Trump's Sexism Is Trickling Down: Let's Refuse to Accept It
In 1998, philosopher Richard Rorty made a prediction about American politics that turned out to be eerily prescient. He wrote that people tired of “having their manners dictated to them by college graduates” would look for a “strongman to vote for.” He thought progressive gains around race and sexuality would be rolled back and that “jocular contempt for women [would] come back into fashion.”
That last line came to mind twice recently: first, when I saw that the national gift-store chain Spencer’s sells a “Grab America By the Pussy” shirt, and again when I read that a Republican politician in Connecticut was arrested for pinching a woman’s genitals during a political disagreement. Before the alleged assault, Christopher von Keyserling reportedly told his victim, “I love this new world, I no longer have to be politically correct.”
As American women watch a man accused of sexually assaulting a dozen women take the highest office in the nation, we should prepare ourselves for a new cultural reality. We’re going to see more jokes about gendered violence, and an increased dismissal of any criticism as hysterical and hyperbolic. When von Keyserling’s lawyer responded to the charges against him, for example, he said the assault was simply a “playful gesture.”
“It was too trivial to be considered anything of significance," the lawyer told a local paper.
It wasn’t a big deal. Don’t overreact. Can’t you take a joke?
We don’t need Rorty to tell us what comes next; women are all too aware of what’s on the horizon. According to a new national poll, 40 percent of women surveyed believe that acts of sexism will be more likely because Trump won the election, “including sexual assault and feelings of entitlement among men to treat women as sexual objects.”
And though Republican men believe that it’s a better time to be a woman than a man, more than half of the women in the study said they had been inappropriately touched without their consent.
Sexism and objectification are nothing new of course, but electing a leader who wears his disdain for women like a badge of honor has consequences. In the days after the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center recorded multiple reports of men “parroting the president-elect’s sexist and vulgar comments.”
According to the hate-watch group, boys in Minneapolis yelled out of their school bus that a man walking with his female colleague should “grab her by the pussy.” A middle-aged woman in California reported three men in a truck with Trump sticker shouting a similar phrase at her. And in New York, a young girl on her way to school says a man on the train said he was “allowed to grab my pussy because it’s legal now.”
There has been a lot of talk about the message sent to young women by Hillary Clinton’s loss—but what about the message young men have received by Donald Trump’s win?
Rorty was right: misogynists have been emboldened. But it’s also fair to predict that women will refuse to accept sexism’s ascendance. The march on Washington, DC this weekend is already set to be one of the largest protests in American history, and feminism’s online expansion over the last decade will mean women quickly responding to misogynist slights.
We’re prepared to take this seriously, even if the country around us—even if the president—is not.