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Garrett: Trump’s ‘locker room’ comments are indicative of pervasive rape culture

Kathryn Garrett, Op-Ed Contributor

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“I did try and f— her. She was married.”

“I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married.”

“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 them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

These were words heard round the country, uttered by presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2005, and recorded in a tape made public by the Washington Post last Friday. During the following debate Sunday night, Trump repeatedly emphasized that what he said were “just words.” But what he seemed to miss, which moderator Anderson Cooper pointed out to him, was that these words constituted a description of sexual assault. There is simply no other way to classify “grabbing (a woman) by the pussy,” although Trump, and some of his more devoted Republican supporters, certainly tried to cloud the water.

Trump’s overriding defense: it was just “locker room talk.” He repeated this many times, suggesting that this is just the way men speak to one another when not in the presence of women. Trump’s most ardent defenders (Rudy Giuliani, Kellyanne Conway and Ben Carson, to name a few) also used this “locker room” argument and refused to acknowledge that Trump’s words were a description of sexual assault in the first place. The failure to recognize Trump’s words for what they are demonstrates the pervasiveness of rape culture in this country — even when confronted with an explicit description of sexual assault, people deny its validity as assault.

Trump’s dismissal of his comments as locker room talk feeds into the rhetoric that justifies assault with the phrase “boys will be boys.” The fact that Trump made the comments only in the presence of other men does not diminish the danger of his words. Rather, it encourages men to think of sexual assault as something to be joked about and to picture women’s bodies as objects they can degrade and dehumanize. Ultimately, it makes it all the more challenging to bring sexual predators to justice in a courtroom.

A popular response from men all over the country in the wake of this locker room talk defense was essentially, “I’ve never heard anything like this.” Perhaps those men haven’t heard one another speak that way. If men think that, perhaps they should listen more closely to one another, because I have heard men speak this way. I have been directly spoken to by men this way. Almost every single woman has a story, if not multiple, about instances in which they were verbally harassed, if not physically assaulted, by men. One in five women have been sexually assaulted in college. Not only are too many men saying horrible things, too many are doing horrible things.

I have had comments as degrading and objectifying as Trump’s shouted at me from groups of men in cars (“Come back with us and show us a good time”), from men on bicycles as they ride past me (“I want to take you home and f— you”), from boys at fraternity parties (“Are you horny tonight?”), when I walk past construction sites (“Come on, give us a smile”), at concerts (“What do you mean you don’t want to dance with me, you bitch?”) and on public transit (“Come sit next to me, baby”). I should never have to hear these things from a man, let alone a man running for president.

Trump and his supporters say that to focus on his words is a “distraction” from real issues. But sexism and sexual assault are among the largest issues facing our country today. When one in five women is sexually assaulted, to claim Trump’s words are a “distraction” is to belittle and delegitimize the experiences and suffering of these women and all women who have faced any sort of harassment from men.

As Hillary Clinton pointed out at the debate, these words highlight exactly who Donald Trump is as a person. He has insulted countless women, from Megyn Kelly to Rosie O’Donnell to Arianna Huffington to Carly Fiorina to Hillary Clinton to his own daughter, Ivanka Trump, whom he said Howard Stern could call a “piece of ass.” He has attacked victims of sexual assault in the military, breastfeeding mothers, Miss Universe contestants (whom he has admitted to watching change before competitions), female contestants of “The Apprentice” and any woman who dares to challenge him.

To Republicans just now withdrawing their support of Trump, I ask: What took you so long?

To the men who claim they have never heard other men talk this way, I beg: Listen more closely. You will hear these things. And when you do, call your friends out on their sexist and objectifying rhetoric.

To the women who have experienced harassment and assault, and to whom Trump’s comments and the endless conversation about them may have been triggering: I am with you. I am looking out for you, just as I know you are looking out for me.

Kathryn Garrett is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at kathryngarrett2019@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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