Sometimes, people can stretch too far to identify some beneficial consequence of an otherwise terrible event. Some version of a silver lining may be located, but it doesn’t often compensate for the ugly black cloud at its center.
We don’t know that the hopeful movement sparked by author Kelly Oxford will do that either, but if her unexpectedly successful Twitter request prompts a more searching and honest examination of sexual assault on women, then Donald Trump’s vile remarks, which he dismissed as “locker room talk,” about women may have some socially redeeming aftereffects.
Only hours after the revelation of graphic and lurid comments made by Trump in 2005 – in which he gives himself permission to kiss and grope women without their consent – Oxford posted this request: “Women: tweet me your first assaults. They aren’t just stats. I’ll go first: Old man on city bus grabs my [genitals] and smiles at me, I’m 12.” And so began the avalanche.
Oxford, who didn’t expect more than a few replies, was inundated. By Saturday morning, they were coming in as fast as 50 a minute. Many were first-person accounts and were often explicit. By Monday, some 27 million people had responded to Oxford’s request or visited her Twitter page.
There is power in those numbers.
Others also took to social media in response to Trump. Julie Oppenheimer of Chicago wrote on Facebook about some of her own episodes, including being kissed on the mouth by the janitor at her synagogue when she was just 13. “I’ve never really thought about these moments cumulatively before,” she wrote. “In part, because they seem so ‘small’ compared to what many have experienced – not worthy of consideration.” And then she stuck in the knife: “That’s because all of us already live in Trump’s world, where these behaviors are commonplace.”
Laura Sabransky had a similar view. She wrote on Oppenheimer’s thread that she had been given date-rape drugs three times between high school and college. In an interview, she said, “I call Trump a walking trigger alert. He is triggering anxiety and PTSD-like reactions in women, me included.”
That’s the cost of normalizing this kind of behavior. The opportunity is to use the event and the powerful response to alter the dynamic. Surely, that has to be the hope of all decent people after hearing Trump laugh about his treatment of women and the presumed prerogatives of his stardom. Yes, the comments were 11 years old, but there have been no credible signs that he didn’t believe them then or that he has magically matured beyond the 59-year-old he was then.
Indeed, there needs to be more than just hope. As Congress reconvenes in January, regardless of the division of power, members of both parties need to commit to examining and confronting what one woman called the “rape culture – the cultural conditioning of men and boys to feel entitled to treat women as objects.”
Few in Congress are better placed to lead that effort than Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who has endured sexual harassment within the Senate and who has led a lonely fight against sexual assault in the military and on college campuses. Not only does she have the standing to organize such an undertaking, but it would be therapeutic for New Yorkers humiliated by the Republican nominee’s lewd comments to know that a different New Yorker was responding.
It’s a fight that needs to be made in state legislatures, as well, including New York’s, and in schools and churches and at dinner tables.
If that happens, then something of lasting value may be wrung from moral catastrophe represented by Trump’s 2005 remarks about women.