“Why Should We Believe Her?” Why Not?

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Brett Kavanaugh, during his Senate confirmation hearing in 2004. He can maintain his innocence amid multiple accusations of sexual misconduct while we view his accusers as credible. It’s not a zero-sum game. (Image Credit: CSPAN)

Note: This piece was written and published prior to Julie Swetnick’s allegations being made public.

As the drama surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court drags on, it unfortunately is difficult to say what has been the most disheartening aspect of this process. Certainly, for people who have lamented the partisan rancor of American politics in recent memory, calls to delay or speed up proceedings have done little to assuage their concerns. On a personal note, I consider anything that makes Mitch McConnell more relevant than he usually is a net loss as well, but that is for each of us to decide.

In all seriousness, though, probably the worst aspect of this whole affair is that it has dredged up so many awful attitudes on the subject of sexual assault, rape, and accountability for males in the #MeToo era. For those previously living under a rock, Kavanaugh has been accused by two women of some form of egregious sexual behavior, with Deborah Ramirez, board member and volunteer at Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence and Yale University graduate, joining Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a psychologist and professor of statistics at Palo Alto University, as an accuser. Since coming out to allege Kavanaugh of trying to force himself on her as a teenager, Blasey Ford and her family have been subject to death threats and have been forced to hire private security. For his part, Kavanaugh and his family have received threats too.

Then again, maybe the pain of hearing and reading the callous disbelief of some observers is worth exposing their misguided and outmoded ways of thinking. Still, that the tenor of arguments outside the purview of Congress and Washington, D.C. echoes that of lawmakers who divide reflexively along party lines is disturbing. In reality, regardless of whether or not Kavanaugh gets the job, the believability of Blasey Ford and other survivors should not be a partisan issue.

That opinions along gender lines might similarly be divided is likewise unsettling, albeit somewhat understandable. There’s a probable generational component, too, as well as other ways by which responses may be separated. As a white cisgender male young adult, my perspective may be indicative of this identity, so feel free to keep this context in mind as you weigh my thoughts.

With that said, let’s address some of the comments one is liable to hear leading up to a prospective vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s candidacy to be a Supreme Court Justice.

“Boys will be boys.”

Ah, yes. The old “boys will be boys” line. While keeping in mind the notion that Kavanaugh was reportedly in high school when he is alleged to have made an unwanted advance on Christine Blasey, or in college when a second instance of alleged unsolicited sexual behavior occurred with Deborah Ramirez, his relative youth or hormones doesn’t excuse the way he acted—it merely provides context. Especially considering that there is no accompanying sentiment that “girls should be girls,” if young women are expected to behave as ladies, young men should be able to comport themselves as gentlemen. Particularly if they belong to the “superior” sex, and sarcastic eye-rolls are warranted in this instance.

What’s alarming to me is how I’ve heard women defend Kavanaugh’s behavior along these lines, more so on the side of supporters of the Republican Party, and yet even so. “I mean, what hot-blooded male hasn’t acted like that?” Well, I haven’t, for one, and neither have the men who make consensual sexual acts a priority. Even if we’re grading Kavanaugh personally on a curve because “things were different then,” it’s 2018 and he will be adjudicating matters according to today’s standards. Right here and now, “boys will be boys” needs to be retired.

“They were drinking/drunk.”

Right. We know that alcohol consumption can lower inhibitions. It can make us do things we wouldn’t normally do and would be wise in avoiding, such as throwing table tennis balls in plastic cups and drinking out of them regardless of where those balls have been or, say, eating at White Castle. Nevertheless, getting inebriated does not obviate an individual’s obligation to behave responsibly, nor it does comprise consent to be violated in any way. This is akin to the notion that females dressed in a certain way are “asking for it.” It’s victim-blaming, and it’s not an acceptable defense for sexual assault or rape. End of story.

The other main reason for invoking alcohol is to cast aspersions on the veracity of the accuser’s account. Deborah Ramirez was drinking at the time of the alleged incident, and as such, there are “gaps” in her memory. This notwithstanding, she maintains she is confident enough in what she does remember about Kavanaugh’s conduct and that it warrants scrutiny. That should be enough, and if what Ramirez is saying is accurate, it makes Kavanaugh’s behavior seem that much more appalling that he would try to take advantage of the situation.

“If it really happened, she/he would’ve gone to the authorities.”

Sigh. There is any number of reasons why victims of sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, or rape might be reluctant to file a police report or even tell people close to them about it. They might feel a sense of shame surrounding what happened, despite deserving no blame. They might be in denial or aim to minimize the gravity of it. They might be afraid of potential repercussions or simply fear they won’t be believed, especially if drugged or under the influence of alcohol. They already might suffer from low self-esteem and somehow think they deserve to be mistreated. They might feel a sense of helplessness or hopelessness about the situation. They might not even recognize what happened to them constitutes one of the above. Perhaps worst of all, they might already have been a victim, fundamentally altering their approach to future such situations.

In short, there’s plenty of legitimate reasons why an unsolicited sexual advance or encounter might go unreported. Noting this, we should afford victims understanding and the chance to come forward with their recollections when they are ready. Besides, this is before we get to the instances of victims who do come forward and still aren’t taken at their word.

“They’re just doing this to get their 15 minutes of fame.”

Yes—all that fame. Besides Anita Hill and famous victims of Harvey Weinstein et al., how many of these people who report an assault or rape do you know offhand? I’m guessing not many. Sure—we know Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez right now. Will we remember them 10 years down the road? Five, even?

As is their misfortune, if they are remembered by the masses, they likely won’t be known for being compassionate, intelligent, proud women with college degrees and inspired careers. They’ll instead probably be known simply as accusers, their names forever tied to the man who allegedly victimized them. Depending on the audience, they also stand to be vilified for trying to bring a “good man” down, and as noted, there’s the matter of death threats and potential professional repercussions. For the supposed benefits, these accusers have that much more to lose. Courageous? Yes. Glorious? No.

“This is all just part of a Democratic smear campaign.”

You can question the timing of these revelations and whether there is any political dimension to them. Blasey Ford and Ramirez are either registered Democrats or have donated to liberal/progressive groups, though they aver that this did not factor into their decision to come forward. At the end of the day, however, if the allegations are true, does any of this matter? So what if these accounts come to light less than two months before the midterm elections? There’s never a “good” time to disclose such inconvenient truths.

Nor does it matter that these events happened years, decades ago. Regardless of whether or not the accused can still be found guilty in a court of law, victims may still live with the pain and shame of their encounter. If left untreated, these wounds will not heal. That’s not something we should encourage in the name of political expediency.

After all, in speaking of timing and political expediency, how are we to regard Kavanaugh’s letter signed by 65 women who knew him when he attended high school and attest to his honorable behavior and treatment of women with respect? How were these women found and contacted so quickly to produce this document? And what does this prove? If we can view Blasey’s and Ramirez’s past conduct through a critical lens, we can view this attempt to sway the minds of ranking congressional members similarly. Just because Brett Kavanaugh didn’t disrespect these women doesn’t mean he didn’t hurt others.


Ever since the likes of Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein were being brought down by accusers nowhere near as powerful or famous as they are, many observers have had a tough time reconciling apparently conflicting principles. One is that purported victims of sexual assault and other crimes should be believed, regardless of gender. Since women are disproportionately victims in this regard, this means implicitly believing women. The other principle is presumption of innocence. Until we know all “the facts,” Brett Kavanaugh shouldn’t be labeled a sexual predator.

While noting that this is more akin to a job interview than a trial for Kavanaugh and while the court of public opinion increasingly seems to eschew the need for a preponderance of evidence before assigning guilt, we would do well to remain open to the idea that both sides of the story could be true. Brett Kavanaugh claims he is innocent. That is his version of the truth. Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez claim otherwise. That is their version of the truth. Not being in the room with them, we can’t know for sure. But without subscribing to an agenda, we can choose which of these is the best answer, so to speak. Assuming these parties testify, that is what the Senate Judicial Committee will be tasked with.

