Growing up as an American kid I was enamored with the idea of adult life. Unlike for children, everything seemed to be open and free for adults. You could buy whatever you wanted as long as you went to work every day. You could go wherever you wanted as long as you had a car or money for a plane ticket. Even as I got older and the reality of adulthood became clearer, I still felt that I was mostly correct, at least in theory. All that really mattered was that you were at least 18 years old and American. If you wanted to get really crazy, you just had to be at least 21 years old and American. As I got older I added little caveats to some of these thoughts, like ” . . . if you have rich parents.” When I entered high school I added a glaring caveat: ” . . . if you’re white.” But that’s just life, isn’t it? Challenges are to be expected.
Then I became a woman. And just like physically becoming a woman, my awareness that my femininity was a negative didn’t happen all at once or even have a distinct beginning.
There was the time in 7th grade when a message went up on a stall door in the girls’ bathroom that directly named the boy I had a crush on: [MY CRUSH] IS A LOSER IN LOVE WITH A ZIT-FACED 7TH GRADE SLUT. As the only 7th grader with cystic acne, I was, at first, ecstatic, even with the ridiculous slut accusation. Until my best friend asked if I wrote the message. I didn’t, but the doubt was still in the air. Pointing out to everyone that the message was more insulting to me than to him, a star athlete, only seemed to make my guilt seem more obvious. When the vice principal told me that I had to scrub the writing off myself, I asked why she couldn’t figure out who really wrote it and make them clean it. She explained that the words were “very hurtful” to my crush and that I “needed” to take them down “for him.”
There was the time in 9th grade when I faked sick during P.E. for two days in a row during the week of the “President’s Fitness Test” to avoid the “shuttle run.” I had long hated the shuttle run, in which the entire P.E. class sat and watched you run a short distance, but when the first girl in my P.E. class stood up for her test and a wave of snickers filled the gym I especially wanted nothing to do with it. I asked my P.E. teacher if I could test in private, or maybe just in front of the girls. He said he couldn’t make special exceptions. I watched every boy get high-fives from the other boys after completing their tests. As I ran for my own test, all I could see were boys licking the air in my direction and pretend to juggle close to their chests, miming as if they had breasts.
There was the time in 12th grade when my favorite teacher asked me out on a date the night after my high school graduation because he “couldn’t hold it in anymore.”
And so on. And so forth.
I long ago had to come to terms with what being an American woman really meant. I can’t go wherever I want, whenever I want, regardless of cost or method of transportation. I can’t even walk around a giant American city (Chicago) in broad daylight on a busy pedestrian street (Belmont Ave.) without cat calls and/or getting followed and practically stalked. I can’t just show up to work everyday and make enough money because I have to constantly prove that I am just as worthy of being employed as any male counterpart, who will make more money than me regardless of if he shows up or not.
So when a man who is asking me, and everyone in America, to make him President of the United States, says about women, “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything . . . Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything,” I must give pause. Not because I’m shocked by what I’ve heard, but because he’s talking about me. I have 100% confidence that I will never have to worry about Donald Trump grabbing my pussy, but it doesn’t matter. Because to Donald Trump, I don’t matter. If you are also a woman, you don’t matter. Sure, my pussy and my “big tits,” would matter a whole lot to Donald Trump if they were within his physical grasp. But if they aren’t, then they’re just parts of a woman’s body and again, as a woman, I don’t matter.
When I hear statements like this from former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani: “So he said some very bad things 10 or 12 years ago. He’s apologized for it. And it seems to me … we should move on,” I’m really happy for Giuliani.
Similarly, when I hear a statement like this one from New Jersey governor Chris Christie: “I’ve known him for a long time and I’m really upset by what I heard but in the end this election is about bigger issues than just that so at this point I still support him,” I’m really, really, really happy for Christie. I truly am.
Because I would love to have the freedom that Trump, Giuliani, Christie, and countless other men have, to see the “bigger issues.” I would love to hear Trump casually joking around about sexually assaulting women and write it off as a momentary mistake, a lapse in judgement, something regrettable but not reprehensible. But Trump is talking about me. So I can’t. I would love for taxes or national security to feel more personal and important to me than the idea of any man, much less the President of the United States, sexually assaulting me. But Trump is talking about me. So I can’t.
These defenses of Trump are like saying, “Look, we can all agree that cancer is bad, but let’s talk about the bigger issue – the common cold.” “Bigger issues” don’t exist when you can’t get past the first issue.
There is a lot going on in the world. But in this case, the lack of autonomy given to American women is the biggest issue – one that must be solved, or even attempted to be solved, before we as a country can really “move on.”