I have reached a point of exhaustion in this election. It is a bone-deep tiredness, rooted not in disgust at the election’s lewd revelations, but in the unexpectedness of its horrors.
A presidential candidate has been caught on tape bragging that he could “grab” women “by the (genitalia)” because he is famous. Talking heads have responded with condemnation and aversion, modeling appropriate motions of outrage.
And I am tired. Because I am a woman in the American Patriarchy. And this kind of brazen misogyny ceased to be shocking long ago.
One in five of us will face sexual assault, often before our bones stop growing. That’s more than 300,000 American women and girls who will be groped, assaulted, sodomized, raped. Every. Single. Year.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
Brothers, if you have more than five women in your family, look at each of them hard in the eye. Absorb the implications.
Though potentially race-altering, Donald Trump’s cavalier bragging about sexual assault doesn’t reveal as much about the American Patriarchy as another man’s laughter does. If you’ve got the stomach for it, relisten to that tape just to hear the chortling encouragement of Billy Bush, former “Access Hollywood” host, blatantly egging his buddy on.
I’d imagine that at a young age, Bush learned how to rise in the Good Ol’ Boys Club. Guffaw at “locker room banter.” Slap a waitress’s backside to prove your machismo. Turn a blind eye when your buddy’s advances are declined but his pursuit continues — and grows more aggressive.
We women (and girls) have learned to play by a set of rules, too.
We wear whistles on our keychains to cry out in dark parking lots. We carry drinks to the bathroom because otherwise we may be poisoned in order to be assaulted. We buy small cans of mace and hide them in our bedside tables. We text each other when we arrive home from a night with friends — we must leave each other these signs that, for one more day, we have survived.
And we learn that every ounce of this is our burden to bear. We are tired.
When they are still small enough to boast baby-fat cheeks, our girls learn that their safety is entirely their responsibility. And its compromise will be entirely their fault.
No wonder two-thirds of their rapes go unreported. Odds are nobody will believe the victims anyway. (Just like few believed the women who accused Trump of sexual violence long before this tape was released.)
The language of oppression that is “locker room banter” is rooted in past violence and the constant threat of future violence. It is there to remind us that we best not bust into that backroom with its cigar smoke and deal-making, little lady. To threaten the Good Ol’ Boys Club is to risk your very safety.
Never mind if you’re a single mom making $8 an hour at McDonald’s while raising two children from the back of a car. When your manager sexually harasses and gropes you, as a worker organizing with Stand Up KC recently reported, you often keep your head down and mouth shut just to keep a job.
Breaking glass ceilings isn’t just about professional power and social status for college-educated white women. It’s the promise of another country that may exist one day — one in which all women’s safety is the whole nation’s responsibility, not just our own.
After the release of the Trump tape, a friend shared a Nayyirah Waheed poem: “all the women. in me. are tired.”
We are tired, brothers. As the architects of the present order, the American Patriarchy is yours to end. While you confront and dismantle it, we will stay busy. Breaking glass ceilings.
Molly Fleming of Kansas City has been a community organizer for nearly six years. She coordinates Missouri’s grass-roots community organizations in their work to put ordinary people at the center of democracy. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.