Content note: This article contains descriptions of assault.
On my way to a feminist pro-choice debate watch party a few weeks ago, I experienced firsthand the sort of behavior that Donald Trump bragged about on the 2005 tapes published by the Washington Post earlier this month. As a survivor of physical and sexual assault, this election has been incredibly difficult for me—but little did I know that it wouldn’t be the news cycle that would prove to be its most triggering aspect.
I was wearing my Clinton/Kaine shirt I’d purchased a few weeks prior. While waiting at an intersection to cross the street, a man approached me from behind, placed his hand on my waist, and leaned in to whisper in my right ear.
“Hillary Clinton’s a fucking cunt and so are you,” he said, his voice seething with disgust.
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I froze in the moment, immediately having flashbacks of a past assault: memories of being pinned against a wall and having one man punch me in the face while calling me a “cunt,” a “dyke,” and a “queer” repeatedly while another two watched.
By the time I was jolted back to reality, the man was gone, blurred into the crowd of tourists and suits on Fifth Avenue. There was nothing to be done. I knew going after him would do nothing because there were hundreds of people on the street, and I never saw his face. I knew his hatred of women ran deeper than I could imagine, and it was most likely not safe for me to take any more action in that moment.
And then I went on with my life, as so many of us do. I texted my closest friends letting them know what had just happened, including the friend I was headed to meet. I walked the three or four blocks to the bar and sat down across from her, and she slid her beer to me. We watched the debate, and I almost cried when Hillary Clinton said that there isn’t a woman who doesn’t know what it feels like to be belittled and disrespected.
What I experienced that night, and what I know so many women experience on a daily basis, I believe has heightened as a direct result of Donald Trump’s actions and words. Trump supporters who boast that “he could say anything and I’d still support him” show us how alive and well misogyny remains today. By deeming his own comments “locker-room talk” and dismissing women who have come forward to share their stories of his alleged assault and harassment patterns—aided by surrogates who have blamed everything from an immoveable armrest to a supposed coordination of alleged victims—Trump has proved that those 2005 tapes were a symbol of the misogynistic tone of the rest of his campaign.
Donald Trump says he respects women. But we’ve heard him, even before these tapes, speak in a derogatory fashion about women time and again. His policy positions (though often hard to find) include chipping away at Roe v. Wade via conservative U.S. Supreme Court appointees, and making the Hyde Amendment permanent law.
But the precedent this election has set will not disappear once the polls close and the votes have been counted, regardless of the outcome. Trump has seemingly emboldened people to be blatant in their willingness to assault women—I have encountered this personally. And it scares me to think of the countless other individuals who have as well.
Take, for example, the Black woman being repeatedly pushed at a Trump rally, or the federal government’s worries regarding violence as Election Day draws near. When Trump alludes to inciting action against Hillary Clinton, he sets the stage for his supporters to do the same. Not only toward Hillary herself, but to those who support her, especially women. Trump supporters want to carry out the word of the candidate they love and believe in, and one of the ways they do that is arguably by emulating his behavior. Reports of hostility and harassment toward women by Trump supporters seem to be on the rise, and they have been for some time.
Far too many of us experience and fight against misogyny every day. In our place of work, when we’re walking down the street, or out with friends. It’s a sad realization to think that it’s a part of our everyday lives: Get a cup of coffee, get harassed, pick up the dry cleaning, continue your day. While this reality didn’t start with this election, the election certainly hasn’t helped matters.
The usual lines of “talk to the men in your life” and “share your story” in order to combat this toxic environment are valid, needed, and real. I support them wholeheartedly and strive to do the same. But I also want to add to the list “take care of yourself” and “lean on your community,” because these last few days before November 8 may be the most intense. On the Friday afternoon that the “Trump Tape” was released, I was with my best friends headed to Provincetown, Massachusetts, for a ladies’ weekend. Unplanned, it was as if I was putting myself in a bubble of support and love. The four of us talked about the election, the ways in which it is taking a toll on us, and how we are caring for ourselves. Many times we wondered what the history books will say years from now about the “pussy grabber.”
As we prepared to watch the second debate, I received multiple texts from friends who were checking in with me, many of them also survivors themselves, feeling triggered by the constant news cycle and coverage, wanting to let me know they were there if support was needed. I’ve always been so grateful for my feminist community and the women in my life who hold me up when I need it most. However, I never thought a presidential election would be one of those times.
So often, we hear the rallying cry to and from men on both sides of the aisle: “She’s your sister, your mother, your daughter, your wife,” in hopes this will be the line that will finally help them understand why the misogyny we face is so terrifying. We need to do better than words; they’re not enough.
My relationship to a man, either by blood or romance, is not what should determine whether you think what happened to me on that street corner is acceptable. It shouldn’t take my status as someone’s daughter for you to be horrified that someone called me (and Hillary Clinton) a cunt.