Whomever we personally believe, the important thing is that these claims be investigated. With all due respect to Kavanaugh and his family, as well as the aims of Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley, the veracity of the accusations supersedes their feelings. “Judge Kavanaugh’s reputation might suffer.” So? What of his accusers? If recent history is any indication, Kavanaugh might not receive enough votes to be confirmed, but it’s unlikely he will suffer serious adverse effects to his livelihood as a result of these proceedings.

For instance, for his supposed fall from grace, Louis C.K. was able to do a surprise comedy routine less than a year since he admitted wrongdoing. For men like him, it’s evidently a question of when he will come back, not if he should. For the women who were his victims, they can’t come back to prominence—and there’s a good chance they gave up on comedy because of how they were treated by him. For every James Franco starring in The Deuce, there’s an Ally Sheedy who cites Franco as a reason not to ask her why she left the television/film business. That sounds messed up to me.

As for McConnell and his Republican brethren, I have little to no sympathy for their wanting to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed despite multiple claims of misconduct and after refusing to hear Merrick Garland’s nomination by Barack Obama following the death of Antonin Scalia. If you want a nominee for Supreme Court Justice voted on with less controversy, you and your GOP mates should do a better job of vetting one. Pick again. We’ll wait. It’s not our problem if you can’t afford to.

In the end, those of us who believe Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and all purported victims of sexual assault until given a reason to doubt them do so because we simply have no reason to doubt them in the first place. If Brett Kavanaugh is innocent and telling the truth, he will likely be confirmed (and may be anyway, for that matter), and we lose nothing. It is those who reflexively question the accusers and hack away at their credibility that risk inexorable damage to their own. For their sake, I hope they like their odds.

Harvey Weinstein, Sexual Harassment, and Our Patriarchal Capitalist Society

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In light of the mountain of allegations against him, Harvey Weinstein seems all but guilty of sexual impropriety involving actresses and other women in his life. However, Weinstein is just one of countless predators who have victimized women across professions, and women’s rights are still regularly under attack, suggesting his antics are just the tip of the iceberg. (Photo Credit: PA Images)

The ongoing scandal concerning film producer Harvey Weinstein as a decades-old serial sexual predator is a mind-boggling one. Not merely because of Weinstein’s high profile, mind you—if anything, that would seem to make it more likely, in that film producers and other men in positions of power have leveraged or have tried to leverage their stature over women for centuries and longer. The growing list of names of women who have come forward to tell their tales of horrifying, demeaning encounters, and potentially criminal ones at that, with Weinstein, meanwhile, is alarming. For us, the average media consumers, regarding the breadth of the scandal both in terms of the number of women alleged to have been victimized by Harvey Weinstein and the period over which his alleged offenses transpired, the obvious question is: how is this all just coming to light? How did the press and other parties involved not know about Weinstein’s misdeeds? As I’m sure many of us realize, much of Weinstein’s abusive behavior probably was known, just not talked about. Money and influence afford the holder many things in our society, and discretion is among the most valued of them, particularly those up to no good.

As tends to be the case, there will be those commenting on the Harvey Weinstein situation who see the mounting allegations against the disgraced now-former studio executive as something of a “witch hunt” or who otherwise would question the veracity of the statements made by these women after the fact. First of all, we would be naïve to think that more of these incidents weren’t reported to authorities. Whether or not these accounts could or even would be prosecuted at the time, though, is another story. Furthermore, whereas some allegations of rape or sexual assault by women against a more famous male individual might be seen as a “money grab”—which doesn’t mean that these claims should necessarily be dismissed in either the Court of Public Opinion or the judicial system, mind you—what apparent need is there for stars like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow to come forward? Money? Fame? These actresses don’t need either. Likely the worst you could say of these women is that they’re promoting some feminist agenda, and that arguably is not just advisable, but necessary with the likes of President Pussygrabber in the Oval Office as perhaps an unsettling sign of present-day attitudes toward women.

Outside of the realm of Hollywood, many—if not most—women are apt to know a “Harvey Weinstein” in their lives, likely one in a past or current workplace, at that. This is to say that the allegations against Weinstein are not some sort of isolated incident, but indicative of a corporate and patriarchal culture that marginalizes women and is built on their commodification and subjugation. Belen Fernandez, for one, writing for Al Jazeera English, urges readers to “face it: we have an epidemic of sexual harassment.” As Fernandez insists, the Harvey Weinstein scandal (Weinstein-gate?) is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg when it comes to instances of males in a position of power intimidating women physically or professionally as a means of trying to coerce them into behavior they almost certainly would object to under different circumstances. Going back to the milieu of the film and television industries, Fernandez invokes the anecdotal observations of Molly Ringwald, who wrote about her own experiences with sexual harassment in a piece entitled “All the Other Harvey Weinsteins” for The New Yorker. Here is Ringwald’s critical ending passage alluded to in the Al Jazeera piece:

I could go on about other instances in which I have felt demeaned or exploited, but I fear it would get very repetitive. Then again, that’s part of the point. I never talked about these things publicly because, as a woman, it has always felt like I may as well have been talking about the weather. Stories like these have never been taken seriously. Women are shamed, told they are uptight, nasty, bitter, can’t take a joke, are too sensitive. And the men? Well, if they’re lucky, they might get elected President.

My hope is that Hollywood makes itself an example and decides to enact real change, change that would allow women of all ages and ethnicities the freedom to tell their stories—to write them and direct them and trust that people care. I hope that young women will one day no longer feel that they have to work twice as hard for less money and recognition, backward and in heels. It’s time. Women have resounded their cri de coeur. Listen.

It’s perhaps strange looking at the problem of sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood from an historic perspective, wondering how tropes like the infamous “casting couch” came to be. Then again, perhaps not. As Belen Fernandez outlines, sexual harassment is a problem irrespective of industry or academic pursuit. Citing numerous studies both recent and comparatively antiquated, Fernandez underscores how even in the STEM fields, for example, instances of reported sexual harassment are “alarmingly widespread,” as they are in the medical field or medical studies. Anita Hill, herself once a subject of scrutiny for her high-profile accusation of sexual harassment against then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas, goes as far as to report 45% of employees in the United States are targets of sexual harassment, the majority of them sadly and unsurprisingly female. (As Fernandez mentions, possibly somewhat wryly, Thomas was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice despite Hill’s accusations, evidence that “justice” on this front merits qualification.) And then there’s the U.S. military, which, if you’ve been paying attention to the news in the slightest over the years, you understand serves as a metaphorical hotbed for sexual harassment and sexual assault. Fernandez points to the fact a record number of sexual assault cases were reported in 2016 among our Armed Forces. While the Pentagon regards this as proof the system works, those of us not speaking on behalf of the nation’s military are left to be skeptical, if not patently incredulous. Indeed, this area is one of any number of areas by which the United States military forces merit more scrutiny—and not less, as the White House would insist.

As Belen Fernandez and others see it, all of the above is symptomatic of a larger societal structure that values moneyed white males above all others. It is a patriarchy, moreover, that has not only subjugated women, but has subjugated other groups which more readily value women as equals, namely Native Americans. Fernandez, in particular, cites the work of the late, great Howard Zinn in informing this view. From the article, and by proxy, A People’s History of the United States:

Earlier societies—in America and elsewhere—in which property was held in common and families were extensive and complicated, with aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfathers all living together, seemed to treat women more as equals than did the white societies that later overran them, bring “civilisation” and private property.

Those references to “civilization” and “private property” are a cue for Fernandez to wax philosophical about the corporatized nature of America. As she sees this matter, since capitalism is primed to divide and exploit people, a significant culture change will need to be effected before this sexual harassment “epidemic” is cured:

Given that capitalism itself has no place for human equality—predicated as it is on divisions between exploiters and exploited—it seems that the current question of how to fix the sexual harassment epidemic in the U.S. will require some extensive out-of-the-box thinking. Enough with the patriarchy. It’s time to get civilised.

