Fear and Loathing in St. Louis
Content warning: this article will address subjects relating to sexual and domestic abuse.
National Domestic Violence Awareness Month (NDVAM) was a product of the Day of Unity in October 1981. Eight years later, Congress passed a law designating the month as a national observance.
Fifteen years later, during the heat of campaign season, a Presidential candidate’s comments remind us why this month is still necessary.
Recently, footage from an unaired taping of “Access Hollywood” revealed lewd comments from Republican candidate Donald Trump. In it, he bragged about his star status and the privileges it grants him – particularly when it comes to groping women.
His statements about grabbing women in their genitalia were only a small part of the segment time-wise. Trump made other comments about making a pass at a married woman and having a magnetic pull toward attractive women.
But his groping comments are probably the most disturbing – but not just because he said them.
Granted, these comments did happen more than a decade ago, as Trump pointed out in a public apology. He stated his regret for the words he said before pledging to be a better man.
But he also made sure to make some digs at Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton former President Bill Clinton for their transgressions in the past, abusive or otherwise. However, this part was more of a distractor – ironic, considering that he feels the released video was diverting from important issues.
More importantly, though, he made one statement that should make many people worry.
“Let’s be honest,” he said. “We’re living in the real world.”
Many have defended Trump’s comments, stating that it was typical “locker room talk.” Rationalizations such as these permeate a culture that normalizes actions and talk that, by definition, are abusive.
Actress and poet Amber Tamblyn told a story on her Instagram account outlining actions her ex-boyfriend carried out years ago. She was at a music show with friends when said ex showed up, grabbed her up with one hand in her hair and the other under her skirt, picked her up and carried her.
She noted the aftermath of the incident and the bruises it left on her body and her psyche.
“To this day, I remember that moment,” she said. “I remember the shame. I am afraid my mom will read this post. I’m even more afraid that my father could ever know this story. That it would break his heart.”
Fear, shame, heartbreak – does that sound like locker room talk?
For many athletes like basketball player CJ McCollum and football player Chris Conley, this assertion is far from the case. While such conversation is not out of the realm of possibility, the claim that it’s an everyday occurrence is absurd.
But, as “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah pointed out, there is more to locker room talk and to Trump’s comments that meets the eye.
In a segment on an Oct. 10 episode, Noah dissected the concept of Trump’s comments as normalized “conversation between the guys.” He took issue with this assertion, stating that there is a difference between saying dirty words and glorifying non-consensual sexual acts – no matter the approach to vocalizing said concepts.
“Neither of them is ideal,” Noah said. “But one of them is crude, and the other is against the law.”
The National Domestic Violence Hotline cites many signs of sexual abuse, typically within the context of a relationship. Some of these warning signs include unwanted (potentially violent) physical touch and speech that denies or downplays the abuse.
Or, in short, the actions Trump’s comments express and Tamblyn’s ex performed.
If one good thing occurred from the Donald’s statement, it’s the awareness many people are gaining for the problem that is sexual abuse.
Fittingly enough, this eye opening is happening in the heart of NDVAM.
We could delve into the history of the month. We could elaborate more on the statistics on domestic violence as seen on the website for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. We could even lambaste people like Trump or other individuals of privilege for not ascertaining the nature and consequences of their words or actions.
But we won’t do that today. Instead, we’re going to talk about anger –
Because I’m angry.
It’s outright infuriating to see people defending this kind of speak in the spirit of the mantra that “boys will be boys,” a statement that only furthers a lack of accountability for potentially transgressive actions.
It’s maddening to watch anyone downplay allusions to abuse with a completely unrelated scandal. Think of it this way: just because someone feels one wrong is more heinous than another does mean the other thing is not still wrong – or heinous.
It’s exasperating to scroll through social media, see friends call others out for comments like Trump’s and find that complete strangers are attacking said friend for their opinions and body image.
But the most enraging part of this situation stems from Trump’s assertions – that this is the real world. That statements like these happen all the time. That this is just a fact of life that will never change so we need to just suck it up and live with it.
And that is complete and utter garbage.
I’m not here to deny that these things happen, that conversations like the one on the “Access Hollywood” footage don’t happen. I know all too well that they do. But to conflate assault and its apologism with sex talk of any sort is fallacious, if only for one reason:
For the most part, sex talk has some element of consent which Trump’s comments, at face value and upon inspection of implications, decidedly lacks. Trying to normalize it only permeates a culture where sexual abuse is no big deal.
And that’s why speaking out about these things is so important. Most everyone knows a woman in their lives whom they would not want to see fall victim to assault.
But you don’t need to play six degrees of separation to know that assault is wrong. You just need the basic understanding that nobody deserves to be the target of sexual abuse, regardless of chromosomal makeup or personal relation. The fact that some need to play this game of connect the dots to feel sympathy for the victim of an assault just shows how much of an abuse-apologist culture that exists.
That, too, is why I’m angry. That’s why we need more people to speak up. I’m not so optimistic to say that anything I do can spark enough of a response to change these attitudes.
But I’ll be damned if I didn’t at least try.