Trump tales depressingly familiar
The arm went around my shoulder. Then the hand began to creep, farther and farther, down the neckline of my dress. I was 20, at a fancy dinner for my college newspaper. The hand belonged to a grown-up — make that supposedly grown-up — editor. An editor from whom I wanted a summer job.
I would like to tell you I removed said hand and told its owner in no uncertain terms what he could do with it or, more to the point, couldn’t. But I can’t. My response, as I recall, involved some combination of resigned submission to this uninvited pawing and strategic wriggling out of reach.
Reader, I got the job. I went on to enjoy a cordial professional relationship with this man. Neither one of us mentioned the incident. Alcohol was involved, and I suppose I chalked his misbehavior up to that. Making a fuss seemed unwarranted and, even more, selfdefeating.
The episode wasn’t traumatic, not even close. Indeed, by the standards of the tens of thousands of tweets shared in recent days under the hashtag #notokay, it was mild.
Now, 38 years later, it feels more humiliating than it did back then. I am embarrassed by the meek complicity of my younger self, shamed to the point of being wary of revealing it to my daughters, now college students themselves. I like to believe they would not sit still, literally, for such treatment.
This is a story I rarely share, because I feel it makes me look as bad as my groper. Before this column, I have told it precisely once in public, when I was invited back to the college newspaper’s banquet as a guest speaker. But the moment stuck, as these moments do for the many women who have endured them and then tucked the memory away. And so, when men wondered how Anita Hill could have not only tolerated harassment from Clarence Thomas but followed him to another job, believing, naively, that his behavior had improved, her conduct didn’t strike me, and many other women, as all that surprising. We make accommodations; we tell ourselves stories. It’s getting better. We need the paycheck.
Now comes our latest national consciousness-raising conversation, in the form of Donald Trump, and claims by numerous women — the tally climbs daily — that he groped them without consent. What is depressingly familiar in these accounts is that their response, like mine, was not to confront but, at best, to ignore and avoid — and, at worst, to blame themselves for the predicament and their complicity.
Don’t let it stop you from getting your work done. Thus, People magazine writer Natasha Stoynoff’s account of Trump pushing her against a wall and forcing his tongue down her throat when Stoynoff was at Mar-a-Lago in 2005 to report a first-anniversary story about Trump and new wife Melania.
Immediately after the assault, Stoynoff said, she pretended nothing had happened: “I tried to act normal. I had a job to do, and I was determined to do it.” And then, “like many women, I was ashamed and blamed myself for his transgression. I minimized it.”
So, for Trump, Stoynoff’s silence then became evidence of her dishonesty now. “Why didn’t the writer of the twelve-year-old article in People magazine mention the ‘incident’ in her story? Because it did not happen!” Trump tweeted.
Don’t turn it into a big deal. These things happen. Business executive Jessica Leeds told The New York Times that Trump, octopus-like, touched her breasts and reached up her skirt on an airplane flight three decades ago. Leeds’ reaction was not to summon the flight attendant; it was to return, obediently, to her original seat in coach.
Women “accepted it for years,” Leeds said. “We were taught it was our fault.”
Indeed. In a 2013 radio interview, Donald Trump Jr. summed up this suck-it-up, blame-the-victim mentality. “If you can’t handle some of the basic stuff that’s become a problem in the workforce today, then you don’t belong in the workforce,” he said. “Like, you should go maybe teach kindergarten. I think it’s a respectable position.”
If there is any silver lining to this dreadful election, it is to expose the persistence of such distorted thinking. To teach boys and men that such behavior is unacceptable, no matter how powerful their position. And, most of all, to embolden girls and women to speak up, not submit, when they feel that hand, inching toward its target.