As Donald Trump’s presidential campaign implodes with multiplying allegations of sexual assault we’re left asking if this is the watershed moment on violence against women. Again.
It’s the question we asked ourselves during the sexual assault trial of Jian Ghomeshi and again when Bill Cosby’s body count hit 35, and shot up from there. Would the revolution begin after “Emily Doe,” the supernaturally strong survivor in the Stanford rape case, read her victim impact statement out loud to her attacker, Brock Turner?
Cynicism is understandable, but the tide has been swelling around sexual assault and now it’s in the eye of the storm: a presidential election. Though serial predation is alive and well, there is no doubt that the court of public opinion is turning on perpetrators. As we bat away retrograde garbage like “locker room talk” and increasingly believe women, we are witnessing social norms in great flux.
This week did see a crucial watershed moment – for male bystanders. And that’s where change needs to start: with men.
Trump has no doubt emboldened misogynists. Take in the heinous slogans on merchandise at any Trump rally and be afraid, be very afraid (“I wish Hillary had married OJ” – one T-shirt of many inciting violence against Hillary Clinton). But there was also a bright spot in these dark times, a sign of progress that some men are fleeing the cave.
When the 2005 recording of Trump bragging about groping the genitals of unsuspecting women was unleashed this past weekend, and when Trump defended it as mere “locker room banter,” many men had heard enough. Men who may have stood silently by before have now rallied. Guys of all stripes stood up and said not in our name: This is not how all men talk about or conceive of women in private. Pulling back the veil on how men do talk in male company, the consensus was nope, Donald, rape is not a routine talking point.
Many of these men made it clear they weren’t speaking up just as “husbands and fathers” – a patronizing line that insinuates women only matter because you have some in your family. Men are speaking out for the sake of their dignity as men. Here, a brigade of pro athletes, actors, writers, comedians and politicians taking a public stand against Trump’s misogyny:
“The ‘locker room’ line has made me feel personal discomfort. Feeling like women look at me and assume I’ve been part of that kind of convo.” – New York magazine writer Jonathan Chait
“Guys talk dirty but guys are not all having conversations about sexual assault. … One of them is crude, and the other is against the law. There’s a big difference.” – The Daily Show Host Trevor Noah
“He wasn’t in a locker room, he was at work. … I’m not offended as a husband or a father. I’m offended as a guy. … It’s not right at work. It’s not right in the locker room.” – Actor Tom Hanks
“It’s really offensive on just a basic human level. I’ve been in locker rooms, I’ve been a member of a fraternity. I have never heard any man, ever, brag about being able to maul women because they get away with it. Never.” – CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper interviewing former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is campaigning for Trump
“You don’t have to be a husband or a father to hear what we heard just a few days ago and say ‘that’s not right.’ You just have to be a decent human being to say ‘that’s not right.’ ” – President Barack Obama
“We talk about women (and sex!). We talk about wives, sisters, mothers, daughters, fans, and groupies. Most guys respect women, some guys don’t, but never have I heard anyone use your particularly disgusting brand of sadism that refers to women as objects and not people. Even the most debauched club-hopping party animal talks about women more civilly than you. We don’t let each other talk like that about women, because it lessens our humanity.” – former NFL player Chris Kluwe, in a letter to Trump written for Vox
“This is a fantasy stereotype of what locker rooms are like generated by somebody who needs something so archaic, something so old-fashioned and something so, you know, tacitly urban and terrifying as to make his comments seem mild. But the truth is that most locker rooms do not have this kind of narrative going on. … You can talk about the fact that you sleep with lots of people, whether they be men or women frankly. You can have that conversation because when there is consent in this environment, people can understand that. And then you can, if you want to, have a degree of levity about it. But what people seem to forget is that what we’re talking about here is not consensual. And I just don’t know any of the people that I’ve played with who would look at that in any other way than with utter contempt. – retired NBA player John Amaechi, on NPR’s All Things ConsideredReport Typo/Error