As a woman, this tweet by Trump enabler Paul Sperry sent me reeling.
Sperry assumes that a picture of Biden’s accuser demonstrating how attractive she was is evidence that her charges are credible. The inference is that women who are “much older and much heavier” aren’t likely to be sexually assaulted. It shows a complete misunderstanding of sexual predators.
Sexual offenders are attracted to vulnerability. Perpetrators seek out potential victims who they perceive as easy to overpower and manipulate. They look for those who would be unlikely to report the assault and who would not be deemed credible if the assault were reported. Older adults are especially vulnerable to sexual violence.
Personally, I didn’t reach the conclusion that Donald Trump was a sexual predator when I heard the Access Hollywood tape or the myriad of stories from the women who have accused him of sexual assault. Instead, it became clear to me before those things came to light when I read the transcript of his appearance on Howard Stern’s radio show from December 2004.
As was often the case, the two were discussing their sexual attraction to famous women. On this particular day, Trump brought up Lindsay Lohan, who was 18 at the time. After going back and forth about whether they found freckles and red hair attractive, the conversation took an even uglier turn.
“Can you imagine the sex with this troubled teen?” said Stern.
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Trump said. “She’s probably deeply troubled and therefore great in bed. How come the deeply troubled women, you know, deeply, deeply troubled, they’re always the best in bed?”
If that is both shocking and disturbing, it should be. The man who would later become the President of the United States engaged in a conversation about how deeply troubled women (in this case, a teenager) are “always the best in bed.” That is the hallmark of a sexual predator—for whom sex isn’t about giving and receiving pleasure, but about power and dominance. No one nailed Donald Trump better than Franklin Foer back in 2016 when he wrote this.
[T]here’s one ideology that [Trump] does hold with sincerity and practices with unwavering fervor: misogyny…Trump wants us to know all about his sex life. He doesn’t regard sex as a private activity. It’s something he broadcasts to demonstrate his dominance, of both women and men. In his view, treating women like meat is a necessary precondition for winning, and winning is all that matters in his world. By winning, Trump means asserting superiority. And since life is a zero-sum game, superiority can only be achieved at someone else’s expense.
That is precisely why Trump was a regular guest on Stern’s show. He wanted to publicly talk about treating women like meat and brag about his sexual dominance. But being a sexual predator is much like being a bully—they’re both cowards who prey on those they view as vulnerable.
Trump’s cowardice is demonstrated by how he reacts to women he can’t bully or dominate. The two that stand out to me are Michelle Obama and Nancy Pelosi. I’ve noted before that the former First Lady has effectively silenced Donald Trump. If you want a reminder of what a strong woman sounds like, take a listen to the speech she gave just one week after the release of the Access Hollywood tape. As is almost always the case, Michelle never mentioned Trump’s name. But she expressed both the anger and the pain we were all feeling at the time. Just as importantly, she pointed out what a weak man Trump is.
The men that you and I know don’t treat women this way. They are loving fathers who are sickened by the thought of their daughters being exposed to this kind of vicious language about women. They are husbands and brothers and sons who don’t tolerate women being treated and demeaned and disrespected…let’s be very clear: Strong men—men who are truly role models—don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful.
Nancy Pelosi has tangled with Trump on several occasions. Apparently, he hasn’t been willing to meet with her since this happened—for fear of being humiliated again.
Michelle Obama and Nancy Pelosi are wonderful examples of what it means to be a strong woman. But we need to re-think what it means to be strong in order to rescue the word from its patriarchal associations with dominance. Marge Piercy did that in her poem, “For Strong Women.” Here is how it ends.
A strong woman is a woman who craves love
like oxygen or she turns blue choking.
A strong woman is a woman who loves
strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong
in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;
she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf
suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she
enacts it as the wind fills a sail.
What comforts her is others loving
her equally for the strength and for the weakness
from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.
Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
Only water of connection remains,
flowing through us. Strong is what we make
each other. Until we are all strong together,
a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.
While some people criticized Hillary Clinton’s 2016 slogan, “Stronger Together,” there were a lot of us who knew exactly what she meant. That election was a quintessential contest between strength and dominance. Too many people didn’t recognize what was at stake and I will probably go to my grave wondering why they allowed a sexual predator to inhabit the White House.