The answer, or at least a good start, would be empowering women to seek leadership roles and lead by example, thereby inspiring women across generations and industries to seek their own opportunities to lead and help change a culture so often defined by the metaphor of the “glass ceiling.” Then again, the durability of this repressive culture is such that while the fight for equality and to curb sexual harassment in the workplace is a worthy one, such achievements are easier said than accomplished. Extending the conversation to matters of access to abortion and contraceptives, child care, and spaces safe from emotional, physical, and sexual violence, too, this fight is one that will certainly take time and effort to wage.


In the dawning of the magnitude of Harvey Weinstein’s misdeeds, use of the #MeToo hashtag by victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence to share their experiences has exploded, and this much is not to be undersold. Some see the revelations about Weinstein as a potential watershed moment, that recognition of the unspeakable treatment of women at the hands of men, particularly those close to the women affected, as well as the power of female voices, is beginning to occur. To be sure, it would seem that we have made progress in this area, and specifically concerning the exposure of high-profile sexual predators, the fairly recent downfalls of Bill Cosby and Bill O’Reilly, to name a few, suggest the bad behavior of their ilk eventually will catch up to them. As heartening as these shows of strength are, however, and while the visibility of females’ victimization is important, when, say, someone like Donald Trump in this day and age can brag about taking advantage of women and otherwise berate or demean them en route to the presidency speaks volumes about how much more is needed on the road to real progress.

Jia Tolentino, staff writer for The New Yorker, explores the weight of the burden faced by female victims of sexual harassment and assault alongside the deeply-ingrained systemic sexism inherent across American institutions. Her insights begin with recalling the incident that led to the revelations in news media about Harvey Weinstein’s character: that of Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, who reported to the NYPD Special Victims Unit back in 2015 about being unwillingly groped by Weinstein and later wore a wire in a sting operation of sorts that produced disturbing audio in the vein of Pres. Trump’s off-handed “pussygrabber” comments from his taped conversation with Billy Bush, then of Access Hollywood fame, circa 2005.

Battilana Gutierrez, for her trouble, has had her character questioned if not assassinated by the likes of the New York Post and the Daily Mail—no great beacons of journalism, mind you, but widely circulated and salacious enough to warrant reading. This is no strange occurrence in the world of reporting sexual crimes, whether in the world of producing million-dollar films or the supposedly safe spaces of college and university campuses across the country. Especially when someone of prominence like Harvey Weinstein is accused of sexual impropriety, there is a tendency to call the history of the accuser into question, yet another iteration of the time-honored practice of slut-shaming. Realistically, though, anything beyond the facts of the case at hand involving Weinstein and Battilana Gutierrez is superfluous. Whether she’s a saint or the “she-devil” the tabloids make her out to be, the merits of the available evidence are what matter. Besides, are we supposed to throw out the allegations of every woman who has pointed a finger at Weinstein? After a certain point, trying to prove the contrary seemingly borders on the absurd.

This is not the point of Tolentino’s exercise, however. Beyond the individual complications that surround a woman’s reputation and threaten her very professional livelihood, Tolentino’s concern is the welfare of all women, and despite the goodwill created by #MeToo and the apparent increased accountability for predators like Harvey Weinstein, there is room for concern, if not outright trepidation. Tolentino writes:

Nevertheless, the hunger for and possibility of solidarity among women beckons. In the past week, women have been posting their experiences of assault and harassment on social media with the hashtag #MeToo. We might listen to and lament the horrific stories being shared, and also wonder: Whom, exactly, are we reminding that women are treated as second class? Meanwhile, symbolic advancement often obscures real losses. The recent cultural gains of popular feminism were won just when male politicians were rolling back reproductive rights across the country. The overdue rush of sympathy for women’s ordinary encumbrances comes shortly after the Department of Education reversed Obama-era guidelines on college sexual-assault investigations, and Congress allowed the Children’s Health Insurance Program to expire. On October 3rd, the House passed a ban on abortion after twenty weeks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that “virtually all” Republicans in the Senate support the legislation.

Being heard is one kind of power, and being free is another. We have undervalued women’s speech for so long that we run the risk of overburdening it. Speech, right now, is just the flag that marks the battle. The gains won by women are limited to those who can demand them. Individual takedowns and #MeToo stories will likely affect the workings of circles that pay lip service to the cause of gender equality, but they do not yet threaten the structural impunity of powerful men as a group.

To put Jia Tolentino’s assertions another way, it is one thing to have a voice and to preach to the proverbial choir, but quite another to have the power to bring about positive change. And this doesn’t even address the unique challenges faced by different segments of the female population, whether based on age, race, sexual orientation, or other identifying characteristic. Systemic bias is not something that can be overcome overnight thanks to a hashtag campaign; in fact, activist Tarana Davis had the idea to create a grassroots “Me Too” movement back in 2006, before Alyssa Milano and her Tweets even broached the subject, illustrating just how difficult it can be to sustain the momentum needed for meaningful and substantive progress. When influence is concentrated in the hands of a few males at the top of the patriarchal hierarchy, penetrating the associated power disparity is essential to achieving authentic gender equality.


The term “toxic masculinity” is used to describe the kind of social environment that not only is created by the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, but aids and abets them, as well as perpetuates the conditions by which future generations will breed new sexists and sexual predators. Wikipedia defines toxic masculinity as such:

The concept of toxic masculinity is used in the social sciences to describe traditional norms of behavior among men in contemporary American and European society that are associated with detrimental social and psychological effects. Such “toxic” masculine norms include dominance, devaluation of women, extreme self-reliance, and the suppression of emotions.

Conformity with certain traits viewed as traditionally male, such as misogyny, homophobia, and violence, can be considered “toxic” due to harmful effects on others in society, while related traits, including self-reliance and the stifling of emotions, are correlated with harm to men themselves through psychological problems such as depression, increased stress, and substance abuse. Other traditionally masculine traits such as devotion to work, pride in excelling at sports, and providing for one’s family, are not considered to be toxic.

Some may argue this definition is too expansive or vague, but nonetheless, it is apparent from this conceptual understanding that there are issues beyond just Harvey Weinstein, or sexual violence for that matter. On one hand, basic human decency tells us that the unfair treatment of women is wrong and the institutions that lead to their systemic oppression must be reformed, if not dismantled. On the other hand, meanwhile, various societal cues only reinforce the value attributed to the domineering “alpha” male. Seemingly every month, a new hyper-masculine superhero movie is in theaters, in which our male protagonist conquers evil, saves the day, and gets the girl, and in which he could give f**k-all about his feelings, the treatment of women, or the structural integrity of surrounding buildings. Is this the ideal of manhood? With leaders like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in place around the world, you get the sense that many of us, male and female, believe this is so. For those of us without a suit of armor or a high office, where does that leave us in the grand scheme of things?

Jia Tolentino, in her closing remarks, hits the nail on the head regarding from where recognition of the scope of the problems in the forms of sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual exploitation will need to come for Western culture to realize substantive gains:

This type of problem always narrows to an unavoidable point. The exploitation of power does not stop once we consolidate the narrative of exploitation. A genuine challenge to the hierarchy of power will have to come from those who have it.

As with the Black Lives Matter/blue lives matter/all lives matter dynamic, while we seek not to discount the energy, passion, and importance of grassroots activist movements, from all sides, there must be an understanding that this is a human issue above being a black or female or [INSERT QUALIFIER HERE] issue. On both counts, Tolentino points to lines being drawn in a “predictable” manner, thus requiring men everywhere to be as courageous in defense of (and like) the more vocal women they know, on top of the untold numbers of female (and male) victims of harassment and assault suffering in silence. Belen Fernandez, too, believes it’s time for us to get civilized. Amen to that, sister.

Guys (and Ladies, Too), It’s OK to Be a Feminist

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You don’t have to be as handsome as Benedict Cumberbatch to be a feminist, ladies and gentlemen—you just have to support equal opportunities and rights for women. (Photo retrieved from ELLEUK.com).

