If you brush off Trump’s disgusting comments, you are condoning rape culture and sexual assault

Like many, I’m disgusted by Donald Trump’s comments about women, particularly the ones that just came to light in which he bragged about his ability to sexually harass and assault women because he’s “a star.” I’m even more appalled by people–including Christian leaders–brushing off these comments as nothing more than idle private talk between men.

If you haven’t figured out yet that rape culture is a real thing, it’s time to wake the hell up. Donald Trump is a prime example of male entitlement over women and their bodies. In addition to his numerous degrading comments about women, he has been accused of marital rape, of sexual harassment, and even of raping a 13 year old girl while hanging out with a guy who is now a Level 3 registered sex offender. Yet even after recorded comments in which he basically describes sexual assaulting women just because he can, some of his supporters are unfazed. Why? Because they are steeped in the rape culture that permeates our country.

Because here’s the thing: the kind of disgusting entitlement expressed by Donald Trump is not in any way limited to misogynist billionaires who think they can get away with it because they are rich, famous, or powerful. It’s the stock-in-trade of way too many boys and men, and it’s so routine that even some women brush it off as being no big deal.

One-fifth of women will be raped in their lifetime, but even that awful number is only part of the problem. I suspect that nearly ALL women are sexually harassed, coerced, or assaulted at some time in their lives. 

Why would I make that claim?

Because I grew up and still live in a culture of male entitlement–in rape culture. I am only one person, but I have dealt with multiple instances of sexual abuse and harassment in my life, and from listening to other women, it is clear that my experience is quite common. If you brush off Donald Trump’s comments, then you are telling me that everything that I and countless other women have experienced at the hands of entitled boys and men is perfectly fine. Here is my (partial) list of the consequences of male entitlement and rape culture in my life:

Because of rape culture and some men’s sense of entitlement over women . . . 

  • When I was a child, a deacon in my church (probably in his 70s) tried to sexually molest me in a Sunday School room. Fortunately I was able to run away and hide in the women’s bathroom before he got too far. I was too young and afraid to ever tell anyone this. This is not the only such experience from my childhood, but I’ll move on.
  • When I was in middle school, I was repeatedly sexually harassed by two boys who would put their hands in my lap under the table in our reading class. Like Donald Trump, they thought it was acceptable to “grab her pussy” and do whatever they wanted to a girl without her consent. In fact, one of them threatened to tell on me when I used a pencil to stab his hand, which happened to be up my shorts.
  • When a male teacher was told about one instance of this harassment by me and a male witness, the teacher did nothing to punish the harasser and only moved him to a different table, near other girls. The groper in that case later harassed a friend of mine, and was also accused of rape a few years later although he was never charged.
  • Another boy harassed me for months during my freshman year despite my attempts to evade him and the fact that I complained to teachers about his incessant and unwanted attentions.
  • When I was in college, one of my boyfriends thought it was fine to push me into types of sex-play that I did not want, and to try to coerce me into compliance through emotionally manipulative behavior. Fortunately, I got out of that relationship, but its emotional consequences lasted quite a while.
  • At one of my first jobs, a male coworker thought it was okay to play pornography on office computers and to cozy up and touch me without my consent in order to make another coworker jealous.
  • When I was at a club with female friends one time, a young man ignored me when I said I had a boyfriend and was not interested, and tried to french kiss me and put his hand down my pants. Apparently he and Donald ascribed to similar ideas about women. This is only one of several memorable times when I’ve been subjected to unwanted touching, especially in crowded places.
  • When I was traveling alone once and had attended a musical performance, I hid in a bathroom to avoid a man who had attached himself to me despite my clearly expressed lack of interest in his company. When I came out of the bathroom, he tried to follow me to my room, and when I stopped to tell him to leave, he grabbed me and touched himself sexually in the middle of the street. I extricated myself from this assault by screaming at him and gouging him with my large room key (cliched, I know, but effective nonetheless). I am firmly convinced that if I had not made a scene that caused him to stop following me, I would have been forced into my room and raped.

Despite all of this (and even what I have omitted because it is too personal to talk about), I count myself lucky not to have suffered rape or serious sexual abuse, and if you think about that for a minute, you may realize how ridiculous it is.

Why in God’s name should I feel lucky–grateful even–to have only been repeatedly groped and harassed, and only semi-assaulted in the street? BECAUSE RAPE CULTURE IS REAL AND EVERY WOMAN IS ITS VICTIM. Some of us are victimized more, some of us less, but NONE OF IT IS OKAY. Trump’s words are not okay. They are not jokes, or idle chit-chat. They are not simply lewd. They are the language of dehumanization, assault, and rape. They should be intolerable and indefensible to anyone, male or female, with even a shred of decency and respect for women.

If you brush off Donald Trump’s comments or any similar language from anyone else, then you are actively condoning a rape culture that allows and even encourages all of the behavior that I described above, and much worse.

If you “don’t give a rip” about Trump’s comments, you are telling me that it isn’t a big deal that some boys and men have always felt they had a right to grab me sexually or to try to force themselves on me, and you are telling your mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, and female friends the same thing. If you’re a woman, you are justifying both your own victimization and the routine abuse of your fellow women at the hands of men like Donald Trump.

I for one, won’t stand for it. I consider myself and my fellow women worth more than that.

We deserve better.

We deserve dignity, respect, safety, and ownership of our own bodies.

