Presidential candidate Donald Trump on the stump has sneered at and objectified women to shouts of approval from much of the crowd. On a hot microphone during a bus tour in 2005, he bragged that he can do anything sexual to a woman because he is a star.
Response on social media has been shock and dismay. But just as alarming as his lewd comments is hearing the men with him on that bus laugh! With each outrageous statement Trump made about sexual assault, they laughed some more. When they got off the bus, interviewer Billy Bush encouraged the actress they met to hug him. Really?? Knowing what he said only minutes before, Bush wanted a woman anywhere near him?
When confronted, Trump’s excuse for this and other film clips of his sexist behavior is that all men do it; that it’s a guy thing. During the second debate, he stated and restated that his remarks were “locker room talk” and “only words.” He really believes that such “talk” shouldn’t trouble us. He really believes that other men agree that women are either sexual trophies or not worth their time. Why wouldn’t he? Crowds cheer! Other men around him laugh!
Trump may be a boorish cartoon but the approval, chants and laughter are nothing to laugh about. This is rape culture in action. This is why bullies can bully; why some men can justify groping women; even why some rapists rape. It is the action (or inaction) of others that gives guys like Trump permission and approval.
Women, even very powerful women, can’t put a stop to rape culture on their own. Only men can deal with what other men say privately to each other or do publicly with implicit support from other men. It’s not enough for men to individually behave as a sensitive male. It’s not enough when men support their own wife or girlfriend and daughters in their ambitions and their right to walk in the world safely. For the victimization of women to end, men must insist that other men treat all women with respect.
There are many men who are doing their part. There are many men who are appalled by Trump’s remarks. In my own community there is a men’s resource center that for decades has been working to inform and support men in combating men’s violence against women. I salute their efforts to get all men to see it as their moral obligation to take part. What is sad and angry-making is that their work is even necessary.
If you are male and reading this, please listen up: It’s up to you to stop telling yourself it’s none of your business when you hear or see other men belittling women. It is your business to intervene whenever and wherever other men aren’t being civil to and about women. It’s up to men, all men, to stop pretending that men who are violent against women, whether in words or actions, are exceptions who can be ignored. To change rape culture, men must make it clear to other men that emotional and verbal degradation of women will not be tolerated.
How? Since some men seem to need specifics, here’s a list:
- Walk out on a candidate for public office who insults, objectifies and justifies violence against women.
- Refuse to engage in “locker room humor” (wherever it takes place) that reduces women to body parts and that justifies assault.
- Call other men out when they make catcalls or inappropriate comments to women.
- Step in when another man treats a woman badly in the mall, on the street, or in a bar or restaurant.
- Ban from your home video games that include victimization of women.
- Do not support the porn industry by buying it or viewing it.
- Do not buy or listen to music that calls women bitches or suggests that violence against women is okay.
- Make it clear that anyone who is your friend must be a friend to women.
There’s an old saying that “not to decide is to decide.” I suggest that those who don’t take direct and regular action to end rape culture are contributing to it. Men who believe it is more important to “fit in” with other men by remaining silent during anti-female lewd comments, “jokes” and actions are as guilty of hurting women as perpetrators. It is only through male support and inaction that misogynists can keep it up.
Imagine a world where a candidate for office who calls women names is loudly booed off the stage. Imagine a world where what Trump called “locker room humor” is met with stony silence. Imagine a world where bystanding men stop being bystanders. That’s what it takes to end rape culture and to make a world where women are safe.