By: Harris Kuemmerle
The recent release of comments made by Donald Trump in 2005 brought to light what many people have known for a number of years; that Donald Trump has a problem with women. In these comments his misogyny was laid bare and evident, and millions of people have been rightly appalled and disgusted in its wake. For those who may be unaware, this latest scandal to hit the Trump campaign erupted late last week when a video was released showing Mr. Trump making a number of comments about women which ran from the nauseating, to the genuinely illegal. One comment in particular, has been seized upon as particularly reprehensible. Where in Mr. Trump states that when you are a star you can do anything, including, ‘Grab them [women] by the pussy [vagina]. You can do anything.’.
While these comments are clearly reprehensible and have garnered a rare apology from Mr. Trump, attempts have also been made to spin these comments in a lighter tone. In the days following the release, it was stated and repeated by numerous figures in the media and politics that these comments amounted to nothing more than ‘locker room talk’, or more generally the kind of meaningless banter men often discuss with each other. Conversely, others claim that his comments are nothing more than the glorification of violent assault. Regardless, it is right to condemn these comments and point out that the vast majority of men discuss sex and relationships amongst themselves as a vital part of male friendships and without ever condoning or bragging about assault or abuse. However, it would also be naïve, to suggest that Donald Trump does not represent to some degree the current zeitgeist of American society at large.
We exist in a society where young boys are conditioned from birth to feel that to be a man means to be aggressive, unemotional, and even violent in the pursuit of individual gain. Terminology such as conquest, or score as a way to describe male sexual exploits speaks volumes. Likewise, anyone who falls outside of these neat categories is ostracised, especially gay and lesbian people. While characteristics such as compassion, empathy, and vulnerability are perceived as feminine and admonished. We see the consequences of this all around us from domestic abuse, to the epidemic of rape and sexual assault where almost one in five women in the United States will be raped during their lifetime, especially on university campuses. We see it in the pay and opportunity gap, disproportionate representation in politics, the economy, and science, and yes we also see it in the rise of Donald Trump. Indeed, the real scandal of Donald Trump’s comments is not in what he said, but in that his words present a disturbingly accurate reflection of American society. A society where men have both a perceived and very real feeling of structural, social, and sexual ownership and superiority over women; and that successful men have earned the right to act as they please.
The uncomfortable truth is that it’s not just that Donald Trump has a problem with women. It is that our society as a whole has a problem with women and gender asymmetry. Donald Trump, in all his sexism, misogyny, bigotry, and locker room talk, is a reflection and caricature of the patrilineal society in which he was brought up. However, in his campaign he also has the effect of both propagating contemporary sexism and in promoting the idea of a less equal society. His rhetoric and campaigning make it clear that he represents an attempt to not just ‘make America great again’, but to make the American male great again (and by extension American society) by returning it to its classical binary gendered form; and pushing back against the many accomplishments of so many female and male feminist and LGBTQ activists in recent decades. This is the real danger of a Donald Trump presidency. The potential to undo decades’ worth of work on a range of issues from race relations to economic equality. However, the risk to gender and sexual equality and the vindication of a section of American society which seeks to turn back the clock to an imagined time and place when men were men, and girls were girls, is particularly worrisome.
However, fixing sexism is not just about defeating Donald Trump. The root cause of sexism in our society must be understood as being partly a product of a rigid and binary gender dynamic which values aggression over empathy, which prioritises men over women, and violence over cooperation. These are not just women’s issues, or secondary issues for another day, these are human issues which affect us all; right now and in the foreseeable future. From the numerous and incalculable consequences for women, to homophobia and transphobia, to the significantly higher rates of suicide and mental health issues in men as opposed to women, to the clear link between female empowerment and long-term development success; the consequences of our current concept of gender in society are very real and very destructive.
Now more than ever this discussion is needed. To not just admonish Donald Trump as a pariah, but to understand the society and the gendered norms that created him. It is up to all of us to push back against all forms of bigotry. However, it is especially up to men of all backgrounds, classes, orientations, and gender identities to stand up to sexism and objectification in all its forms by calling it out at every opportunity and chastising those who engage in it both privately and in public. It is only by doing so that we can hope to prevent sexism and misogyny and help ensure a better future for both our daughters and our sons.
Harris is a PhD candidate in both the War Studies and Geography departments at King’s College London, as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Strife. He received a BSc in International Relations from Plymouth University and an MSc in Asian Politics from SOAS, University of London which focused on the Indo-Bangladeshi Ganges River dispute. His main areas of interest include; hydropolitics, human and state environmental security, climate change, environmental extremism, centre-state relations, and transboundary disputes. With additional interests in gender dynamics, interactive entertainment, and the role of science in society. His main region of focus is South Asia with additional expertise on the US, UK, and Europe. A native of the US, he has been based in the UK since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter: @HarrisKuemmerle