The Silver Lining of Trump’s ‘Hot Mic’
I have no interest in being political in this piece. I think we can all agree that this election has been deeply contentious and unpleasant. I’m not an insane Pollyanna always looking for the silver lining in everything. There have been a lot of controversial statements and a lot of vitriol. Something that has really stuck out is Trump’s comments on a hot mic describing sexual assault and general grossness.
I’m not going to even attempt to hide my political leaning. I am adamantly pro choice, and I am a proud feminist. I was disgusted by Trump’s remarks about “grabbing pussy” and horrified at his disingenuous description of late term abortion. After the hot mic incident, I noticed something really interesting happening on my admittedly left leaning Facebook feed. People, both men and women, were posting about their experiences with sexual assault.
There were people talking about truly horrific experiences, about reporting crimes, and about going through the courts. I congratulate these people for being brave and sharing their stories, but I also saw another set of comments. People started sharing about their everyday experiences with assault. People were talking about that time someone groped them while walking down the street, or creeped them out on public transit, or followed them home. These incidents were never reported, because they are an everyday reality for so many people.
A very informal survey of my friends led me to realize that we had all experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault that we probably should/could have reported to authorities. The guy who followed you home, the guy who recorded your sexual encounter without your consent, the guy who took off your clothes while you were drunk. These are surprisingly common experiences, but we don’t ever talk about them. We are told our whole lives that we shouldn’t overreact. We are given no real recourse for street harassment, men rubbing up against us, or general creepiness. When it escalates, we still believe that we have no real recourse.
I’ve been in a number of uncomfortable situations where I wish I had spoken up, but felt like I would be seen as hysterical. The one time I did speak up, this belief was confirmed. I accidentally locked myself out of my apartment on Christmas at 2am. I had been walking a friend out to their car and forgot my keys. A man found me sitting in the hallway of my locked building trying to figure out my next move. He cornered me, whipped out his penis, and made a series of rude gestures while reaching for me. Happily I was larger than him, pushed him away, yelled, and pounded on my door until I woke up someone and got back into my apartment. When I went to talk to the building, I was told that there was nothing they could do, that the security cameras don’t work, that it didn’t matter that I knew what unit he lived in. I spent the next year walking up five flights of stairs rather than ending up alone in an elevator with this man.
If I had been older, more informed, or had different resources, I might have pushed it further, but I felt like I had no options. If I had known that every woman I knew had gone through a similar experience, I might have been more insistent or braver. Instead I just kept walking up those stairs. I am so happy that people are talking about the reality of every day harassment and assault. Hopefully, this will remove some of the stigma and help people be braver about talking about their experiences.
We live in a world that expects you to be destroyed by sexual assault. If you use a scary word like assault, you should be ruined. Sexual assault survivors have PTSD, sexual assault survivors have a hard time trusting others, sexual assault survivors spend years navigating the legal system. All of these things may be true, but it’s important to know that so many people around you have experienced some kind of sexual assault.
Why are the women who claim to have been groped by Trump only coming forward now? Because I promise you it wasn’t the only time they were groped. If every unpleasant sexual encounter were reported, there would be a flood of people every day talking about their daily harassment and assault. I don’t want to diminish the experiences of people who have had profoundly traumatic experiences, but I do want to emphasize that there are a lot of very common experiences that are defined as assault. The people who experience these might not be traumatized for life by a single incident of having someone follow them home, but it certainly shapes their perception of the world.
Okay, maybe I am a Pollyanna looking for the silver lining in this crazy storm. Still, there is something incredibly inspiring about seeing this controversy bringing people together and opening up new discussions. It has seriously made me reevaluate how I think about sexual assault. Knowing that I am in the company of many makes me question how complacent our society has become about everyday harassment and assault. I hope that the many people who are sharing their stories has also helped to reduce some of the stigma around sexual assault and encourages people to talk about “minor” incidents.