We deserve better than to feel lucky because we’ve never been raped. 

#NeverTrump  #EndRapeCulture  



Irreparable Damage: The Problem of Christian Purity Culture

What we call Christian “purity culture” in America has developed in the last few decades as a reaction against loosening sexual morality, and it focuses not only on refraining from sex (and other acts like fantasizing or kissing) before marriage, but also on strict rules of modesty that are mostly directed at girls and women. It spawned the True Love Waits campaign that was a staple at the Baptist youth conferences and camps that I attended as a teenager in the mid-90s.

In conservative religious circles, purity culture has also prompted the popularity of daddy-daughter dances and dating (I’m all for dads spending time with their daughters, but over-romanticizing it as a ‘date’ is somewhat creepy, as in this video).

Purity balls are even creepier, if not downright horrifying from a feminist standpoint: in one variation of this marriage-like ceremony, a young woman stands up with her father, who gives her a purity ring and pledges to exercise his authority over her, specifically over her purity (i.e. modesty and virginity). Meanwhile, the daughter silently commits herself to remain pure. She does not even get to pledge on her own behalf. 

I have two responses to such ceremonies: the first is “Ick!” and the second is, “What about the boys?”

Well, the founders of the same purity ball described above explain on their website how they provide a supposedly similar experience for their sons, who at age twelve have a “manhood ceremony” in which they are given a purity ring that reminds them to honor God (not the authority of their fathers) and an enormous sword to symbolize “the incredible privilege and responsibility we [that is, men] have to stand courageously as mighty warriors of God.”

So, while girls silently give up all authority over themselves and their bodies to their fathers, boys are given a (very large and phallic) symbol of their incipient manly authority at the symbolic age when Jesus began to speak and ask questions. The founders also invite boys to attend the purity ball to see how their fathers treat young women, which is essentially as passive pieces of property over whom they have authority, most particularly in matters of sexuality.

Featured image

Image: “How to Handle Your Females” by nakedpastor, in response to purity culture.

This is not surprising, considering that a great deal of sexual morality has always been aimed primarily at controlling women and their bodies. Marriage in the Hebrew Bible is essentially an economic transaction in which the wife and her resulting offspring became property of the husband. Strict sexual standards for women ensured that babies born into a family were legitimate heirs, and marriage practices sought to ensure that men had heirs to continue the family and preserve its property (i.e. levirate marriage, polygyny, divorcing a barren wife, or producing heirs using slave women). Men, especially powerful ones, had much more sexual liberty than women, and most rules regarding sexuality and marriage practices were for the direct benefit of men.

Although Jesus and Paul advocated a more gender-neutral standard for sexual morality and a more precise definition of marriage (bye-bye multiple wives, slaves, and concubines), throughout history men in western cultures have been granted much more leniency to have sexual relationships outside of marriage than women have. Thus, we have no female equivalents of popular philandering archetypes like Don Juan or Casanova because such behavior in a woman simply made her a whore.

While I am all for self-control in sexual behavior and for fathers taking an active role in guiding their daughters, purity culture is pernicious because it continues the promotion of double standards for girls and boys. It takes away any authority that girls have over their own bodies and gives it first to their fathers and then to their husbands. It also gives boys and men the idea that they have a right and a responsibility to control female bodies.

Critics of purity culture have rightly linked it to male entitlement and even to rape culture because of the way it takes away women’s autonomy. In addition to these critiques, purity culture can be extremely harmful to women’s spiritual lives (and probably men’s as well, but I’ll leave that aside for now). Here is my take on the reason why:

Purity culture takes sex and puts it into a category of its own so that it seems like the most egregious act that person can commit. It also places an undue burden on girls and women to avoid sexual desire–both their own and male desires that might be incited by their bodies or clothing. It also sends a message to young women that their self-worth is inextricably tied to their sexual purity.

Generally speaking, men have always been expected to have sexual desires, and to be sexually aggressive, while women have been expected to be pure and passive. Consequently, a young man’s sexual transgression is more likely to be seen as a slip up or a mistake that does not detract his inherent worth. This is because men are not understood to be automatically altered or damaged by a sexual encounter.

On the other hand, a woman’s loss of virginity before marriage has been understood as an irreversible alteration of her body and as a permanent stain on her character, and the social and psychological implications of these ideas are still very much with us (for instance, in gender-biased metaphors used to teach abstinence).

Sins can be forgiven, but virginity cannot be restored, which means that if a young woman makes a wrong decision about sex, the feelings of shame and guilt associated with it can become long-lasting and even permanent. The sin may be forgivable, but being forgiven does us little good if we are unable to accept that forgiveness and grant it to ourselves.

Shame hinders the holy work of grace and forgiveness and separates us from God. It can also isolate us from our faith communities because of our fear of condemnation and rejection.

Purity culture attaches so much gravity and shame to one particular act, especially for girls, that if they transgress sexual boundaries, they can end up feeling like they have done irreparable spiritual damage to themselves. Girls need to know that they are worth more than their virginity before marriage, or their purity afterwards.

Christian culture needs to teach self-control in sexual matters, but not in a way that takes away young women’s autonomy and encourages male entitlement over women’s sexuality. Girls need to be given the guidance and then the authority to make positive decisions about their own bodies without a heavy cloud of unequal expectations and potential shame hanging over their heads.

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