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October 22, 2016

I Defended “Locker Room” Talk, but I was Wrong.

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This year’s election is turning out to be far more about values than it is about politics.

What perplexes many people, beyond the fact that our presidential race has become such a clown show, is that it is not only men who are supporting Donald Trump, but women, too.

There seems to be no limit to the asinine statements Trump can make about women. No matter what diarrhea-like, misogynistic blubber spews from his mouth, a cheering section made up of middle-aged Bible, gun and vagina-toting supporters continues to shake their pom-poms.

Even Melania Trump, the epitome of a token wife, stands behind him, along with a small army of young (perfectly proportioned) women eager to bask in his glow and earn his praise by allowing him to hold them up as puppet-like symbols of his manhood.

Many of us are left asking, “How can they do this? How can these intelligent women allow themselves to be reduced to tits and pussies?”

Everything in me wants to shake these women into the 21st century and read them nice bedtime stories about the 19th Amendment. But the truth is, I know why they allow Trump to demean them, because I allowed it once, too.

When I was in my mid-20s, our local paper advertised for a news reporter. I had no formal training, but I had been writing since I was old enough to hold a pencil, and the very idea of working in a newsroom gave me goose bumps. I dug my typewriter out of storage and pecked out a resumé, then put on a dress and a smile and drove to the newspaper office.

I was a single mom, young and hungry for the job, and the news editor could smell fresh blood.

He walked me into his smoke-filled office and we chatted for a few minutes while he gave me a once-over. He tasked me with a simple assignment to see how I’d fare, and told me to come back in a few days.

I had no idea what I was doing, but I wrote the story and got a second interview. This time, I met the editor at a restaurant, where we sat at the bar and talked salary. If I made the cut, I would be a crime and fire reporter with a salary of $500 a week. I’d work long hours and there would be no overtime.

“It’s a tough job, kid,” he told me, “but I see potential in you.”

I was fresh off the farm at that point, and full of idealism. I believed most people were genuinely kind, and I wanted to land the job more than anything. I wanted to believe that this wizened, chain-smoking, shot-drinking man in front of me knew something I hadn’t yet learned.

Like a vulture, he circled.

“You’re pretty green,” he said, “so I don’t know if you can cut it in this kind of work.” I knew he was right, but I clenched my jaw as he stared into my face, his eyes narrow and powerful as he looked through me.

“I’ll tell you what, kid,” he said after a pause. “If you can down two shots of tequila, you’re hired.”

Back then, half a beer was too much for me to handle, and I’d never tasted tequila in my life, but I threw down those shots like a pro and landed my first reporting gig.

What I didn’t realize is that I’d sold my soul. I had already stepped into a dynamic of power in which I would always be on the bottom.

Immediately, I was a woman in a man’s world. I intuitively knew the game. After all, I’d grown up knowing my place, and I learned from a young age, like many young women still do, that my value was largely dependent on what I looked like and what men thought of me. No one told me that directly, of course, but I received a million messages every day from the media, from my mother, and from my church that told me my place was in the shadow of a man.

I smiled my way into interviews while the powerful men around me adored me like a loyal puppy. I was young and blond and genuinely naïve, and I am a little ashamed to say, I wanted their approval. I was nothing more than a PR writer disguised as a journalist.

And then there was the newsroom.

All of the graphics, secretarial and editorial staff were women. A man at the newspaper used to come into our shared office, grab himself by the crotch, and say, “Okay, ladies, who wants to give me a blow job?”

And do you know what we did?

Like good puppets, we laughed.

After all, this was all part of the game. We told ourselves, much as Trump’s supporters have said, that this was normal “guy” talk, and that he wasn’t serious. We didn’t realize how dangerous our apathy could be, and that we were accepting a fate, not only for ourselves, but for all of the women around us, that was less than what we were destined to be.

This was just the way it was, and accepting sexual harassment was part of our role as women.

At one point, a woman who was hired on as a new secretary reported several incidents, bringing a lawsuit against the publishing company. We thought she was out of line, not tough enough to hang in a man’s world, and she became the joke of the newsroom.

We actually defended the men around us—much like Trump’s supporters defend what he says about women.

We believed that they let us in on their “jokes” because they trusted us, and because we were worthy of being accepted into the fold. We believed that, because we’d earned the approval of the men around us, we had earned our place at their hypothetical table.

We were wrong.

What we didn’t realize is that we were contributing to a cultural norm that has objectified women and held them as “less than,” not because we truly are, but because it is easier to put us in “our place” than to compete with us on an equal playing field. And it’s still happening today.

Women, we cannot allow this.

We teach people how to treat us. When we teach boys and men that they can reduce us to our sexual functions, we are condoning centuries of demoralization and oppression.

We are better than this. We are equally important in what we contribute to society. We are just as important to humanity as men are, and we need to step up and own that responsibility.

Men, you cannot allow this to happen to the women in your lives.

When you condone this kind of immature behavior, you are saying that you are no better than your hormonal urges. You are saying you are not evolved beyond animals, and that your mothers, wives, and daughters are nothing more than sex objects.

Real men cherish and respect women. Real men don’t need to reduce women to their body parts because they recognize that they have an important place in society.

And mothers, we owe it to our sons to trust that they can be thoughtful and intentional, and that they are capable of being more than one of the guys, wink wink. Hold them to higher standards. They deserve those expectations because they can, and will, meet them.

Almost 20 years has gone by, and I now know enough about myself to know that I don’t have to stoop to stereotypes and sexist comments in order to find my place. I no longer contribute to a culture that allows men to discredit women by failing to recognize and appreciate our intelligence and skills, and I know that my value is not determined by the size of my boobs.

But mostly, the voices of the women around me have changed. I surround myself with women who continue to teach people how to treat them well simply by standing up for who and what we are, and who support and celebrate the accomplishments of others—men or women.

It’s time now for all of us to stand up, because we are all better than this. We need to be more than the roles that Trump has to offer us, for our children and for our nation.

 

 

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Author: Amanda Christmann

Image: Good Will Hunting still

Editor: Travis May

 

 

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