was favored to win — and she got schlonged, she lost, I mean she lost.”
Although these few instances should be evidence enough of his lack of respect for women, the most alarming and well-known instance of his misogyny was the recorded discussion passed off as “locker-room talk” in which he blatantly admitted to sexual assault. Please, let the sink in for a minute: our POTUS outright admitted to sexually assaulting women and laughed.
What is sexual assault? Many seem to use the terms sexual assault and rape interchangeably. However, it must be understood that sexual assault incorporates a large spectrum of perpetrated actions, whereas rape is much more specifically defined. Although these terms can be intertwined in many ways, there is little understanding to what extent women in the world have been victims of sexual assault.
Have you ever had someone grab your rear-end while walking through a crowded bar? That is sexual assault. Have you ever had someone try to kiss you when you have made it very clear the you are not interested? Sexual assault. Have you ever had someone purposely rub up against you too closely on a public train or bus? Again, sexual assault. Sexual assault is ANY unwanted sexual contact from anyone. Therefore a man who claims he has aggressively pursued physical contact with women without their consent, is a perpetrator of sexual assault. A man who says, “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…Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything,” is a perpetrator of sexual assault. This man is now our president.
Imagine what young people take from this. Young boys grow up seeing that it is acceptable to degrade women this way. Young girls grow up seeing that it is acceptable to be degraded. By excusing this behavior and accepting a man who has been so openly misogynistic as leader of this country, we are showing our children that this behavior is not just acceptable, it is rewarded with power, money, and fame.
Imagine what recovering sexual assault and rape survivors must feel knowing that the man who holds the most powerful position in the nation has said and done the things that he has. Imagine the fear and shame that is attached to seeing a man such as this controlling laws and regulations on women and their bodies in America. They are seeing him being thoroughly celebrated while they suffer, mostly in silence. Typically, victims already feel shamed and ignored enough that they fear reporting these instances to law enforcement. Now that our POTUS has made it clear that sexual assault is a joke, what will happen to the rate of reporting? My fear is that victims will report even less than before and sexual assault will not just continue to happen, but increase in instances and intensity.
Every day, images in media already depict things as disturbing as domestic abuse, stalking, and rape.
LEFT IMAGE: Dolce & Gabbana advertisement. Three men in various states of undress stand around another man who is pushing a woman down to the floor by her wrists. RIGHT IMAGE: Jimmy Choo advertisement. A woman dressed in white who looks to be dead is in the open trunk of a car in the desert. A man in all black sits on the rear bumper with a shovel in the dirt.
These images have consistently desensitized our culture to the audacity of these actions. The actions and words of our political leaders should not continue to reinforce those ideas. We truly need leaders who will stand up for women, not against them.