In social politics today, there seems to be an additional “F-word” that people dare not speak without looking around nervously or others getting downright angry. I’m talking about “feminism,” a term which conjures up some powerful imagery both for its supporters and for those who resist its use and its underlying motivations. Part of the strong reactions a dialog about feminism, gender, and “women’s issues” provokes, I believe, is related to the confusion about what this decades-old—if not centuries-old—movement entails. That is, different groups and individuals tend to define feminism differently. Kellyanne Conway, who, like so many members of the Trump administration, evidently can’t help but put her foot in her mouth—you know, when she’s not putting her feet on the couch in the Oval Office—and gave her own definition of feminism that invited due criticism. Conway, when interviewed recently at CPAC 2017, this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, said she rejected calling herself a “feminist” because the term has been tainted by the left and because the nature of the movement has become exclusionary and anti-conservative. The counselor to the President had this to say when prompted about feminism:

It’s difficult for me to call myself a “feminist” in the classic sense because it seems to be very anti-male and it certainly is very pro-abortion in this context and I’m neither anti-male or pro-abortion. So there’s an “individual feminism,” if you will, where you make your own choices. I look at myself as a product of my choices, not a victim of my circumstances, and that’s really what “conservative feminism,” if you will, is all about.

Wow. As self-professed intellectuals like myself would put forth, there’s a lot to unpack here. Kellyanne Conway’s makes a number of suppositions that require one’s assent or tacit agreement. Let us first enumerate them, and subsequently address their potential veracity.

1. Feminism is anti-male.

This is a persistent criticism of the feminist movement: that those who subscribe are a bunch of man-haters who wish for the advancement of women at the expense of men who work very hard and are just minding their own business. This is not merely an oversimplification of feminist positions, however, but skewed to the point of absurdity. Might some feminists see patterns of patriarchal oppression and sexism where perhaps they don’t exist? It’s possible. Not all revolutionaries wave their banners for the same reasons, after all, and some might do so for the wrong ones. To a large extent, though, feminist arguments would appear to hit the mark given the pervasiveness of gender inequality across continents. At any rate, calling feminists “anti-male” makes about as much sense as calling Black Lives Matter activists “anti-police.” Feminists are not calling for violence against or abuse of men. It’s about equality, and addressing institutionalized forms of prejudice against women. Criticism does not necessarily equate to hate, and if those targets of criticism are indeed wrong, to defend them puts the defender at fault also.

Often, rejection of feminist views betrays a defensive attitude on the part of he or she expressing the rejection. For example, how many times have you heard “feminism” and “shrill” in the same sentence? Breitbart’s readership, for one, seems to dine on this stereotype like Garfield the cat dines on lasagna. Here’s a gem from the unholy pseudo-informative spawn Stephen Bannon helped nurture: “License to Shrill: Feminists Can’t Stop Whining about Their Fake Problems.” In this piece, the author suggests that feminists fret and whine about their “frivolous” problems like “the Democrats talking about climate change as a security threat when the country is under attack by illegal immigrants and radical Islamic terrorists.” And this from a female writer, no less!

2. Feminism is very pro-abortion.

It is, in fact, possible to have a nuanced set of views on abortion. I personally wish there were fewer unplanned pregnancies in the world, and I certainly don’t encourage men and women to be reckless in their sexual activity. However, I wouldn’t tell a pregnant woman not to have an abortion in deference to my beliefs, because I believe the matter of choice is sacrosanct. I’m sure many card-carrying feminists share these sentiments, at least to an extent. An abortion is not a procedure to go about willy-nilly, but to make a value judgment about someone else’s situation and to thrust those values upon the other person unsolicited is a sin in its own right, and can make what may very well be an emotional and stressful decision that much more difficult. People who vilify the “godless left” for being pro-abortion might just as well look at themselves and their aversion to a woman’s right to choose.

3. There is an individual feminism where you make your own choices.

Yes, there is. It’s called feminism. I just talked about it. You make your own choices. Like, say, those involving your body.

4. Liberal feminists view themselves as victims of their circumstances.

Bear in mind that Conway is making a distinction between feminism and “conservative feminism” in the first place. And they call us liberals the ones who are divisive! The “liberals play the victim card” charge is one that has been made numerous times before irrespective of gender and circumstances. Those college students who want an affordable education? Playing the victim. They’re just asking someone else to foot the bill. Those protestors going after police officers for doing their job? Playing the victim. It’s the fault of those resisting. Blacks upset about slavery? Hey, that was a long time ago—quit your bitching! Are you overweight? Get on a treadmill already, fatty! And I’m sure we can think of any number of barbs to throw at women and the issues they care about. Need an abortion? You should’ve learned to keep your legs closed in the first place, slut! Want to be taken seriously as a professional? Don’t dress in such provocatively tight clothing, provoking lustful eyes, OK? Upset about y0ur pay? Get a better job! Stop crying. Get over it. Welcome to the real world.

Let me say a few things about these things—chiefly with respect to how wrong-headed they are. On the subject of sexuality, specifically women’s sexuality, I would argue it is incredibly unrealistic to insist on all or even a majority of sexually mature women to adhere to an abstinence-only lifestyle. This is not a commentary on females’ lack of control of their bodily impulses, mind you—I would say the same thing for men, too. Especially men. It’s not that they can’t choose not to have to sex, but they shouldn’t be expected to, and that there is a profound double standard in our society concerning moral judgments of others’ sexual activity—men tend to be lauded for their sexual prowess, while women are shamed for their lasciviousness—speaks to a normalized attitude, once again, of dictating to women what they can and can’t do with their bodies.

On the subject of women in the workplace, um, the glass ceiling is pretty well documented by now. In the United States, women, on the whole, make less than men, and once more, there is a gender-based disparity in perception at work under the subheading of leadership. A male taskmaster is a strong, determined leader. A female in this same role is labeled a bitch, a cunt, is on her period, or needs to get laid. It’s boorish, quite frankly, and incredibly unfair. Moreover, on the literal subject of “victimhood,” women are disproportionate targets of physical and sexual assault, with college campuses across the U.S., in particular, seeing exceedingly high levels of violence against women and men. What is perhaps worst of all herein is the idea that with too many college and universities, there is neither an established environment of acceptance for victims of sexual violence nor a tone at the top which signifies a demand for justice in all cases. In some cases, these institutions charged with safeguarding the well-being of their student body appear more interested in protecting the school’s image. After all, donors are less liable to open up their purse strings or wallets if their would-be donee is regarded as a proverbial viper’s nest of danger and iniquity. Better to make young women jump through hoops to report cases of rape/sexual assault and slut-shame them to the back pages of the newspaper.

So, yeah, feel free to opine on the liberal victim mentality. But conservatives play the victim, too, especially when taken to task for blatant sexism and other forms of prejudice. If anything, it’s a pot-kettle sort of situation.


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Emma Watson all but bared her breasts for Vanity Fair. That doesn’t preclude her from being a feminist. (Photo Credit: Tim Walker).

At the very least, Kellyanne Conway’s understanding of feminism as an abstract concept seems incomplete. So much so that Merriam-Webster’s official Twitter feed took to defining “feminism” for her and others’ benefit: “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” Nothing about hating men. Nothing about separating one feminist from another based on ability to choose for oneself. Nothing about viewing oneself as a victim or blaming others for one’s position in life and set of circumstances. And certainly nothing about the Women’s March, undoubtedly awash with feminists, being proof that those involved and many women in general have an issue with women in power, as Conway herself suggested. Unless Donald Trump is, in fact, a woman, and let me say that he doesn’t make a particularly fetching one if that’s the case.

Suffice it to say, though, that both men and women may misconstrue what feminism entails and what does or does not constitute a violation of feminist principles. Recently, Emma Watson caught flak for wearing an outfit for a Vanity Fair photo shoot that featured her wearing no bra and very little else covering her breasts. The argument from her online detractors was that Watson, a self-identifying feminist, is a hypocrite for decrying the objectification by men on one hand and dressing in a way that, as they would describe it, encourages objectification. As these critics see things, her revealing garb is a betrayal of her principles and sends mixed messages. Emma Watson, for her part, was taken aback by the negativity, mostly because she expressed a sense of frustration about these critics misunderstanding feminism to begin with. Or, in her words, from an interview with the BBC:

Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it. It’s very confusing.

