Will Liberal White Dudes Finally Realize That Sexism Is Real?

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
Lux Alptraum is a writer, consultant, and comedian living in New York. All opinions are her own.

The morning after Donald Trump won, I went out for breakfast, mostly as a way to distract myself from the growing terror that had started gnawing at me somewhere around 10 p.m. on election night.

On my way home, a strange man approached me and started chatting about how pretty I was, and was I always so pretty? I ignored him, but he persisted, sidling up next to me and walking with me down the block. When I asked him to leave me alone, he gestured towards my gentleman companion and said, “He’s alright with it,” as though the tacit approval of a man who happened to be walking with me made my consent moot.

“No, he’s not,” I said, depressed that it was my companion, and not me, who had say over whether my boundaries were respected.

It felt fitting to be treated this way the morning after a Trump victory, but I would be lying if I said the experience itself was new. My consent, my emotional well-being, and even my very bodily autonomy are all regularly disrespected and violated, even in Obama’s America. The only difference in Trump’s America is that, now, fewer people feel the need to politely disapprove of those daily violations — and the routine violations of virtually every woman.

When Pussygate hit the airwaves, the only thing that surprised me was how shocked everyone — and especially men — professed to be. The “Well, I never!” and “Not in my locker room!” seemed like knee-jerk denials of something we were all too polite to admit: The entitlement Trump feels to female bodies is just average heterosexual male entitlement, writ large.

The entitlement Trump feels to female bodies is just average heterosexual male entitlement writ large.

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Earlier this year, the New York comedy scene was wracked by allegations that one of its members had sexually assaulted multiple women; a number of progressive men — including a Saturday Night Live cast member and writer and an Inside Amy Schumer writer — turned on the accusers, questioning their allegations and their credibility. And that was not an isolated incident. A number of prominent men, from Bill Cosby to Louis CK to Jian Ghomeshi to Nate Parker have been accused of sexual assault, even as many of them claim to stand up for the rights and well-being of women.

The risks women face to their physical safety aren’t merely from the cartoonish, proudly misogynist monsters of the alt right: They’re from our friends, our family, our partners, and, yes, even Hillary-supporting “nice” liberal men. The same fathers of daughters who claim to cherish and revere women routinely make us less safe, chipping away at our physical and emotional boundaries and reminding us that — more than anything else — our purpose in life is to be consumed by the men who happen to find us attractive.

The only thing different about Trump is that he doesn’t feel obligated to hide his raw, ugly misogyny behind any sort of polite facade. He doesn’t feel the need to pretend that he respects women — that he sees them as anything other than bodies to be rated or holes to be filled — perhaps because he knows that, as many of his defenders stressed, his graphic descriptions of sexual assault aren’t all that different from the way men across America talk to each other about women.

The ugliness is out in the open now, and in a few months, it will be inaugurated into the highest office in the land. We can keep pretending that it’s an isolated, #notallmen thing, that there are good men and monsters and this time the monsters just happened to win. Or we can recognize that this is an ugliness that we are all culpable in, one embedded in the way we depict women in the media and in how we frame sex and relationships on TV and in films and in books; a toxic sea of misogyny that we’ve all been immersed in for so long, we barely recognize it for what it is.

We’ve been trying the former for a while now, and this is where it’s got us. The latter option might be the only one we have left.


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