By now we're all familiar with the latest firestorm that erupted last week when a tape of Donald Trump saying that men like him can grab women's pussies whenever they want burst into the national discourse. He and Billy Bush, then-Access Hollywood host, were caught making explicit comments about the privileges of fame and gender. The tape proved one thing: Trump believes his gender and fame allow him unfettered access to women's bodies.
Women across the country responded swiftly to Trump's stance that sexual aggression and assault is perfectly OK. In heartfelt essays and articles, women recounted the stories of the men who took advantage of them and left them with scars that take years to heal.
If you are tempted to think that this type of male banter is nothing more than harmless "locker room" shenanigans, and that is not indicative of our rape culture, then you need to head over to Twitter. On Friday night, when the Trump-Bush tape went viral, author and social media wizard, Kelly Oxford posted the following Tweet:
By the end of Friday night, a million women had weighed in about their first assaults. It's staggering to consider that there are millions of women who have experienced sexual assault. And consider: This number does not count the women who are not on social media, who were working the swing shift Friday night, who may not have the courage to go public with their experiences, and who are too young to report their own assaults.
And even more appalling, these were only descriptions of women's first assaults. Scrolling through Oxford's timeline, it's hard to imagine that each of the women responding were only assaulted once. In fact, it feels impossible. What is clear is that being a woman in our culture is to be subjected to a lifetime of unwanted sexual touching, suggestive behavior and flat-out illegal assault.
It will make you uncomfortable, sick to your stomach and depressed about the state of our culture. And that's exactly why you should read it.
Kelly Oxford's timeline should be required reading for every parent. It will shatter any false illusion you have that it could never happen to your daughter. It will make you uncomfortable, sick to your stomach and depressed about the state of our culture. And that's exactly why you should read it. It's better for you to feel sick and uncomfortable while educating yourself about the prevalence of sexual assault than for you to learn years later that it happened to your daughter under your watch while you were in the other room pretending that banter means nothing or that "boys will be boys." You will feel so much sicker then.
Whether we are parenting girls or boys, we need to open our eyes to the real threats that our kids face from neighbors, doctors, older kids in the neighborhood, men in the library, and the list goes on. The sheer number of tweets, each cringe-worthy and heart-rending, shows how much work we have yet to do to make our young girls safe, even in spaces where there should be no threat.
What these heartbreaking tweets also make clear is that the scars last long after the actual act. The grabbing, groping, flashing, and being cornered that many of the women describe haunt them years after the incident.
For every woman who describes assault, there is a man, older boy, or group of boys who took advantage of their access to her body. These men were once young boys, and the older boys were once young and innocent, but they grew up to believe it is OK to grab a woman's body parts or force themselves on women. We have to talk to our sons about how they talk and think about female bodies. It's those thoughts and that talk that turn into actions that spawned millions of tweets over the weekend.
As the mother of both a son and a daughter, I'm having urgent conversations with both of them. Both of them need to know that nonconsensual touching is not OK. Both of them need to know the consequences of being a victim to this type of violence and of being a perpetrator. The onus is on me while my children are young. I won't shut my eyes and minimize the risks just because it's sickening to contemplate. I will read, grapple and throw myself into the solution to this mess. That's what my children deserve. That's what they all deserve.