Very confusing indeed. Some might philosophize that by dressing sexy, Watson is no better than the the male behavior she discourages, but a key difference here is the matter of choice. Whether or not you agree with it from a moral standpoint, Emma Watson is choosing to dress this way, a notion she herself reinforces. As if she were making a choice about whether or not to have an abortion, it’s her body, and furthermore, one might argue that by exercising her free will, she is disempowering those who would seek to objectify her without her consent. In this context, control is everything. Otherwise, Beyoncé fans have taken to pointing out Watson’s reversal on this position. About three years ago, Emma Watson noted she felt conflicted about Beyoncé referring to herself as a “feminist” and having her (Beyoncé’s) 2013 visual album appear as if shot through a voyeuristic lens and from the perspective of the heterosexual male libido. First of all, um, that was three years ago. People’s opinions can change a lot in that span, especially for someone of Watson’s age. Second of all, Watson acknowledges her opinions about the subject matter were not really “formulated” at the time. Call her a hypocrite or “flip-flopper” if you want, but regardless of what she said then, she has the right attitude about it now. The woman has breasts—what do you want her to do about it?

The “if she didn’t want to be objectified, she wouldn’t be leaving her flesh so exposed” argument, by the by, is a logically weak one, akin to the idea that women are “asking” to be raped or otherwise assaulted based on how they dress. What’s more, this is not the first time Emma Watson’s feminist credentials or even her use of the term has been questioned. Watson was invited to deliver a speech on the fight for gender equality worldwide for the launch of the HeForShe initiative at the United Nations, and reportedly, was asked not to use the “F-word.” As in “feminism.” She did anyway. Even for an occasion designed to mark a movement for men to advocate for and support women in the fight for gender equality, that Watson received this “friendly advice” signifies the overall discomfort both women and men have in using the term based on its negative connotations. Emma Watson noted in an interview with the London Evening Standard that she debated whether or not to comply with this request, but that she ultimately chose in favor of using the term, explaining herself thusly:

I was encouraged not to use the word feminism because people felt that it was alienating and separating and the whole idea of the speech was to include as many people as possible. But I thought long and hard and ultimately felt that it was just the right thing to do. If women are terrified to use the word, how on Earth are men supposed to start using it?

Watson makes an excellent point. If feminists themselves are afraid to use the term and extol the virtues of their worldview, this risks dissuading men who are more amenable to the feminist cause from lending their support, and moreover, gives those who reject feminist ideals, chief among them conservatives and males who reflexively view any pro-female movement as a threat to their way of life and therefore in need of neutralization (see also alt-right, Gamergate) ammunition in further weakening their (the feminists’) resolve. Though not to equate the two movements and the struggle for mainstream acceptance they face, democratic socialism is another term which is assailed by its opponents to the extent people who might otherwise be sympathetic to its cause are alienated from the theory. Democratic socialists believe in a democratic form of government alongside a socialist economic system, rather simply.

As author and journalist Dan Arel explains, democratic socialism is, in many ways, not what you think it is. It is not Marxism, in that democratic socialism does not advocate for workers controlling the means of production. It is not communism as we would commonly understand it, that is, as manifested in China and the USSR. It is not a replacement for capitalism, but rather a more responsible, one might argue, version of capitalism that would restrict the excesses of corporations and their owners and would act to safeguard employee rights. It is not pure socialism, as democratic socialism believes that consumer goods/services and certain societal elements should be approached democratically rather than from a central government. Perhaps most importantly, it is not incompatible with modern American economic and political structures. As Arel suggests, democratic socialism already exists within the Democratic Party—it just isn’t embraced by all its members. Universal health care, free college tuition, a stronger social safety net—these are not pipe dreams for many developed countries around the world, especially in Europe. Yet people hear “socialism,” and either because they conflate it with communism or simply believe that industry in the United States is overregulated as it is, condemn democratic socialism in a reactionary way. Bernie Sanders and his crazy ideas! Why doesn’t he just move to Sweden if he loves it so much? Never mind that benefits such as community development block grants, the Earned Income Credit, educational grants, family planning services, food stamps/SNAP, the Head Start program, Job Corps, Medicare, public housing, Social Security, and weatherization services for low-income households are all social programs used by Americans of all different economic backgrounds and political affiliations. Um, you’re welcome.


Back to the role of feminism in America and in the world today, though. Feminism, at its most basic and essential, speaks to equality of opportunities and rights irrespective of gender. As suggested earlier, some men, notably those dyed-in-the-wool, old-fashioned sexists—whether they are conscious of it or not—view the advancement of women as a threat to them and their way of life. Feminists also face obstacles from institutions primed to favor men, chief among them the world of business, rigid standards of morality and religious conservatism, and even censure from other women who view their lot as whiny man-haters. In the discussion of not wanting to give the haters more fodder, though, certainly, card-carrying feminists must stick by their principles and do so without concern for excluding those uncomfortable with calling feminism by its rightful name. They should not have to fight this fight alone, however, and with a new generation of young men more sensitively attuned to ideas related to female sexuality, gender equality, and women’s issues, it would appear necessary that they recognize women’s struggle for equality as one which affects them as it does the women advocating for greater autonomy of self, and without concern for their (the men’s) immediate personal benefit. Their mission is our mission. Their losses and gains ours as well.

Now more than ever, with a man in the White House who identifies as pro-life to court religious conservatives despite expressing support for a woman’s right to choose in the past—not to mention boasting about being able to grab women “by the pussy” and defending his words as “locker-room talk”—and a Republican-led Congress which has targeted Planned Parenthood’s federal funding despite it not being used for abortions, already a small portion of the organization’s total services, men must support women’s rights as part of a unified front against others who would seek to abrogate these liberties. Accordingly, the following points should be considered non-negotiable, and let it be stressed that the feminist/women’s rights agenda is not limited to just these items:

  • Constitutional equality. I’ll speak briefly about equality in pay in a bit, but for women across demographic lines, constitutional guarantees to educational opportunities, full Social Security benefits, and job opportunities and political opportunities/power, are lacking. The Equal Rights Amendment, passed by Congress in 1972, has yet to be ratified in a three-fourths majority of states (only 35 of the 50 have ratified it), but efforts continue at the grassroots level to get its language specifically into the U.S. Constitution.
  • Control over reproductive rights. This includes access to safe abortions and available, affordable birth control and reproductive health services. I know I specified earlier that men should advocate for these points irrespective of any immediate benefits, but as they stand to, ahem, benefit from women’s healthy expression of their sexuality, right off the bat, this should be an easy sell.
  • Ending violence against women. Domestic violence and violence against women in college settings jumps to mind, but across international and cultural borders, there unfortunately are too many instances of the subjugation of women by physical and other means. Female genital mutilation sticks out in this regard, being inflicted on upwards of 200 million women and girls worldwide, chiefly in the regions of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. It is deemed by the World Health Organization as unnecessary and dangerous, and by the United Nations and other international bodies as a human rights violation. Violence against women in its various forms is a serious problem in our world today, a reality that is made all the more disturbing by all the underage females who are targeted because they can’t protect themselves and/or to satisfy some illicit trade, as in the sex trafficking of young girls. This should not be considered a remote problem for distant continents either. This is a human problem and one that affects all of us.
  • Equal pay for equal work. Seems fair, right? Arguing against equal pay for women on the basis of their supposed inferiority is outmoded and foolish thinking, plain and simple.
  • Freedom from stigmatization of normal bodily functions. Earth to Donald Trump and some other men—women menstruate. This is uncontrollable, and symptoms of PMS shouldn’t be assumed against them when they dare to show emotion or, you know, do their job as female reporters/news personalities (what up, Megyn Kelly?) Also, women breastfeed. They shouldn’t have to hide this fact, especially given the idea babies need sustenance to survive and thrive. Stop, ahem, being such babies about this.
  • Justice for women of color and for the LGBTQ community. In the pursuit of gender equality, those who champion women’s rights are usually not provincial in their focus. Though they might frame their discussion of job discrimination, pay equity, Social Security and pension reform, and what constitutes a “living wage” in terms of women’s issues, these topics are applicable to the larger conversation about income and wealth inequality that pervades societal problems in the United States and elsewhere. Part of the women’s rights movement is addressing opportunities for women of color in all areas, especially education, employment, and health care, and for the LGBTQ community, notably with respect to child custody, employment, health services, and housing.

