In the midst of an election-turned-Jerry Springer circus, millions of women across the country are experiencing what I have dubbed a national case of post-traumatic stress disorder. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has, for so many, unearthed decades of harassment, assault, misogyny, and disrespect that we, as women, must keep buried inside in order to carry out our lives without constantly falling apart and into a heap of tears.
For those who are just tuning into the realities of women who have experienced sexual assault: Yes, it is as terrifying, anxious, nauseating, and heartbreaking as you’re imagining.
In the past week, numerous women have come forward with claims of sexual assault against Trump. “He pushed me up against the wall, and had his hands all over me and tried to get up my dress.” “He continually grabbed my ass and invited me to his hotel room.” “He was like an octopus. His hands were everywhere.“
With each allegation, each tweet, and each news story, I am confronted with a familiar feeling of anxiety: a pit in my stomach, a cold sweat, a lump in my throat. At first I thought it was the change of seasons, or maybe even work fatigue, as working as a reproductive rights advocate comes with its own set of stress, isolation, and heartache. But what I have landed on is how much this election has brought to the surface memories that I had buried for years—every incident of street harassment, every anxious walk home alone late at night, and every uninvited grope of my body. And I am not alone.
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Women are taught as young girls that our bodies are sexual objects, objects that will no doubt be disrespected and violated, though the severity depends on how much we outwardly “ask for it.”
My first memory of learning to fear for my body was at the age of 11, when I saw a picture in my mother’s magazine of Polly Klaas—a 12-year-old girl from Petaluma, California, who was kidnapped from a slumber party. Klaas was found murdered by a convicted rapist. I had never really considered what abduction or rape was, or the fact that as a young girl, I would need to have my guard up for the rest of my life.
It began with young boys grabbing me without my consent in high school, and grew into young men trying to force their way down my pants in college. I have had strangers on the street tell me my lips would look amazing around their genitals. I have had men old enough to be my father graze my breasts on the train. I have been called a bitch, a slut, a whore, and a “white cunt” for not engaging with men who have attempted to break my spirit and treat me as less of a human being. And I am reliving each and every experience this election.
The allegations surfacing against Trump have rattled every skeleton in my closet. They have brought back the terror and panic I experienced nearly three years ago when I woke up in my New York apartment and realized I had been roofied, hysterically crying and searching my body for any signs of rape. They have made me relive the time in undergrad when a young man tried to use his strength over my frame to spread open my legs as we kissed, how loudly I screamed to make him stop, and how quickly I ran away. They have reminded me of the boy in high school who pronounced my last name as Heiney-Smack (because it sounds like Himiak?) so he could smack my bottom every time he passed by.
The accusations mounted against Trump have opened the floodgates of what it means to be a woman in America and have put my trauma, and the trauma of so many women, on repeat.
To each woman who has been harassed, assaulted, mistreated, and abused, you are not alone. I hear you, I see you, and I stand beside you. The disrespect of our bodies, our ambitions, and our lives is cruel and unjust. And it hurts. But we will not be broken. We must not allow yet another misogynistic, vile creep devastate our spirit.
For decades, women have taken to the streets, college campuses, local legislators’ offices, and social media to remind anyone who will listen that our bodies belong to us, and us alone. We are not “pussies to be grabbed.” We are fighters. We are innovators. We are united.
For those who are struggling to stay on task or get out of bed each day, you are not alone.
Author’s note: This article contains my own personal opinion and does not represent the views of my employer.