Trigger warning: This post references violence against women, including rape, verbal aggression, and other forms of sexual assault.
Earlier this year, a toilet in my house overflowed and I had to call a plumber. Two men showed up, one squat and burly, one tall and broad. Both were much bigger than me, but I told myself not to be nervous as I let them in. They’re professionals, I reasoned. Just here to do their jobs, no reason to think they would hurt me. But I kept my car keys in my hand and held onto my phone, just in case. I even called my boyfriend, speaking loudly enough to let the plumbers know that someone was aware that they were in the house in with me. Again, just in case.
After condescending to me when I told them there wasn’t a man in the house to answer their questions, the plumbers got down to work. At one point, when the burly one removed the toilet from its stand and I noticed a ring of brown wetness around the hole, I asked whether there was shit on the floor. The man, incensed that a woman would dare curse, repeatedly asked what I had said. As I walked away without responding, because it wasn’t his business what I said if he wasn’t going to answer the question, his younger colleague stared into my eyes and said, “I guess her mouth isn’t as pretty as you thought it was.”
I was disgusted, and I felt totally unsafe. Why were they talking about my mouth? Didn’t they understand how inappropriate that was? To make a sexually suggestive comment to a woman you don’t know and who has not invited it? Earlier, the offended one repeatedly asked if I had children. Why does he keep asking me that?, I thought frantically. Are they planning to rape and murder me and don’t want any young witnesses to be traumatized by it? I kept insisting no, it’s just me and my boyfriend, emphasizing the boyfriend part. I reasoned that maybe, just maybe, knowing that I was in a relationship would stop them from assaulting me. They might not respect me as an individual, but maybe they would respect me as another man’s property.
Perhaps that fear was irrational and extreme. But as a woman alone in a house with two men I didn’t know, it seemed prudent to think through all the possibilities. I stood near the open front door as much as possible while they worked, in the event that I needed to escape. I messaged friends on Slack, telling them about the pretty mouth comment so they, too, would know what was going on if something happened to me. I should have told Heath I wanted him to be home for this, I lamented silently. He had offered to handle it but I said there was no reason for both of us to be there. Silly me.
Although the plumbers left without further incident – aside from one insinuating that I’m older than I look (what that has to do with fixing a toilet, I’ll never know) – the episode depressed me. I live in a small, safe town in Iowa. Yet even here, I have to watch my back. Even at 31 years old, the lessons my parents taught me as a young girl remain relevant. Be careful, be on your toes. Even in my own home, I felt threatened by the presence of two strange men. As a woman, you never know.
I recalled this incident after watching the Trump video last week – you know, the one in which he brags about sexually assaulting women. (Regardless of what his campaign manager says, what he describes is sexual assault.) His sense of entitlement and disregard for women as human beings are not exclusive to Trump – those are still rampant in our culture. In 2016, women are still made to feel unsafe through lewd, aggressive language and unwanted sexual advances. And the man who would be president sees this as a fine way to behave. Yes, the tape is 11 years old. But Trump was a grown man at the time and already a public figure. If he thought sexual aggression was acceptable then, what reason is there to believe he feels differently now?
The plumbing episode was not the first time I have felt unsafe around men. The Trump tape brought back memories of other unwanted sexual advances, as I’m sure it did for many other women. I have been kissed and groped by men less powerful than Trump but who nonetheless felt entitled to “move” on me. When I was hostessing at a local restaurant when I was 18, one of the male servers, who was more than 10 years older than me, came up to me, kissed me on the lips, and walked away laughing.
A few years ago, I was out with friends when a man walked up behind me and grabbed my ass. I didn’t know him, had never spoken to him, had never even seen him before. He grabbed me from behind and squeezed; I never even saw him coming. That wasn’t the first time that happened to me and it probably won’t be the last. Being touched, grabbed, and assaulted is still a regular occurrence for many, many women in the U.S. and around the world.
When my younger sister started college this year, I wanted to give her advice about how to make the most of this time in her life. I wanted to focus on the positive and tell her what an enriching experience it would be. But I had to give her other advice, too - you have to cover your drink at parties at all times; don’t walk home alone late at night; always call an Uber if you’re going back to the dorm after dark (although Uber is no guarantee of safety either); text me when you get in so I know you're safe.
“Know your safe” is code for “So I know you weren’t raped or drugged or otherwise attacked.” Before she left for college, my brother and sister-in-law bought her a pocket knife as a going-away present, in case she needs to defend herself. I hate that I have to have these conversations with her, but what kind of sister would I be if I wasn’t honest about the realities?
She’s 13 years younger than I am, and I wish I could say the world is a friendlier place for women than it was when I started college. In many ways, it is. And in many ways, I’ve been lucky. The groping and the catcalls and intimidation I’ve experienced pale greatly in comparison to what most women have suffered.
But this is still the world we live in. Even before Donald Trump became the Republican presidential candidate, lascivious comments and sexual assaults were a reality for women. And just as his rhetoric about walls and religious tests have given people license to spew slurs and hate speech, it stands to reason that his “locker room talk” will allow misogynists and sexists to speak their true minds as well.
Let me be clear – I am sickened by this entire election. But I am particularly sickened by a culture that would elevate someone like Donald Trump to a position of power.
Women have fought tirelessly for the right to self-ownership and to not be treated like playthings. What the fuck has any of it been for – what has any rights movement in this country been for – if a cretin like Donald Trump is elected president? Is electing someone like this not cementing rape culture in the U.S.?
If you are a Trump supporter, please, please think about the message that supporting him sends. I’ve spoken with many people who say they appreciate that he speaks his mind, that he says what other people won’t say. Is this really the person you want speaking for you? Is he really the voice of the downtrodden in this country?
This is a man who is an outspoken racist and misogynist, a dimwit and a narcissist. Now he’s also an admitted sexual predator. His platform is that racism is acceptable, that branding an entire nation of people as rapists is acceptable, that hatred and fear are modes to live by, and that sexual assault is perfectly acceptable if you are in a position of power.
I understand that you’re fed up and you have no faith in either party. But Donald Trump will make the world less safe for everyone in it – including the women you love. Whatever you do on Nov. 8 - vote, don’t vote, support a third party candidate, write someone in - please do not vote for Donald Trump.