Again, these are not strictly “women’s issues,” but ones that affect all of us, considering how they impact and have impacted the lives of the women around us—our mothers, our grandmothers, our wives, our daughters, other female family members, our female teachers, our female nurses, and so on and so forth. Furthermore, despite the progress we have made in this regard, there is much work to do, and realistically, we should be further along than we are. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, when asked two years ago about why gender parity in his Cabinet is so important to him, responded simply with the line, “Because it’s 2015.” It’s 2017 now, and the vast majority of us—women and men, men and women—should be proud to say we are feminists. I certainly am, and you should be too.

“This Was Locker Room Talk.” Yeah, Not Good Enough, Mr. Trump

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What was Donald Trump thinking about here? Was he sorry about those awful things he said about women over a decade ago? Was he contemplating how his campaign is in shambles and Republicans are running to get away from him? Or was he constipated, wondering when he would be able to shit again? You make the call. (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has lied so frequently and so blatantly it is frankly odd he would issue some sort of mea culpa when it came to the newly-released recording known colloquially as the Trump Tapes. By now, pretty much anyone following national news on a regular basis is at least vaguely familiar with the details of this much-talked-about conversation between the Republican Party nominee (boy, aren’t they glad they’ve stuck with him up to now!) and Billy Bush, who made such a fine impression on us recently when defending Ryan Lochte despite obvious evidence he had fabricated the story of his robbing at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro. Back in 2005, when Donald Trump was set to make a cameo appearance on soap opera Days of Our Lives, in a recorded conversation with Bush, then-host of Access Hollywood, he made various references to kissing and groping women as part of his sexual advances, whether they had given explicit consent or not and even whether or not they were married. His language, as one might imagine, was not suitable for all audiences, with Trump even going as far as to say that, because he’s a star, he could “grab [women] by the pussy.” According to the real estate mogul, a man of his stature can “do anything” he wants in this regard.

Certainly, there are any number of things wrong with this contention of Trump’s, not the least of which is his collective comments smack of entitlement and a misguided belief in his sheer magnetism. What is perhaps most galling now, though, is that more than 10 years after the fact, Donald Trump is quick to dismiss his banter as “locker room talk.” Boys will be boys. What’s said in the sauna room at the country club stays in the sauna room at the country club. Unsurprisingly, very few beyond the purview of Trump supporters and apologists are having any of this justification. One group which has slammed Donald Trump’s sexist nonsense is professional athletes, who are not always known for their tact in relationships with women.

Yet numerous athletes have rejected this characterization of the GOP nominee’s about locker rooms, with some suggesting that while they can’t speak for all situations, and while players do talk about women, they don’t do so in such degrading, ugly terms, especially those with wives and daughters and other close relationships with females in their lives. The devil’s advocate argument is that maybe these athletes aren’t telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help them God. Then again, it is theoretically equally likely that Donald Trump, whose own athleticism appears relegated to playing shitty golf, knows very little about what is said in locker rooms circa 2016. Of course, this wouldn’t necessarily stop Trump from making faulty attributions about them, mind you, but it is worth noting for those of us who understand his, shall we say, complicated relationship with the truth.

This whole debate—if you can even refer to it as such owing to the dearth of logical arguments herein—is mediated by what one side in particular refers to as a “culture war.” In one corner, we have those who favor a growing recognition for the need for equality for groups which have been marginalized over centuries by a white patriarchal society, and with that, increased sensitivity to the effect images, sounds and words have on members of the disenfranchised, especially those of a homophobic, racist, sexist, transphobic, or xenophobic nature. In the other corner, we have those individuals who aver we are becoming too sensitive and too politically correct, and that those same disenfranchised people should “grow up” or “get a pair” or not get “so butt-hurt” about these matters.

In defense of the “lighten up” crowd, as one might call them, there are times, I believe, when cultural sensitivity and political correctness can be taken to absurd extremes. A notorious example from recent memory can be found in Starbucks’ decision to issue plain red cups for its hot beverages around the “holiday” season last year, devoid of any symbols which may be construed as Christmas-related and thereby promoting Christianity above all other faiths. The coffee company’s apprehensiveness about offending some of its customers, while understandable, was offensive to a number of its clientele, particularly the crowd that’s tired of taking “the Christ out of Christmas” and otherwise kowtowing to the beliefs of other religions, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa be damned. Others, more apathetic to the spiritual nature of this argument, were likely annoyed people were making such a big deal about a bunch of stupid paper cups. I myself sympathized with the commentary of poet and novelist Jay Parini, who decried Starbucks’ choice in an opinion piece for CNN.

As Parini contends, first of all, Christmas has become largely secular anyhow, with commemoration of the birth of Christ in the manger (some dispute December 25th is the true date of the Nativity, but this is another issue altogether) giving way to crass consumerism and the pursuit of the perfect present. More importantly, however, the author suggests that by removing more innocuous icons that have nothing to do with Christmas, such as reindeer and tree ornaments, we are sacrificing mythical applications of these images and stripping the aesthetic of any real sentiment. He writes:

I write this as a Christian who feels no need to thrust my own faith upon anyone else. Political correctness has its place — we don’t want to impose our beliefs (and especially our prejudices) on anyone else. People need to have and feel good about their own stories.
But this attempt to peel away even the secular side of Christmas — to strip all texture and mythic potential from contemporary life — seems beyond absurd, perhaps even dangerous, as it points in the direction of total blankness, a life lived without depth, without meaning.

Discussions of this nature concerning excessive political correctness are arguably characteristic of outliers, not the norm, however. In many more cases, circumstances that cause self-appointed social critics to rail against the trappings of too much PC “nonsense” are either protesting instances in which just enough or too little attentiveness to mutual respect of one another manifests. It is the latter condition, in particular, which potentially may be deeply disturbing, and which pretty much exclusively colors Donald Trump’s campaign. Even within this distinction of being too politically incorrect, it should be pointed out, there are degrees of just how, well, reprehensible the GOP candidate is.

At his best—er, least worst—Trump favors discrimination and prejudice under, if nothing else, the pretense of keeping America safe. You can’t separate Donald Trump from his professed policy and rhetoric against Mexicans and Muslims, though those prospective voters who support the man are apt to share an anxiety and fear about these “outsiders.” So, while the man of a thousand failed investments may tap into the paranoia and rage of a portion of the electorate which is predominantly white and not as liable to have graduated from college, he certainly didn’t invent these emotion-laden responses to domestic and international population trends. Thus, when Trump speaks of political correctness holding America back in terms of our ability to furnish law enforcement with information from cellphones and other technological devices, verify the legal status of residents, and vet refugees, even the most rational among us may allow our sensibilities to be affected by discourse of this kind.

Even when Donald Trump’s deviations from standard operating procedure for politicians possess some vague justifiability and/or connection to theoretical policy, they lack merit on the humanity dimension. Accordingly, when there is no apparent immediate connection to an executive decision to be rendered, and Trump is behaving like an ass to be an ass, his actions and words tend to feel that much more terrible. Recall Trump’s childish and insensitive imitation of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, invoking his disability (arthrogryposis, a joint condition), following a dispute over whether or not there were thousands of Muslim-Americans cheering on the streets of Jersey City on 9/11 (guess which side Trump was on). Or his way-off-base comments criticizing military veterans, such as when he suggested John McCain was somehow less of a man for being held captive, or going after Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Pakistani-born parents of fallen U.S. soldier Humayun Khan, a man awarded multiple posthumous honors for his service. There was no need to make comments of these sort—unless Trump’s implicit intent was to rile up the “deplorables” among his supporters, and in that case, we should rightly be disgusted. In addition, we might note with some irony how the GOP candidate talks tough about belittling the sacrifices of others, dismantling ISIS and knowing more than the generals on the ground despite never having served himself. But that’s our Donald. Bully and misdirect like no one’s business.

