Many men talk like Trump in pri­vate – only other men can stop them

The Myanmar Times - - Views - SHAUN R HARPER news­room@mm­times.com

AT sev­eral mo­ments through­out the US elec­tion cam­paign I have felt that some­thing about Don­ald Trump was dis­turbingly fa­mil­iar, but I couldn’t quite pin­point it. After see­ing the video of this US pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and mar­ried man talk­ing about kiss­ing women, grab­bing their vagi­nas and us­ing his celebrity to get them to do what­ever he wants, I now fully recog­nise the guy I have known since I was a teenage boy. The Trump on that video is a sex­ist, misog­y­nis­tic, wom­an­is­ing cheater who de­grades and some­times sex­u­ally as­saults women. I know this man and so many like him. I wish I didn’t, yet I do, and I have for a long time.

Truth is, many men ob­jec­tify women and say out­ra­geously of­fen­sive things about their body parts in spa­ces we oc­cupy with each other. In his re­sponse to the video’s re­lease, Trump ex­plained that his com­ments were “locker room ban­ter”. His is a “boys will be boys” de­fence of sex­ism and the ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of women, but he wasn’t in­cor­rect that some men do, in­deed, talk that way.

And such talk is not con­fined to the “locker rooms”. Un­for­tu­nately, the kinds of words we heard from Trump are com­monly spo­ken when men are with other men. Those who par­tic­i­pate in this “ban­ter” are re­warded. Those who choose not to en­gage, and es­pe­cially guys who cri­tique such state­ments, have their mas­culin­i­ties ques­tioned and risk be­ing placed on the out­skirts of so­cial ac­cep­tance.

I have spent much of my ca­reer study­ing men and their mas­culin­i­ties. My re­search has put me in con­ver­sa­tion with thou­sands of young men, mostly high school and univer­sity stu­dents. Many have told me that they learned to be Trumps in mid­dle school, some­times ear­lier. Media, par­ents, fam­ily mem­bers and peers shape how boys are taught to think and talk about women from a young age. While I am quite older than they are, I still un­der­stand and re­late to what my re­search par­tic­i­pants tell me. The hor­ri­fy­ing things Trump said in that video are com­ments I’ve heard from male friends of mine since I was a teenager. As a young boy, I wit­nessed older men ap­praise women’s bod­ies and heard them say what they would do sex­u­ally.

De­spite their fa­mil­iar­ity, the words I heard Trump speak in that video hor­ri­fied me. Most dis­turb­ing was this: “You know, I’m au­to­mat­i­cally at­tracted to beau­ti­ful – I just start kiss­ing them. It’s like a mag­net. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do any­thing.”

Kiss­ing or grop­ing some­one with­out con­sent is sex­ual as­sault.

When men fail to chal­lenge other men on trou­bling things they say about and do to women, we con­trib­ute to cul­tures that ex­cuse sex­ual ha­rass­ment, as­sault and other forms of gen­der vi­o­lence.

It’s pop­u­lar for men to brag about sim­i­lar be­hav­iours. Young men I have in­ter­viewed say their male bud­dies of­ten af­firm and ap­plaud such state­ments. Rarely does one man hold an­other ac­count­able or raise his con­scious­ness about the vile acts he’s de­scrib­ing. De­tails of sex­ual con­quests – even un­suc­cess­ful at­tempts like Trump tak­ing a mar­ried woman fur­ni­ture shop­ping in hopes of hav­ing sex with her – are typ­i­cally cel­e­brated. And be­cause brag­ging of this kind is com­mon, men in my re­search con­fess that they don’t al­ways recog­nise that they and their peers talk about women in de­plorable ways. Hid­ing it be­hind the guise of “ban­ter” or jokes only makes the prob­lem worse by mak­ing it seem­ingly ac­cept­able. It is un­ac­cept­able.

When men fail to chal­lenge other men on trou­bling things they say about and do to women, we con­trib­ute to cul­tures that ex­cuse sex­ual ha­rass­ment, as­sault and other forms of gen­der vi­o­lence. I know from my re­search that con­fronting male peers is dif­fi­cult for a 14-year-old high school stu­dent who des­per­ately wants his school­mates to like and ac­cept him. Univer­sity stu­dents need op­por­tu­ni­ties in their classes and else­where on cam­pus to see women dif­fer­ently, de­velop more pro­gres­sive per­spec­tives about women’s roles and worth in our so­ci­ety, and undo ways they have been so­cialised to view and talk about women. Young men – not just those who spend time in locker rooms – need their dads, un­cles, male teach­ers and other adult men in their lives to teach them how to ap­pre­ci­ate and talk about women.

But too many adult men fall short of this our­selves, es­pe­cially when we are in “men-only” spa­ces where we need to af­firm our mas­culin­i­ties.

I am fairly cer­tain that hear­ing the vul­gar words Trump spoke over a decade ago will com­pel many more women to vote against him next month. Elect­ing the first fe­male US pres­i­dent will not end sex­ism, though, any more than elect­ing Barack Obama ended racism. To make progress, men need to do more than vote against Trump. We must stand up to him and call out oth­ers who say things sim­i­lar to what we heard him say on the video. We have to stop ex­cus­ing the dis­gust­ing degra­da­tion of girls and women as “locker room ban­ter”. Fem­i­nists and coura­geous oth­ers have done much to con­test ex­changes like the one be­tween Trump and Bush. But it takes men to hold our friends ac­count­able for things they say and do to ob­jec­tify women. We must chal­lenge their val­ues, lan­guage and ac­tions.

I un­der­stand now, more than ever be­fore, that let­ting men talk this way about women makes me just as sex­ist. By ex­cus­ing their words and ac­tions, I share some re­spon­si­bil­ity for rape, mar­i­tal in­fi­delity and other aw­ful things that men do. I want other men to recog­nise this, too – not only be­cause they have moth­ers, wives, sisters, aunts or daugh­ters – but be­cause sex­ism hurts all women and men in our so­ci­ety. – The Wash­ing­ton Post

Shaun R Harper is a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia’s Grad­u­ate School of Ed­u­ca­tion, and is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for the Study of Race and Eq­uity in Ed­u­ca­tion.

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