OPINION: Trump tape offers chance to talk about equality between men and women
October 14th, 2016 | Carey Restino
My son turned 13 this week, an age that launches him into the very beginnings of manhood as he tries to decipher everything from how to use deodorant to how to relate to women.
The same week, the news is full of talk of the recently released video by presidential hopeful Donald Trump talking about making nonconsensual advances on women in demeaning and objectified terms. While many criticized Trump for this and other actions carrying the stamp of aggressive, even criminal, disrespect of women, he remains a national celebrity who is being seriously considered as the next leader of our nation. And that's a little difficult for me to explain to my new teenager.
The United States has come a long way in recent decades in recognizing and working to change the many ways women have been minimalized in our culture. In the 1970s, laws were put in place demanding equal pay for women. A few years later, it was deemed illegal for a man to rape his wife. In 1986 sexual harassment was defined by the U.S. Supreme Court as a form of job discrimination. While all of those forms of discrimination still exist today, many women have been able to fight back and win justice because of these rulings, and with every victory, the societal norm shifts a degree. The playing field that I live and work on is decidedly more level than the one my mother was born into.
But as the mother of both a son and a daughter, there are still plenty of things that are disturbing about how we as a culture view women and men. There are far more examples of women being valued for their sexiness in popular media than there are examples of women being valued for their intelligence, creativity or strength. Many successful women leaders still totter around on high heels, eat like birds and squeeze into form-fitting clothes so as to live up to a standard we have set for them.
At the same time, men are rewarded in many settings for aggressive behavior — we need look only to the reaction of many Trump supporters, who passed off his talk of kissing and grabbing women without waiting for their approval as "locker room talk." How many Americans brushed his words off as just men being men?
If you think normalizing "locker room talk" doesn't equate to real gender inequality, imagine this for a moment — imagine if the tape had been Hillary Clinton instead, talking about how she just kisses men whenever she wants, and grabs their genitals because she's famous. Imagine the shockwaves that would have rippled through our nation. She almost certainly would have been asked to step down from the race. But instead, one of the two leading parties in our nation endorses a candidate who consistently shows deep disrespect for half of the population of our country.
We can judge that all we want, but here's the rub — this is a world we created, where such talk and action by men is considered acceptable. People weren't born thinking that women were meant to be looked at as sexual objects rather than humans — they learned it from their parents, from their friends, and from the programs and movies they watched. And we, either through action or inaction, have supported it.
So how do we start to change this societal norm? Michael Kimmel, author of "Angry White Men" said it well in a recent Ted Talk — privilege is invisible to those who have it. For men and women to achieve true equality in our society, the privilege that allows men to feel comfortable being demeaning and even aggressive to women must become clearly visible. In a way, we have Trump to thank for bringing this issue into light so we can discuss it. We now have a platform on which to start a discussion about "locker room talk" versus sexually aggressive behavior. And if we can start to dig deeper into the things we normalize that stand in the way of true equality between humans, we will all benefit.
Our world is changing, and with it, society's view of men and women, racism, marriage, equality, and so much more. With every step we take toward removing the invisible privileges that exist, we all move closer to a more productive, happier society. So rather than avoid it, I'll be talking to my 13-year-old son about the way Trump acted and talked, and why that diminishes us all. It's not going to be comfortable, but it's what we need to do to encourage the next generation to rise above us.