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Tastes good, doesn’t it? I’ll bet it does, you fat f**k, you. (Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Coming back at last to the notion of Donald Trump excusing his degrading remarks about women as locker-room fodder, it’s on some level sad that we’re talking about awful things he said before he even seriously considered running for President when there are so many important issues on the table this election. Such is the state of the 2016 race, however, when Democrats and other anti-Trump forces must spend umpteen hours trying to delegitimize a candidate who was never legitimate in the first place. Amid the controversy over what Trump was heard saying on the recording, Trump apologists are quick to point out that the man said these things over 10 years ago, and so should be granted some clemency with respect to being excoriated for it now. Because this donnybrook has nothing to do with actual policy ideas, and instead is one of a myriad number of dialogs about presidential character and fitness for the office, a small part of me is sympathetic to this defense.

I stress that it is a small part, though. After all, Donald Trump has been quick to drag the marriage of Hillary and Bill Clinton into the spotlight, invoking events that transpired even before his ill-advised trip to the gutter-mouth convention in 2005. In this regard, his pseudo-private conversations and own personal romantic life are fair game. I mean, when you start slinging mud around indiscriminately, you shouldn’t really act offended or shocked when some of it gets on your high-priced suit. Meanwhile, I and scores of others also submit that there is no statute of limitations on being a sexist douchebag. Trump, in his quasi-apology, has vowed to be a better man after the breaking of this latest scandal. If comments as recent as last year about Carly Fiorina’s appearance are any indication, however, the Republican Party nominee hasn’t learned anything since his chat with Billy Bush—and moreover won’t, because he can’t.

Snippets of Donald Trump’s past, then, are useful to the extent they illuminate present attitudes of men toward women and vice-versa, and how these attitudes may be constructed in the future. In today’s terms, as is alluded to by even those professional athletes critical of Trump’s stance on lewd remarks about females, whether private or not, one can’t truly know what happens in all locker rooms across the United States, be they used by grown men or still-developing boys. And certainly, I am not advocating for assigning culpability based on what people think, lest we get into the realm of science-fiction, or something like that. Still, let me qualify Trump’s remarks simply by returning to the idea that he is a seemingly shitty golfer, and judging by his current physical stature, he doesn’t really fit the mold of the athlete. To put this another way, Barack Obama, he is not. Besides, it wasn’t like Donald Trump and Billy Bush were in an actual locker room at the time of the recording. Per my understanding, it is an audio recording that is responsible for boasts about kissing women and even more graphic non-consensual situations with the opposite sex, so I’m not sure exactly where the fateful one-on-one took place, but even if Trump were under the impression what he was saying was “off the record,” in a public place, you can’t really rely on the vague notion of confidentiality. To this day, it amazes me how many high-profile figures get caught in “hot mic” situations. Even when you’re not “on,” you should have the mentality that you’re being recorded. Shit, you never know when the NSA might be listening!

Even if 2016’s male-populated locker rooms are, in fact, largely above reproach on the respecting women dimension (though knowing myself and having lived through my teenage years, I can attest that they are most certainly not above reproach on the cleanliness dimension), going forward, to have someone like Donald Trump in a position of relatively high standing saying such terrible things about females that since have been made very public—and to excuse them with little more than a wave of his hand—makes me concerned about how this lends itself to perpetuation, or, worse yet, proliferation of rape culture among impressionable young men. Already, educators are reporting a “Trump effect” on playgrounds and in schools among children who are harassing African-Americans, Hispanic/Latino(a) and Muslim cohorts, as well other targets of Trump’s ridicule. Undoubtedly, small children are probably as confused by why the GOP nominee advocates grabbing women by their “kitty cats” as they are by why, say, they are told by their classmates to “go back to China” when they are from South Korea or Vietnam.

But what about “bigger kids,” especially those teens and young adults who are affluent, white and, well, apt to feeling rather entitled to talk and behave in a way that fails to hold them accountable for their bad behavior? In past posts, I’ve referenced the Brock Turner rape case (dude’s already out of jail, BTW), as well as the ridiculous “affluenza” defense levied by Ethan Couch, his family, and his legal defense team after Ethan hit and killed multiple people while driving drunk (he’s only 19, mind you, and was only 16 when he committed the fatal act) and then violating probation by fleeing to Mexico (the latest: dude’s appeals to have his sentence reduced and the judge presiding over his case thrown out have failed, but he’s still only serving 720 days for killing four human beings). These are extreme cases and ones that garnered a wealth of publicity, granted, but this also sort of goes to my point: what about those less-publicized instances where “locker room talk” leads to extra-locker-room action, and not necessarily of the sort where the woman encourages such action?

Women’s rights groups, rights activists groups, and other concerned citizens speak of a “rape culture” that manifests in this country, one that is disturbingly prevalent at colleges and universities, even extending to treatment of purported female victims at the hands of police. I’m sure you’ve heard the kinds of excuse responses that mark this pattern of behavior and thought. She realized what she did and now she’s crying “rape.” thought it was consensual. She was asking for it—the way she was dressed. She was drunk and can’t remember. She’s a slut, she’s a bitch, she’s a whore.

In response to allegations of race or sexual assault, some men (and women, in some cases, too) will get not just defensive, but downright nasty toward their accusers, and what’s more, those charged with hearing and responding to student claims at various colleges and universities may be slow or unwilling to acquiesce, requiring the victim to proverbially jump through any number of administrative/legal hoops to move forward with the case. A few months ago, Brigham Young University caught a lot of flak from members of its female student body and later national media for encouraging female students who believed they were victims of sexual assault to come forward and file a report, yet punishing those same students for violations of BYU’s Honor Code, which prohibits consumption of alcohol, drug use and consensual sex—on or off the campus. As numerous critics inside and outside the university believe, and so it would appear, BYU is concerned more with the school’s image than the safety of its students. Don’t be afraid to speak up—but shh! Not so loud!

If Donald Trump is inaccurate about the state of locker room banter in this day and age, and thus we can’t directly attribute rape and sexual assaults to what is discussed in this setting, then we’re already worse off in light of Trump spreading falsehoods or making incorrect assumptions about the character of today’s “jocks.” If he is, in fact, authentically portraying the mindset and speech of not just athletic men, but individuals of the male persuasion more generally, however, then we may have a different problem on our hands, for what is said behind closed doors may not necessarily stay that way. Either way, the statistics would dictate the incidence of sexual crimes against both women and men is very much a problem. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. When considering sexual abuse of minors, the stats are yet more alarming, with approximately one in four girls and one in six boys abused before the age of 18.

Meanwhile, in the context of college, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted during the course of their study. Worst of all? Many cases of abuse and assault go unreported by victims too distraught or too intimidated to confront their abuser/assailant; according to the NSVRC, over 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault, and in general, 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police, and as much as 88% of instances of child abuse fail to be brought to the attention of authorities. Just “locker room talk?” “Boys will be boys?” I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough. Not with so many victims out in our world, and more unfortunately guaranteed to come with each passing year.

By invoking the concept of locker-room talk, if Donald Trump were truly cognizant of the danger so many people face as a result of rationalizing guilt away, especially women and children, he would use his unfortunate comments as a teachable moment rather than an excuse. As mentioned before, though, this is Donald J. Trump we’re talking about here. How can he teach when he refuses to learn or, at that, engage in a modicum of self-reflection? If how he spoke to Billy Bush in that recording is how guys supposedly talk and think, maybe we should be guiding them with a firmer hand on a path to a mindset that reinforces equal treatment of women. If you supposedly respect women as much as you say you do, Mr. Trump, you would call for greater accountability for yourself and others in political correctness toward people of all genders, rather than delivering some pithy excuse and continuing along the campaign trail as if nothing happened. Not only do you not seem genuinely interested in anyone but yourself, however, Mr. Trump, but you apparently are not all that invested in the female vote. Yeah, um, good luck with that next month.

