What Feminists Won't Say About Trump's Latest Accuser — But I Will

Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images.
Karena Virginia (right) speaks at a press conference on Thursday with attorney Gloria Allred. Virginia has identified herself as a victim of sexual misconduct by Donald Trump.
Judith Newman is a journalist and author. The views expressed here are her own.

Shocker: I’ve been groped by strangers. And so have you. And you. And you. You know what happens when some stranger behaves grossly? You’re skeeved, and then you tell your girlfriends, and they tell you their creepy stories, and you all try to one-up each other in vileness, and by doing so you make each other feel better. You know what doesn’t happen? You hire Gloria Allred and hold a press conference.

Like everyone else in this silly election season, I’ve watched with a mixture of fascination and revulsion as women have come forth and accused Donald Trump of sticking his hand in their crotch, or mauling them on a plane, or doing one of those prospector kisses where he swoops in and fishes around with his tongue like he’s mining for gold. Trump has, of course, denied all of it, frequently insulting his numerous accusers. But I believe all their stories, and I admire their bravery in coming forth. I want these stories to have power. I don’t want them to be dismissed. And with the latest tale, I fear that’s exactly what will happen.
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Because when you are wealthy, you can be a breadstick and someone will want to fuck you.

A day after the last presidential debate — you know, that one where Donald Trump declared the peaceful transfer of power to be kind of an option he was weighing — his latest accuser stepped forward. Karena Virginia, 45, a yoga instructor and life coach, alleges that in 1998 Donald Trump walked up to her, grabbed her arm, and brushed against her breast. When she flinched, he said, “Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know who I am?” She was, she said “in shock.” As she gave this report, tears ran down her face. Gloria Allred repeatedly leaned in and hugged her. I am sure those hugs had everything to do with being comforting, and nothing at all to do with insuring her head was in the camera frame.

Let’s recap. Twenty years ago, Donald Trump allegedly touched Karena Virginia's boob when she was in her late 20s. He was not a friend. He was certainly not her boss. She did not fear for her safety, as they were in a totally public space and they were both with other people. So, a rich, entitled douche semi-feels you up, and now, 20 years later, you are sobbing about your deep shame next to a Chanel-suited attorney while the cameras click.
Photo: Ty Wright/Getty Images.
I have interviewed Gloria Allred, and I have admired a great deal of her work fighting on behalf of women. But as I watched this, I had a moment of thinking that she was an agent for the alt-right. Because she couldn’t have come up with a better scenario for having them laugh off Trump’s accusers if she had tried.

The phrase that comes to mind, a popular one these days, is "false equivalency." Being groped by someone who you are working for, or who you want something from is not the same as being touched inappropriately by a random, unappetizing stranger. If a former business associate who is partnering with Trump on a project finds him working his hand up her skirt at a party, her livelihood is threatened. If a stranger at a nightclub has a similar experience, her dignity is threatened — but that’s it. I was amused at the comments of the woman in the nightclub, a photographer named Kristin Anderson. She said she talked to her girlfriends about how pathetic this dude was. “Okay, Donald is gross. We all know he’s gross. Let’s just move on.”

You do want to confirm other women’s experiences. You do not want to carry on like this is the creepiest thing that has ever happened in Creeplandia.

That’s what you do. You move on, though if the gross old guy happens to be running for president, you come forth much later and say something about it, even if you know you’re likely to be face- and body-shamed in the process. You do want to confirm other women’s experiences. You do not want to carry on like this is the creepiest thing that has ever happened in Creeplandia. You have a sense of proportion. You are a woman.

The purpose of the press conference, according to Allred and Virginia, was to counteract Trump’s denials about the other women — like we couldn’t figure that out for ourselves. But to do what Karena Virginia did trivializes other alleged episodes where the guy had real sway over the women’s lives.

For example, when People magazine reporter Natasha Stoynoff says she found herself on the business end of Trump’s tongue in Mar-a-Lago, those alleged actions had consequences: She worried about her job, and ultimately had to get herself taken off the “Trump beat” without quite explaining why. And then, by coming forward, she had to have Trump practically say he’d need Viagra to do her. (Okay, he didn’t say that, but I wanted to use “Trump” and “Viagra” in the same sentence.) At any rate, have you seen this woman? She’s luscious. I’d like to get her a T-shirt with a close-up of Trump’s orange head with the line, “I don’t think so.”

As long as I’m digging my own grave by admitting my distaste for a woman "victim," let me dig it a little deeper: I also believe Donald Trump when he says there are women who slip him their phone numbers, women he has to fight off. Why? Because when you are wealthy, you can be a breadstick and someone will want to fuck you — particularly if they can close their eyes and fantasize about their new gold lamé penthouse. But somehow, Donald’s takeaway from this reality is that consent is always implied if you are rich and famous. It is not. Boy, is it not.

But by the same token, there is a continuum of awful behavior. We have to remember that in order for women to be taken seriously when they are abused, we can’t constantly redefine victimhood to meaninglessness. It’s sort of like an accident that makes you run to the ER. We can debate about the seriousness of various ills and injuries, but we all know the difference between a severed leg and a paper cut. Don’t waste your time with the paper cut. Slap on a Band-Aid and move on.
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If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
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