There are a million things I could say about the "Trump Tapes," but anything I could say about how disgusting it is has already been said a million times, usually by people much more eloquent than me. It's hard for me to get my words out clearly when I'm kind of blinded with pain and anger.
So instead, I'm gonna tell you a story. A story I haven't told to anyone before this weekend.
Every fall, my town hosts a weekend-long event downtown called the Mullet Festival (mullet as in the fish, not the haircut, just to be clear). I haven't been in years due to being at Campbell and then in New York, but when I was younger, we'd go pretty much every year.
On Saturday night of the festival, there was a series of performances by various bands, some local, some the town has gotten to come specifically for the weekend. It was usually a pretty crowded, fun time. And in this town, by the time we were pre-teens, my mom would kind of let us wander around the main area, as long as we knew when and where to meet her. You don't really have to worry about things going wrong in this town; it's kind of the stereotypical small town in that bad things rarely happen, and people tend to watch out for each other.
Well, one of these weekends, I was either 10 or 11 (I don't remember exactly), I was wandering through the crowd of people, when I ran into a group of four Marines. (My town is about 20 minutes from the largest Marine Corps base on the east coast, so plenty of Marines live in this town or on the outskirts and come to the festival to hang out.) I've always looked much older in age than I really am, so I didn't look like a pre-teen, and these Marines immediately latched on to me. Despite my limited experience with seeing people drinking alcohol, I could pretty much immediately tell they were drunk, so I knew I needed to get out of there.
But it was far too crowded for me to just run, and as I tried to maneuver my way through the crowd, they followed me.
"Baby, where are you going?"
"Pretty girl, come back."
"We just want to talk to you, beautiful."
They were right at my back, pretty much, shouting these things over the music and grabbing onto my shoulders and arms, attempting to wrap their arms around my chest, anything they could get their hands on. Luckily for me, it was crowded enough, they were drunk enough, and I was strong enough that they couldn't get a real grasp on me. I'm still not sure how I managed to get away when they started trying to pull me backwards, other than sheer force of will. I didn't know anything about sex, but even at that age, I knew that guys take advantage of girls, especially when they're in groups.
By some miracle, after they followed me all through the crowd, I spotted my sister, who is 4.5 years older than me right at the same time as these much older and more attractive girls grabbed the Marines' attention. I'm still not sure if they were just trying to look out for me and get them off of me, or if they were just girls who thought guys in uniform were super attractive, but I didn't care. I took the opportunity and bolted. I didn't tell my sister, or my mom, or anyone what happened, but I sure didn't leave their sides for the rest of the night.
For a long time, I just blew it off as "oh, drunk guys do stupid things when they're drunk," but as I got into high school and learned more about sex, sexuality, and guys, I realized just how wrong it was. I know it's nothing compared to the assault and rape that a lot of women have to survive, but it was still traumatizing enough to me to think about what could have happened. I know now that if there hadn't been a crowd of people around, there would have been no way I could have gotten away from them.
This is why what Donald Trump said matters. I don't care if you want to say it was "just words." It is a microcosm of the prevalent American culture in which men believe that they are entitled to women's time, attention, and bodies. These Marines, without knowing anything about me, including my age, believed that they had the right to force me to stay and talk to them, and do God knows what else that they wanted. They didn't take my instant response of leaving as soon as they came toward me as a sign I didn't want to talk to them; they saw it as a sign they needed to follow me until I gave them what they wanted.
When a man kisses, or gropes, or grabs, or follows a woman without her consent, he removes her autonomy. He takes away her right to make decisions about what she wants and with whom she wants to interact. He reverts back to previous centuries when a woman was nothing more than property for him to own, not an equal, beautiful image-bearer of God. He distorts the idea of God-given rights and removes the humanity from a person standing right in front of him.
And when a man boasts about doing those things to women, he perpetuates the culture to other men around him, particularly the younger men, that doing it is not only okay, it's a sign of masculinity and power. Women become conquests, games, trophies, as though he who wins the most wins the game of life. And it isn't until men boldly stand up and show others around them that women are meant to be more than that that this culture will change.
Donald Trump has immense influence right now. He has millions of people who are not only following his every move, but who are supporting him wholeheartedly. And when stories like this comes out, and his idea of an apology is to include an attack on someone else, he is telling millions of men and boys who are watching him that his actions are okay and something to model their own actions after. Not only that, he's reminding women and girls everywhere, especially the millions who have been raped, assaulted, or molested, that their wants and desires don't matter. To willingly perpetuate rape culture and the reality of toxic masculinity on the largest political stage in the world is not only hurtful to so many, it's dangerous. It's dangerous not just for this generation, but for the generations to come who will learn from us.
To Mr. Trump, I refuse to buy into your reality. I refuse to believe that it's normal or okay for men to talk the way that you do/did. (I know plenty of men, and athletes who practically live in locker rooms - none of them would talk like that.) I refuse to accept the idea that I am less than you because of my gender. I refuse to relinquish my dignity, needs, and desires, to those of men and boys who have been taught they have the right to have me whenever they want. I refuse to sit back and allow this culture to continue without saying something. And it's by sharing my story and writing this post that I hope I might offer one more story and example of why what you said really isn't "just words." We are more than just objects for the taking, Mr. Trump. I hope one day you will understand that, or at the very least, that your sons will.