“As a Father”: Empathy and the Trump Tape

As if you haven’t already heard, a video of real actual Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump bragging to TV host Billy Bush about his actual and failed sexual conquests was recently released to an immediate storm of responses.

Trump’s comments are pressingly, viscerally disgusting: the phrase “grab them by the pussy” has earned much airtime, but several other proclamations are equally hard to forget, especially: “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.” Let’s be clear: beyond just objectifying and demeaning women, Trump is boasting about serial sexual assault.

I, in all my power and influence, condemn Trump for these sentiments as a human. As a visibly female human in specific, I have been groped by men with a Trumpian mindset. I have wondered, for good reason, whether conversations like this one precede me into or follow me out of all-male rooms. My experiences as a woman may lend this incident extra, horrible weight. But I don’t get my opposition to talk like Trump’s from being a woman. No, I felt ill listening to Trump bloviate and cringed watching Bush tell actress Arianne Zucker to hug him immediately after his rapey comments because I am a person with a basic moral compass.

It’s partly for this reason that I’m concerned by a very common reaction to this video release.

The most popular Tweet format among Republican politicians (Mike Pence, Jeb Bush) and many other public figures seems to have been, “As a husband and father of [x] daughters, I find Trump’s comments unacceptable.”

First concern: why is this the tipping point for so many? Just before the video broke, Trump repeated his call for the execution of the Central Park Five, a group of black men who were accused of raping a white woman and have since been proven innocent. His first campaign ad literally included a call to “ban Muslims.” He and his supporters have taken care to affirm and re-affirm his racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia, and, of course, virulent sexism since the beginning of primary season. As vile as these comments were, Trump’s bigotry should not be a revelation to anyone right now.

Second concern: if this is indeed the line, why is it that powerful, mostly white men feel they have to cite mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters in order to disapprove? Is it that hard to recognize unwanted pussy-grabbing and talking about women like blow-up dolls as bad things? It seems that, to these men, violating a daughter’s purity is wrong in a way that violating any old woman’s body, autonomy, and privacy is not. When men condemn offenses like Trump’s only in reference to women in their own lives, they center themselves. They portray sexual assault as a concern of property damage rather than the breaching of a human’s rights.

I am not the first to notice or interpret this “as a father of daughters” phenomenon (for some comic relief, check out Mallory Ellis’ great article for The Toast). Women have asked time and time again to be empathized with for ourselves rather than for our fathers. Yet these nearly identical tweets and statements are released in droves every time some anti-woman action goes public (that is, all the time).

By Marie Shear’s famous definition, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” We need feminism because of Donald Trump, because conversations like the one taped do happen in and outside of locker rooms. But we also need feminism until we empathize with women as women rather than daughters of men.


Molly Munsell

Campus Coordinator, What the F Magazine

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