Over the weekend a video emerged depicting one of our Presidential candidates shamelessly dehumanizing a person who represents half of his constituents: women. This widely circulated video of Donald Trump and Billy Bush is obviously obnoxious and obscene, but what some people may not realize is that for many women it’s more than just an annoyance. For those who have experienced sexual abuse, harassment, exploitation, or trauma, it can be a psychological trigger for distress.
Concrete data on violence and harassment towards women is surprisingly difficult to nail down. The statistical consensus on incidence suggests that around 1 in 5 women have been victims of attempted or completed rape, and nearly 1 out of every 2 women have experienced sexual violence other than rape in their lifetimes. When it comes to harassment, a survey conducted last year found that as many as 1 in 3 women (ages 18-34) reported experiences of sexual harassment at work.
These numbers are already disturbing, but researchers agree that an enormous amount of assault and harassment cases likely go unreported, pushing the statistics into even more alarming territory. Why are such a startling number of women experiencing harassment and abuse? And what is stopping women from reporting these traumatic experiences and seeking justice for their mistreatment?
I can’t help but wonder if the answers to these questions have something to do with Trump’s apology for he and Bush’s lewd behavior. Because this is all just harmless “locker-room banter,” right? Isn’t it just another run-of-the-mill case of “boys will be boys”?
Nobody’s really getting hurt here, are they?
If viewing the video triggered an intense emotional response for you, I want you to know that it did for me too. I also want you to know that, sadly, my instinctive reaction to that intense response was to immediately question its validity.
Should I really be this upset? Am I blowing this out of proportion? Am I just being… dramatic?
AND THERE IT IS, THE D-WORD.
One of the most devastating results of our culture’s proclivity to excuse or downplay the kind of misogynistic behavior displayed by Trump and Bush is that it often leaves women wondering whether the problem is truly rooted in the actions of their abusers… or if it is simply rooted in their own “overblown” emotional responses to the abuse. How many of the reasons cited for underreporting sexual violence and harassment could be healed if women truly believed that their voices would be taken seriously when they spoke up? How many instances of abuse would never occur in the first place if we challenged the notion that objectifying women is somehow acceptable (even in private, exclusively male conversations) and instead created a new cultural norm committed to honoring the Imago Dei in both women and in men?
Additionally, preserving the notion that “locker-room banter” is acceptable is not only irresponsible and dangerous for women; it’s insulting to our brothers. Do we really believe that men are somehow less free to embody expressions of gentleness, deference, and self-control? What sort of distorted and diluted version of masculinity offers up cheap escape hatches like “boys will be boys” when a woman’s Divinely-imprinted heart, mind, body, and soul are at the risk of violation? What twisted identity constructs are we normalizing and perpetuating by writing off certain behaviors as simply “expected functions” of the male persona?
Men, I know you’re better than this, and I personally refuse to hold you to a standard any lower than the one I know you are capable of rising to. Let this essay also stand as my personal refusal to hold myself back from what I am capable of as a woman: speaking loudly and unashamedly against something I recognize as wrong.
To my sisters who are suffering this week as a result of viewing the video: you are justified in your pain and in your anger. This video is not just a political annoyance; it is a trigger for trauma. And if you’re reeling from that, I want you to know that you aren’t alone. You have a right to fully feel your pain and to lament it.
A few months ago Cedric, my dear friend and co-worker here at Watershed, wrote a brilliant post entitled “It Isn’t Too Late to Ask.” I can’t think of a better response in a moment like this than the advice in that post.
Men, it isn’t too late to ask the women in your lives how they’re really feeling this week. It isn’t too late to sit quietly and offer wide-open, compassionate, non-judgmental, curious space for our voices to be heard.
Ladies, we can also give this tender gift to one another… and to our brothers. The negative effects of “locker-room banter” extend to men’s souls as well. Asking to hear each other’s stories might just be the most redemptive thing any of us could do.
All week long this verse from Genesis 50 has been reverberating in my heart: “Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people.”
Nothing can fully erase the pain of past trauma, and I personally do not believe that God ordains abuse in anyone’s life. But if we view this video as a springboard for vulnerable conversation, if we are able to see it as an invitation from the Spirit to increase our compassion and love for one another, then I do believe it can be transformed into something good.