Combatting Trump's everyday misogyny



Every woman remembers her first assault. This was mine: I was 14 years old and skating at the local ice rink with my younger sisters during the school holidays.

Donald TrumpI pulled over to the side and an unknown man, much older than me, skidded to a halt in front of me. He pinned me to the barricade, rammed his tongue — thick and cold and clumsy — into my mouth, probed roughly, pushed me away, laughed in my face and skated off with his friends who'd borne witness to the attack.

I had never kissed a boy before. I was shocked and humiliated, which, in hindsight, was the whole point. I felt queasy and uneasy but my 14-year-old self didn't have the vocabulary to describe what had happened, couldn't comprehend how this forceful, unsolicited act might be wrong, nor how I should respond to it.

And so I smiled foolishly at my sisters and they smiled foolishly back at me and we got on with skating.

It has happened again and again and again in the years since: in my student waitressing job, when a diner pushed a wad of money into my apron pocket, groped me repeatedly and told me the cash was payment for doing a good job. At the newsroom I was assigned to when I was barely 20 years old, where a serial (married) pest would stoop as he walked past my desk, run his hand up my leg and tell me what type of nipple he preferred.

At the bar — just last year, when I was 46 years old and enjoying a post-conference drink with friends — where a stranger sat opposite me, clamped his legs around mine and demanded I have sex with him.

These are the everyday obstacles women must dodge throughout their lives — from the moment they show any signs of sexual maturity, or even earlier, if they're unfortunate enough — thanks to the vast numbers of men out there who believe they are entitled to our bodies.

My own experiences are mild compared to some of those posted on Twitter following the exhortation by author Kelly Oxford for women to share their stories following the release of the video in which Donald Trump expresses the ease with which he is able to grope women without their consent.  


"It takes a certain level of social enablement to produce men who treat women with such contempt — and to persuade onlookers that they won't be punished for looking away (or cheering on) while it happens."


Women's individual stories, Oxford says, 'Aren't just stats'. And indeed, they're intensely personal, often deeply painful experiences that are so widespread as to disavow Trump's claim that it's only powerful men who can get away with such behaviour. 'When you're a star, they let you do it,' he said. 'You can do anything ... grab them by the pussy.'

But none of the men who touched me inappropriately over the years was a star (except, perhaps, the well-known media personality, old enough to be my grandfather, who creepily stroked my face): these were ordinary men from apparently normal homes who somehow thought it was quite alright to touch me without my consent.

But you'd swear, from men's outrage in response to Trump's remarks — on TV, on internet forums, in newspapers — that such behaviour is rare, committed only by the truly reprobate and swiftly condemned by their fellow men. But, no: the volume of assault and harassment stories shared on Twitter with the hashtag #notokay — 27 million by Monday afternoon — prove that sexual assault and harassment is so common as to be a scourge. And if women in their millions are relating their experiences of sexual harassment and assault, there must be men in their millions committing these crimes.

So where are they, and how did they learn to be misogynists? It takes a certain level of social enablement to produce men who treat women with such contempt — and to persuade onlookers that they won't be punished for looking away (or cheering on) while it happens. It's a male-driven society that conjures women — relentlessly, ruthlessly, in every possible realm — as sex objects, and then treats them as such, wherever it is they find themselves: in the bar, on the ice-rink, at work. In such a world, it's small wonder that boys grow up into men who believe that women's bodies exist for their pleasure and that they have every right to ogle at and leer at and touch them.

But the Trump debacle has shown that men are quite capable of identifying misogynistic behaviour. It also tells us that they are breathtakingly hypocritical for speaking out when it is fashionable or politically expedient to do so, and staying silent all those other times women are sexualised, objectified, assaulted or harassed — which is every single day.

Men's voices are the antidote to this nasty plague, and yet they are too seldom heard. As Professor Shaun R. Harper of the University of Pennsylvania writes in his Washington Post article titled 'Many men talk like Donald Trump in private'. And only other men can stop them: 'When men fail to challenge other men on troubling things they say about and do to women, we contribute to cultures that excuse sexual harassment, assault and other forms of gender violence.'