In case I haven’t made it abundantly clear by now, I find Donald Trump’s comments singularly abhorrent, but whether it’s self-identifying members of the alt-right, or other males who evidently are on board with indiscriminate groping of women and blurred lines between forced and consensual sex, with these types running off at the mouth from behind their computer screens, it is incumbent upon the men who likewise are appalled by Trump’s foul-mouthed, entitled yapping to speak up on behalf of the women in their life and speak out against this type of thinking. This whole controversy is not a women’s issue. It’s a human issue, and until more people grasp that fact as well as the overall importance of this discussion, we’re that much further away from genuine gender equality.

Boys Will Be Boys? Thoughts on the Stanford Rape Case and Attitudes toward Women

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Even members of the Stanford community are disappointed with the seemingly light sentence for Brock Turner, who was convicted of rape of a fellow student. (Photo Credit: D. Ross Cameron/AP)

In the immortal and (infamous) words of Donald Trump, when prompted by self-professed journalist Don Lemon to explain his derogatory comments about Mexicans made in his announcement to run for President of the United States: “Somebody’s doing the raping.” This comment came on the heels of his initial insistence that “when Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.” As far as Trump was concerned, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Speaking on behalf of the Hispanic/Latino community (of which I am not a part, mind you), what I find most insulting in that last bit is that he tried to qualify his remarks by saying that not all Mexicans are bad people, as if that negated the racism which preceded it. It’s like when people preface a insult with “No offense, but.” If I’m liable to be offended by what you’re saying, that makes it worse, on some level, that you think you can say whatever you want just because you add a disclaimer.

Let’s not lose sight about how awful the sentiments at the crux of Donald Trump’s anti-Mexican rhetoric truly are, though. Trump’s bombastic and prejudicial words are indicative of a mentality within white America that blacks and Latinos are, by their presumed natures, more likely to commit murders, rapes and other crimes. Let’s not even go as far as to inject statistics into this discussion, because you can almost guarantee any metric Donald Trump cites is intentionally inaccurate, and even when faced with evidence to the contrary, his supporters will disregard the more reliable data because Trump’s “truthiness” fits the narrative that makes the most sense to them. Stephen Colbert, while still serving in the role of the O’Reilly Factor parodist, hit the nail on the head when he talked about his gut speaking louder to him than his rational mind could. This attitude is a hallmark of the Trump faithful, and of an American public increasingly distrustful of the “mainstream media” and its purported corporate agenda.

Accordingly, when incidents such as the trial and sentencing of Brock Turner—known colloquially as the “Stanford rape case”—occur, those people riding the “Trump Train” are probably unfazed by the same crime committed by a white perpetrator. The sentence handed down by presiding judge Aaron Persky—six months of jail time, with three years of probation and lifetime registration on a list of sex offenders—as well as certain circumstances surrounding the trial, have been met with criticism and outrage from a number of angles. The sentence was too light given the nature of the offense. Persky’s justification based on claims that a severe stint in prison would leave a “severe impact” on Turner shows a disregard for the impact the victim undoubtedly already feels. The letter Dan Turner, Brock’s father penned, wrongly portrays him as a victim of a 20-minute mistake when momentary lapses in judgment have led to far worse consequences and punishments—and again, the severity of the crime and the true identity of the victim seem to go by the wayside.

To be fair, it is not as if the dramatis personae herein are getting off entirely scot-free. Brock Turner will be labeled as a sex offender for the rest of his life, and USA Swimming, the national governing body of competitive swimming, has also effected a lifelong ban. As I understand, he also has been expelled by Stanford University. Aaron Persky has since been barred from serving as the judge on another sexual assault case, and in other trials on his docket, potential jurors have refused to be part of a jury with him presiding. Even Vice President Joe Biden has been a very vocal critic of the decision, speaking on behalf of a “nation” that “is not satisfied” with the verdict. As Brock Turner’s case has garnered so much publicity, even if this is his “just deserts,” his life will never be the same. I’m not sure that it will be quite so bad as his father portrays it, but I don’t feel like I am speaking in hyperbole by reasoning that everything has changed for the Turner family.

I’m not going to argue the merits of the case here. I don’t know enough of the specifics to do that, nor do I have the legal experience/knowledge. Besides, a court of law has already ruled on this matter. My focus, rather, is where we go from here. Some onlookers, as a result of this exercise in, shall we say, creative sentencing likely will view this turn in the American criminal justice system as more evidence of an institution which does not work equally for people of varying socioeconomic status. A number of them may have even been hoping the Ivy League athlete would be knocked down more than a peg by the ruling in the case, viewing Turner’s actions as emblematic of a “jock” mentality which breeds feelings of entitlement and encourages misogynistic behavior; realistically, though, whether this crime occurred at Stanford or South Dakota State, the same violation of a woman’s body would be the result. In addition, women’s rights advocates are wont to see this miscarriage of justice as a springboard for invoking the “war on women,” an umbrella under which issues such as abortion and equal representation in the workplace also fall.

To this last end, I’m not sure I totally disagree. That is to say, while the genesis of Brock Turner’s actions may not have been grounded in a deep-seated hatred for the opposite sex (who knows what Turner may truly have been thinking in those critical moments, if he was thinking at all), and while Aaron Perksy may have had legitimate legal reasons to largely give the defendant the benefit of the doubt, that an indifference exists in our society to matters of sexual assault and violence against women is more than apparent. Far too often, colleges and universities charged with ensuring the welfare of their respective student body have failed to adequately address the threat of sexual violence on campus—for men and women alike. A recent ad campaign known as “The Unacceptable Acceptance Letters” has recently caused quite a stir with the stark realities facing today’s college students it confronts.

The accompanying video is emotionally jarring—and that’s a good thing. It forces us to grapple with the notion that image-conscious learning institutions across America will either turn a largely deaf ear to the concerns of victimized young women, or will even work to discredit them. Brigham Young University recently garnered national attention for claims made by several female students that the university retaliated against them in some form or another for reporting they were victims of a crime. Ironically, the university hid behind its “honor code” in justifying why these women did not merit a more compassionate response. Better to keep up appearances than acknowledge students are, you know, human beings, right, BYU?

It’s not just vaunted halls of higher education which have put young women and men in the crosshairs by discouraging a more effective review process for reported cases of rape and sexual assault. The U.S. Armed Forces, too, has been an apparent hotbed of sexual impropriety. As this Katie Couric report from 2009 details, in the year 2006 alone, 2,974 cases of rape and sexual assault were reported, and only about 10% of them resulted in a military trial. That’s absurdly low. 10 years later, we’re not that much further along on the road to substantive improvement. Just this past week, Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) measure that would have helped revamp a broken review of instances of sexual crimes among military members failed to be included in a $600 billion+ defense bill. Evidently, keeping Gitmo open forever is more vital than safeguarding the people who are supposed to be fighting for our nation and its ideals. My bad.

That some measure of justice was apportioned at all in the Brock Turner case is perhaps somewhat encouraging, but above all else, that his more lenient sentencing has raised the ire of a nation signifies the United States has significant progress to make on the issue of supporting victims of incest, rape, and sexual abuse. In a day and age in which the right of women to choose what they do with their own bodies is yet a point of clear discord, that “slut-shaming,” and other manners of discouraging would-be reporters of crimes based on the hollow excuse they could falsely accuse an innocent person, are so rampant speaks to a collective failure of our society. Sure, attempted abuses on this end do occur, but not to the extent avenues for claiming legitimate attacks on one’s person should be abandoned out of deference for the reputation of the accused.

A steep price to pay for 20 minutes out of a 20-year life? Boys will be boys? Dan Turner’s letter to the judge asking for clemency in his son’s case is understandable. I mean, this is his flesh and blood we’re talking about here, and the sense of entitlement of which the message smacks fits the stereotypical bill of the Ivy League family. Still, that other such shaky sources of logic regarding rape can be found elsewhere, institutionalized and internalized, suggests attitudes which condone violence against women are more pervasive than we’d like to believe. Say what you want about the defendant or the judge presiding in this scenario, but the Stanford rape case does have larger implications in what it reveals about us as a country.