Over this weekend, the news broke that Donald Trump indisputably said incredibly sexist things on tape about a decade ago. News of Trump being sexist is nothing new, Hillary Clinton has made sure that women know Trump has a history of being sexist, rude, and generally unpleasant to the women around him. Even if Secretary Clinton wasn’t having her campaign write the ads about his behavior, New York Times, Huffington Post, and many other news organizations have all reported on it as well.
But something about the most recent set of comments seems to be shocking the American electorate more than ever. NPR Politics and the crew of people at FiveThirtyEight all denounced Trump. Many other pundits did too, of course. The theme of their messages were all along the lines of, “Wow this man is uniquely horrible, and he is the literal worst.” (One commentator in the most recent FiveThirtyEight said something that was almost word for word the same.)
The problem is this: Trump is not the worst. Even among U.S. Presidents, Trump is not an outlier. Thomas Jefferson raped Sally Hemmings, Lyndon B. Johnson was infamously inappropriate, John F Kennedy supposedly had his own extra-marital affairs, and he was not the only one for sure. All of this is without even mentioning the possible future first spouse/Former President Bill Clinton. It is an obvious abuse of power to sleep with the intern as the head of a company, let alone as the head of the United States. Aside from Monica Lewinsky, there have been multiple harassment allegations and also a rape allegation.
The point is that nothing is achieved by renouncing Donald Trump without acknowledgment that this is a persistent problem in society at every level. Yet, nearly every think piece or response I have seen thus far lacks that slight nuance. Even though this tape has encouraged so many women to post online about their own sexual harassment, we are still left decrying Trump as if he isn’t the product of a society which continually encourages objectification and harassment of women.
What’s more, many men have come forward saying that this is not normal locker room talk, as if they are trying to distance themselves from the comments. I am not a man, so obviously it is impossible for me to make any categorical statements about how men speak when they are in private. That being said, I’ve heard more than my fair share of sexist comments from men in public who were speaking to their friends, and from men who were friends of mine speaking to me. I can also say without any hesitation that the sexual harassment I’ve experienced sure as hell didn’t come from Donald Trump. Instead, it came from customers at the coffee shop I worked in, people on the street, classmates, men in bars, etc. All of them were average normal men, because sexual harassment is the norm in our world.
Finally, every politician who is saying that they, as a father of women, cannot stand Trump’s comments are also infuriating in their own way. Yes, they get a gold star for renouncing obviously inappropriate comments. However, I am tired of women only being recognized as people deserving of respect once they are daughters/sisters/mothers to men. Women make up roughly 51% of the population; men have to work and interact with women constantly. I don’t want the deciding factor on whether or not men are going to be sexist to me on any given day to be dependent on if they have a good relationship with their daughters/sisters/mothers.
So what can be done? What can solve this problem? To be honest, I don’t know. I realize this op-ed is positing a problem without a solution, one of my personal pet peeves, but please bear with me. The answer seems obvious in some ways; respect women and don’t treat them as objects. Yet something that seems that simple is apparently hard to achieve. In the short term, I hope that it isn’t too much to acknowledge that the sexism we are abhorred by in Trump is present everywhere.
This article was written by Claire Schapira. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: The Telegraph