There might well be a positive outcome from Trump's comments, some recognition among men of the insidiousness of such behaviour, of the widespread nature of it and of their own complicity in turning a blind eye. And perhaps it will give girls and women everywhere the confidence I lacked as a young woman to speak out against the men who harass and assault them.


Catherine MarshallCatherine Marshall is a Sydney-based journalist and travel writer.

Donald Trump image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Topic tags: Catherine Marshall, Donal Trump, sexual assault



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Existing comments

I haven't read this piece, though the title is a dead give away. I was recently yelled at by a hot tempered priest, possibly under a lot of stress due to the scandal that broke out a month or so ago. In all my life I have not been yelled with such ferocity. No one else was in the room with us. The liberty with which men in so called powerful positions in this country, think they have the right to take their frustrations out on women is a disgrace. A priest if he shows no grace in speaking with lay people, fellow priests/ parishioners, has simply fallen from grace. All priests have been given the power to change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. We all owe them our UPMOST respect for this. But we owe it to ourselves and others to let them know they have no God given power to treat women, and vulnerable children with shameless cruelty and disrespect. I pray for the priests and the parishes of the future I pray all misogynists and ill minded men are kept far from entering Holy Orders. The calling is to love the way Jesus Christ did. Human or not, they must try harder, or have the courage to stand down if they're truly and sincerely are unable to stand in Persona Christi. It is a very high calling and only the very best men should be given this honour.

Alexandria | 12 October 2016  

The author detracts from her argument by asserting that because Twitter posted 27 million stories, that is proof of “sexual assault and harassment” by “men in their millions committing these crimes.” Social media is the most unverifiable information source in the world. Indeed, this author has previously, and correctly, written about “the social media echo chamber” where like-minded people discuss ideas “in isolation to those who think differently from them.” This phenomenon is exaggerated when stories like this have been elicited during a political campaign following revelations of the sexual bragging by one of the candidates. Democrats express Puritanical outrage at Trump’s braggadocio having dismissed Bill Clinton’s escapades for years, while Hillary has attacked Bill’s accusers. And where are the protests about a porn-saturated society where most children are exposed to porn before age 13, and where 88% of top porn films contain acts of physical aggression, and 49% verbal aggression? Who objects to college campus sex weeks inviting porn stars to give physical demonstrations? Feminism has declared both modesty and chivalry sexist, and President Obama mandates transgender locker rooms to destroy the last shred of girl’s innate sexual modesty. More principles and less politics are needed to protect women.

Ross Howard | 13 October 2016  

'When you're a star, they let you do it'. No, Donald Trump, wrong, very wrong. I am truly amazed, and saddened, that Trump has survived in the Presidential race. Thanks to Catherine for sharing her story and for an eloquent appeal for men to challenge other men about this abusive behaviour.

Pam | 13 October 2016  

It is not a new phenomenon due to social media. As a girl I was targeted by men when walking down the street, at work and on public transport. Women should not need to be protected by men from other men - there is something horribly wrong with that scenario.

Helen | 13 October 2016  

That's a terrific piece, blunt and honest and real and inarguable. One note: I'm a Democrat, and believe me when I say that many many Democrats here were horrified by Bill Clinton's serial adultery. Trump has boasted in his own book of his decades of adultery. Both men seem to be perfect examples of power causing a criminal arrogance. I hope very much that Trump will not only be hammered in this election but will be haunted the rest of his life by the knowledge that his abuse of girls and women was the proximate reason for his loss. There is much to dislike and distrust about his opponent, a fervid abortion fan, and a Nixonesque neurotic as regards privacy; but then again she has been vilified for thirty years for being a bold and ambitious woman. God forbid.

Brian Doyle | 14 October 2016  

Thanks Catherine, you have articulated what I have been thinking all week.

Michele Bence | 14 October 2016  

Catherine Marshall should know that I have been appalled by her story. I knew that there were sexual predators out there, but not in the numbers that she has encountered. This behaviour is not the sort that would be countenanced in my wide circle of male friends.

Lou | 14 October 2016  

I think we need to reflect on what creates such a warped sense of social enablement. I believe the answer lies in our understanding of who we are as human beings. Raimond Gaita has explored the notion of a common humanity, and it is this notion which must guide our understanding of who we are as human beings and how we should be relating to, and treating each other. Unless there is a fundamental shift at this level no amount of government intervention or social education will be of any use.

