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Sexism Isn’t a ‘Women’s Issue’

5 minute read

A gender gap emerges as the chest-beating damnations of Donald Trump from Republicans build momentum following their presidential candidate’s inexcusable braggadocio about sexual assault.

And it is not an obvious one.

From Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to Rep. Scott Garrett of New Jersey and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, politicians across the country invoke their wives, daughters and granddaughters as reasons why this openly violent misogyny revealed in a 2005 videotape demands a withdrawal of support for Trump.

But where are the apologies to all our sons and grandsons? There needs to be righteous indignation on behalf of the boys and men who see that you can rise to a position aiming for the highest office in our land despite such hateful and criminal dismissals of women.

Where is Trump’s apology to his own sons, Donald, Jr., Eric and Barron? It appears it is not forthcoming. In Sunday night’s presidential debate, he indignantly and repeatedly justified the video as “locker room talk,” and denied any of his behavior.

I look forward to an age when this notion of a private allowance for immoral misbehavior – as in the “locker room” defense—will not be tolerated as part of a rape culture we condone through our silence. There is no place where this exchange is excusable.

This country’s crisis of sexual assault on college campuses and a public health epidemic of domestic violence is an outcome of explicit and more subtle messages sent to young men. Those messages are that the historic “boys will be boys” excuses diffuse the outrageousness of such crimes.

Consider the reactions to the Brock Turner case, where the former Stanford University swimmer was sentenced to six months in jail and three months probation for sexually assaulting a 23-year-old woman who was unconscious. In reaction to this leniency, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a new law in September that would toughen mandatory sentencing for those convicted of rape of an unconscious person.

There are moments of hope emerging in a culture that forgives men for assaulting women. The backing away of Trump’s supporters and the emergence of men speaking out against such crass portrayal of women point to a possible shift away from the forgiveness for men to behave criminally against women in private—or public. Or perhaps the apologies and claims of rehabilitation only emerge after the video goes viral.

NBC proved intolerant as executives suspended Billy Bush from the “Today” show over the weekend for his role in the 2005 tape when Bush was working for “Access Hollywood. In an internal memo, NBC executive Noah Oppenheim said: “Let me be clear — there is simply no excuse for Billy’s language and behavior on that tape.”

Trump had 11 years to repent for his unforgivable statements about Nancy O’Dell and all women. But he didn’t until the video went viral.

I am the mother of three grown men, ages 27, 25 and 22. I raised them alone as a single parent since they were 6, 4 and 1. For me it was crucial to work to raise good men respectful of women in all arenas, public and private. And that work begins when they are very young—demonstrating a respect not based on gender, but humanity.

I was not flawless in my parenting—not by a long shot—but in our house there was an underlying chorus denouncing putdowns of girls, starting before pre-school. When my sons were adolescents, I made clear that the “C” word and even the “P” word that Trump used in the 2005 video were not allowed.

Yet as athletes on team and individual sports since they were each in kindergarten, they unfortunately heard this kind of language used as an insult to someone was not working out hard enough or failed to deliver a winning performance on the mat or field. When a T-ball coach chided a young boy on the team with, “You run like a girl,” I was loud and public in my objection to the coach.

No. Just no.

I wonder what would Trump’s late mother, Mary Anne Trump, reportedly a generous philanthropist who died in 2000, have to say about her son’s long tenure of mistreatment towards women? I wonder if she saw signs of disrespect of women as a boy. Certainly no mother—or father—is responsible for the behavior of a child grown into adulthood, but I wonder how as families and citizens we can work toward a culture that would decry such sexist and criminal actions.

Almost a century ago, Will Rogers starred in a 1921 American comedy film, “Boys Will Be Boys,’ about a young man raised in poverty who becomes fabulously wealthy. Apparently the plot is about his escapades of “riotous living.”

But that was just a movie; this is real life. We have to make amends, and teach the young boys and men growing up in America today that we will not a tolerate a gender gap in respect. That “boys will be boys” is not an excuse. That a “locker room” defense is weak. I hope we show the world on November 8 that if you dismiss these behaviors as normal, you cannot be President of The United States.

Michele Weldon is emerita faculty at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. Her most recent book, “Escape Points: A Memoir,” deals with raising her sons alone.

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