By Heidi Hutner
Since the release of Trump’s leaked and lewd bus tapes, the Internet has been abuzz with the topic of misogyny and violence against women. Amid Friday night’s Twitter conversations, author Kelly Oxford shared the story of her first sexual assault and then requested others to share theirs. By Saturday evening, more than 9.7 million women tweeted their first sexual assault tales, according to Oxford.
One of these was mine:
My sister’s 19-year old boyfriend (naked in my sister’s bed) told me to take off my clothes. When I refused, he bullied and shamed me. I was eight.
While woman continue to tweet #notokay, many Clinton opponents on the left argue across social media that the eleven-year-old Access Hollywood footage of Trump was leaked “just” to divert attention from the recent Wikileaks of Clinton’s emails. Many claim, Trump’s behavior, while deplorably sexist, pales next to Clinton’s bad deeds.
These opponents state, however, that their dislike of Clinton has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman or that she’s old—yes, ageism and sexism go hand-in-hand. As Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak writes, “A woman her age is supposed to be invisible. But Hillary Clinton, who is 68, refuses to disappear — and there is no shortage of people who despise her for it.” Many Clinton opponents say the ‘feminism question’ on all counts—whether about Trump or Clinton—is just a diversion from more important issues.
CNN political commentator Van Jones jumped in the Trump “grope” conversation the evening the tapes were released to discuss white male privilege. In a video clip posted on his Facebook page, he said: “If Donald Trump were black, you’d be saying he’s a thug. When black people behave this way, they go to jail…[Trump] has confessed to sex crimes. He is describing sexual assault and being a predator. We have to deal with this in an honest way.”
Sifting through these debates, I am most troubled by the claim that women voters are being emotionally “triggered” on purpose and manipulated by the Clinton camp with the Trump assault story. This argument seems particularly belittling to victims of sexual violence and white male privilege.
Hell yes, we’re (I include myself here) being triggered, but we are in no way being duped. Trump is a sexual predator who has risen to prominence on the national stage. He might become our president. But, before that can ever happen, we feel feminist critiques of the abuse of power and male privilege should be front and center in this process.
As an act of feminist protest, I can’t stop at 140 characters. A tweet, for me, in this moment, is not enough. Women navigate assault on a daily basis and we learn, at an early age, that assaults of varying degrees are a part of what it means to be a woman.
Here is a list of the assaults that stand out in my lifetime:
The man beat off in front of me on my best friend’s front steps. I was seven.
A boy named Joseph regularly chased and humped me in the schoolyard. Hard. The kids all called this rape. I ran and ran from him daily, trying to escape, and often came home with bloody legs from falling on the cement. I could not escape. I was nine.
A male relative lifted my pajama top off while I was asleep. I woke up and found him staring at my small breast buds. I was ten.
Eyes. Eyes on me. Everywhere. Vile words on the street. I lived in terror. I bent inward, curved my shoulders, hunched and hid. I wore baggy clothes, made myself as unattractive as possible. Hid my large breasts as much as possible. I tried to shrink them by not eating. Please don’t see me, I prayed. This started when I was 13 years old and lasted until middle-aged invisibility.
The man on the bus in Berkeley who aimed a gun at my head. I was fifteen.
The high school boyfriend who pushed his dick in my mouth. Hard. So hard it hurt. He was much bigger than me. The next day, I thought, was that rape? Should I have shouted no, pushed him off? Was it my fault? I was sixteen.
The boyfriend who pointed at women he deemed “ugly” and called them “dogs.” I was seventeen.
Backstage at Berkeley Repertory Theatre: I was playing George’s little sister in Our Town. The older adult actor playing George kept running his hands up my thigh, under my little sister dress—while we were stuck in a tiny space waiting for our entrance. He had bad teeth and bad breath. I pushed his hand away, over and over again. I couldn’t speak or the audience and actors would hear. And, in the next play, the heroine-addicted, middle-aged actor Lorenzo stood behind me on stage in the place where he’d been directed to stand, both of us facing the audience—his body pressed against mine from behind. Performance after performance, Lorenzo whispered in my ear, “I want to fuck you.” I could not move or speak. After the alcoholic middle-aged director and founder, Michael, began pursuing me nightly, I left Berkeley Rep and my golden acting opportunity. A young member of a prestigious theatre company, who was I to complain? Who could l tell about such things, anyway? The men directed the plays. That’s show biz! I was seventeen.
The man in the subway in Paris. He walked right up to me, put his hand on my breast and stared with fierce anger in my eyes. Nobody stopped him. Nobody helped me. I was seventeen.
The owner of the restaurant who would regularly come up behind me and slip his hand across my breasts. I was twenty.
The man beating off on my apartment stoop. I was twenty.
The man at the dinner party with the live-in girlfriend who walked up to me and put his hand directly on my breast. I was twenty-one.
The older male writer whispered with venom in my ear, “I want to fuck the Jew in you.” I was twenty-two.
And then, there’s my father. Volumes. He never hurt me directly, but he was a chronic philanderer, and he verbally abused my mother—endlessly. I suppose that’s called second-hand violence–?
Heading back to my Facebook and Twitter feeds, I see new lists and accounts of women’s sexual violations. I can’t say where these tweets and posts will lead, but a tidal wave of women’s assault stories is taking place right now.
Revolutions have started this way.
Dr. Heidi Hutner is Director of Sustainability Studies and Environmental Humanities at Stony Brook University, where she teaches about Environmental literature, feminism, film and media. Read more of her work at her website, HeidiHutner.com Follow her at @HeidiHutner.