Joseph Cauchi | 14 October 2016  

Are Trump's extra-marital lusts different from Bill Clinton's before and while he was in office, and whose presidency is considered to be successful, or those of John, Robert and Edward Kennedy? Roe v Wade toppled the US into a deep moral hole. The Democratic Party is committed to keeping the US there, the Republican Party as a whole is like the Laodicean church, neither hot nor cold, about what it will do, but Trump, perhaps because he is an outlier and needs allies where he can find them, claims to be determined to get the country out of this pit. And should he prove in personal sexual behaviour to be a Bill Clinton while in office, all he would have done is to prove in personal sexual behaviour to be a Bill Clinton while in office. Ironically, the theme in Catherine Marshall’s article, that men should police other men, also answers another charge of bigotry frequently hurled against Trump, that he is anti-Muslim. If ‘progressive’ men should police ‘retrograde’ men, should consistency of principle also mean that ‘progressive’ Muslims should police ‘retrograde’ Muslims?

Roy Chen Yee | 14 October 2016  

Great article, and illuminating comments by readers . It took me the best part of a lifetime (and the joyful responsibility of helping to protect and bring up two daughters) to realise the full truth of what Catherine Marshall writes here. Readers, do yourself a favour also of watching Michelle Obama;s unscripted and from the heart public remarks on Trump's behaviour this week - easy to find still on Youtube.

tony kevin | 14 October 2016  

Unfortunately, this phenomenon of male predation is like many things - it begins in the home.

Janet | 14 October 2016  

Children grow up reflecting what they see in their own family and in the community. Lack of courtesy and kindness to others is a serious character flaw. It's time to start teaching about good character. Here's a worthwhile challenge.

Jane | 14 October 2016  

This morning on the ABC I heard a woman who was horrified that Trump used Tic Tacs to freshen his breath in case he got the chance to kiss a woman. I think the fact that he seems less likely than Clinton to go to war with Putin is also worth a mention in this campaign.

Geoff | 14 October 2016  

Unfortunately boys with adolescent sex fantasies don't always grow up to show chivalry and respect. I started to grow up from those crazy delusions when at the age of sixteen I saw my father show amazing courtesy to women on a crowded bus and summarily told us kids to stand up to offer our seats. What sort of parents did Trump have I wonder?

Rein | 14 October 2016  

I'm astounded that some people can't seem to see the difference between adultery/affair, with sexual assault, Presumably an affair entails consent - and although I'm not endorsing cheating - but what Trump has been accused of and is on the record bragging about is clearly a different matter altogether from a moral and legal perspective.

AURELIUS | 14 October 2016  

Your words spoke to my heart.

Patrine | 14 October 2016  

After about ten comments it was a relief to reach the comments of Janet and Jane. I was a teenager in the 1950s.I remember priests exhorting the Children of Mary sodality girls that they had a responsibility not to lead boys on sexually. A boy is more easily roused than a girl and once roused is very hard to control. And the teenage boys in my class would be reading articles in trashy magazines that it was natural for girls to resist male overtures (cf the animal kingdom) but if the male persisted and got his way, the female ended up enjoying sex. I don't know what is a good age to start sex education by professionals but I do know that I'm grateful for the example my parents gave me of a happy, joyous and productive heterosexual relationship.

Uncle Pat | 14 October 2016  

I had the same reaction to all those high profile men jumping on the bandwagon in condemnation of Trump. You hypocrites! What I have heard over my lifetime is much worse than what Trump bragged about. Some of it just pathetic attempts at male bonding of course, mere bravado. I must admit taking part in the milder sort myself on occasions. I'm sure women do too. But some of it is genuine contempt for women and really quite frightening.

duncan hackett | 22 October 2016  

The above deplorable,despicable behaviour is due to a fundamental breakdown in society of sexual morality in general, from womb to tomb,let alone Christian modesty.

Father John George | 10 November 2016  

I, too, have been sexually abused and harrassed over the years but now, having learned Ho'oponopono self identity cleansing, I am able to erase the memories and so, erase the chance of that particular memory replaying itself. It is worth checking out. Of course, if there are many experiences, it could take some time to erase them but it is worth it. There is information on the internet about it.

Debra | 10 December 2016  

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