How many women, I ask you, were implicitly trained as girls and as teenagers that to refuse the sexual desires of a man was a moral injury to the man? How many women were trained to see sexual indiscretions of men as their own moral stain? How many men are trained that locker room talk about women was a way to express their manliness and strength? And how many boys does this deeply wound, forcing them to suppress who they really are to become the men they think they are supposed to be?
I’m sure Donald Trump thought he was being awfully manly when he said those things about taking women how and when he wanted. I’m sure it made him feel powerful, and probably Billy Bush as well, this relatively young upstart, sitting with this multimillionaire and laughing with Donald while they demeaned the woman they were about to meet when their bus arrived. When they shared this secret between them as they got off that bus and pretended to be honorable and upstanding men, they thought the joke was on her.
Well now, the joke is on them. And really, it was never a joke. This is the thing. We women learn very early on that this is how men will talk about us. At first we are shocked, horrified, and often overwhelmed with shame, thinking that this really is about us. That we did something to deserve it. We try to learn to accept that this is simply what men do, thinking it will make our lives easier and that we will face fewer disappointments. After all, do we really have any power to change it? Sometimes we fight back, often we lose the fight. Apparently, at least 1/3 of us have been raped. And those are just the physical rapes. There are other kinds of rape that that go beyond who put what in where.
Last week, during the Vice Presidential Debate, someone on twitter posted that the moderator, a woman, should stop trying to moderate men and go back to the kitchen. I retweeted the post with my own comment, “This is what sexism looks like.” What followed was a firestorm of what I presume were men, ganging up on me, telling me to go back to the kitchen, to make them a sandwich, that I wasn’t beautiful enough to have an opinion, that I was a f***** bulldyke that no man would want. Someone posted a picture of a horse next to mine and said its teeth were smaller (this isn’t the first time a man has made fun of me for my rather large front teeth). Someone posted a picture of a ghoul with my name on it, I was called a god damn feminist who needed to learn a lesson, and on and on and on. There are others but I stopped reading. It was rather startling to see how fast the woman-bashing train left the station and how many men hopped on. I ended up simply blocking every single offensive tweet.
I struggled inside with what was happening. I am beyond the place of internalizing any shame for what I said or being hurt by what those men were saying about me. I know that the comments have nothing to do with me and more to do with their own hatred. They were showing themselves for who they are. But what I did take personally was that this was an offensive launched not only against me but against any woman who dares to speak her mind, who dares to call out sexism. If I had been a young woman unprepared for this onslaught, how would it have affected me? My sense of self-worth?
Now this is a rather obvious example, but there are other ways that it happens to me and other women, more silent and sinister ways, like when I hear ideas I’ve expressed at a meeting claimed by men as their own (and yes, this has happened to me in every Unitarian Universalist church I have served). I’ve had men tell me, especially when I was younger, that they thought I was smart for my age. Somehow I was supposed to take that as a compliment. I doubt that anyone would say that to a man. I’ve been complimented, sometimes too eagerly, on my clothing or my figure. If I was starting my career over again, I would wear a robe every single Sunday to lessen the comments on my clothing choices or my body. I know many women who robe for exactly this reason.
These comments are lessening as I get older. The grey hair and the growing wrinkles, although fairly slight yet, are making a difference. But I know that eventually I’ll pass the threshold into “old woman” and I’ll become more and more invisible and less and less threatening, unless I actually try to claim some authority. We see where this is getting Hillary.
What Donald Trump said on that bus and all these experiences I’ve had, and many woman have had, are all connected. They happen because we are seen as lesser than, of lesser value, and of a value determined more by our bodies than our minds.
All of us have internalized sexism. I can honestly say that some of the most dismissive and hurtful treatment I have received as a Unitarian Universalist minister has been from older women. Again, I try not to take this personally. Women are encouraged to turn against each other and compete with each other. It’s how patriarchy is perpetuated. Those of us who are young are envied by those who are older. Those of us who are young will dismiss older woman because they no longer have what we have, youth. Older women will act out against us because we have what they used to have, youth. I once had an older woman tell me that there was no need to spend time with younger women. She had nothing to learn from them because she had experienced everything they had. They had nothing to offer her. I found that to be an exceedingly hurtful comment. And I’ve seen younger women pity older women, dismiss their ideas, see them as “has beens” with little left to offer. When we do this do each other, we perpetuate sexism. We punish each other for the oppression we all experience and often have no words with which to name.
So when we hurl epithets of outrage at Donald Trump, and he deserves every single one and certainly should be kept as far from the White House as possible, remember that the fact that he actually said those things, and had other men laugh with him, is a scourge that belongs to all of us. There is nothing unusual in what he did. It happens all the time. What is unusual is that we seem to have reached a line in the sand when making this behavior public could actually hold a man in search of power accountable for his actions. A man could fail to reach his goal because he disrespects women.
May we anchor ourselves in our own inherent worth and dignity. May we raise little girls who have no shame in raising their voices and expressing their opinions, who know without a doubt that their bodies are their own and that consen can be given and it can be taken away, at any moment, with no danger resulting. May we raise little boys who learn to respect women, to listen to women, to see their own manliness as an expression of respect and strength through love. May we of all genders love our bodies, our spirits, our minds, and see our deepest yearnings for wholeness as an expression of the holy, waiting to be released into the world