For the past several nights, Donald Trump has been in my nightmares. Here in Holland, people have been asking me about the election pretty non-stop, wanting to know my thoughts on his chances of winning and looking to me for answers for how someone with literally no experience in public service could advance so far in consideration for the job of President of the United States. I try to keep it light; although my friends know me to be passionate about my politics, I don't talk about it too much at work. I also just don't know how to answer these questions. I explain the word "plurality" a lot.
The last few days have been different, though. Watching the debate yesterday morning crushed my usually buoyant spirits. I sat inside all day combing the Internet, reading responses and polling and searching, searching, searching for a website that would tell me this was all a bad dream.
I found the feed of a woman on Twitter who asked women to tweet their assaults to her. The responses are breathtaking. The brevity required by Twitter's 140 character limit makes them piercing and the volume of replies is staggering. Over the weekend, they were rolling in at a rate of one per second. The woman who posted the initial call said that scrolling through her feed it "looks like there is a war on women."
This is the point at which a dam inside me began to crack.
I consider myself lucky to have never been raped. Just think about that sentence. Here I sit, a third of the way through my first century on this earth, feeling lucky that someone hasn't taken it upon himself to force a part of his body inside mine without my consent.
Yet. I've been around long enough to know that I can't let my guard down. I've been around long enough to know that I have to be careful around men. Every day. Every time. Not because they're all bad, in fact I'm optimistic enough to believe that the majority would never do anything to hurt anyone. But the bad ones look just like the good ones and you truly never know until it's too late.
Reading through the Twitter feed, I saw many responses that mirror experiences I've had.
Yes, I was groped and had my shirt ripped off while crowdsurfing (13). Yep, I received sexually explicit emails from the adult friend of a family I babysat for (14). And in my adult life, I have found myself a few times in situations where the lines of consent were blurry; in private moments I have been pressured and cajoled to "give up" more of myself than I wanted to. The few times this happened to me it was always by seemingly progressive, sensitive men who probably to this day identify as feminists.
"Come on," one of them whispered late at night, while we both crashed in a friend's living room after everyone had gone to bed. "It's just bodies." (24)
It's heartbreaking to me that the most sexualized presidential election in history also happens to be the first with a female candidate from a major political party but sadly I am not surprised.
As women move through the world we are under a constant pressure to which most men are oblivious. Cautiously protecting oneself while being careful to never be unfriendly is an exhausting high wire act that has become second nature to most women that I know.
In the ugly tapes released over the weekend Donald Trump doesn't just casually objectify women, but he also describes himself as one of the bad ones, a member of the silent, aggressive, dangerous opposing army against which women must always be on guard. By dismissing this banter as "locker room talk," he is signaling permission, sending the message to other men that it is acceptable to talk, think and act this way. It is clear to me that a man like that cannot represent me or the country I believe in.
I'm also haunted by one last looming question: if that's what he says on a bus full of strangers, in conversation with a man he barely knows who happens to be an entertainment journalist, moments after a sound technician has placed a microphone on his body...what would he say in an actual locker room?