We’ve come too far to not be “tough”

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Armed with my favorite cancer-laden pack of Marlboros, I idled outside the Student Media Center around 9 p.m. on Sunday.

Perfectly content with my spot on Broad street, I begin marking up a final draft and inhaling carcinogens when a well-dressed man, probably in his mid-30s, stops in front of me. I glance up and he unabashedly continues giving me the once-over. I am wearing Nike Air Force Ones, sweatpants and a men’s t-shirt.

“A fuckable tough bitch,” he mutters, standing less than a yard from me.

I cock my head, trying to gauge if he’s insane, or dangerous, or talking into a bluetooth headset. He doesn’t seem to be any of the latter.

“What?” I ask him, not really wanting a response — frankly I am too tired and lacking too much patience for this stranger to ruin the rest of my cigarette.

He looks me over again and smiles widely, like I should be saying “thank you” for his endearing introduction.

“A tough bitch,” he repeats, still smiling. “But entirely fuckable.” And then — before I can even exhale a plume of smoke at him — he walks off.

It struck me as I walked back into the office that this is precisely how I felt when I read Donald Trump’s 2005 comments caught on audio two weeks ago — it was bizarre and disgusting, but not out of character or surprising.

“You can do anything,” Trump said in the recording released by the Washington Post on Oct. 7. “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

No matter how desensitized women are forced to become regarding daily sexist encounters, the fact is degrading behaviors are not acceptable on Broad Street coming from the mouths of strangers and certainly not a man who hopes to lead the hegemon of the free world.

When I read the transcript of Trump’s words in 2005, sitting at the bar inside the Village Cafe, I reacted very similarly to how I did outside my office: I blinked a few times, cocked my head to one side and let out a bitter laugh because … of course, right?

Trump denied these allegation vehemently, labeling his remarks “locker room talk” and a “distraction” from the “real issues” this country is facing today.

But violence against women is a real issue this country is facing.

This election marks a time when more college women nationwide have come forward in reporting sexual assaults, batteries and rapes on their campuses than ever before, when more than 200 colleges and universities are under federal investigation for mishandling matters of Title IX law and when the current administration has actively pursued making these matters of national importance and scrutiny.

This is only the 24th U.S. election white women have been allowed to vote. Women of color have had the opportunity to participate in 14 or less elections, depending on which state they lived in. There are not one, but two, women campaigning for the U.S. presidency this election and this is not something that can be taken for granted.

Trump’s statements are not about right or left wing leanings. This is a matter of human integrity and fundamental respect (as it has been every time he finds a new way to somehow disrespect a new group of marginalized people).

Frankly, what is more shocking and almost as disgusting, is it took 11-year-old audio to finally confirm to some Republican elected officials and members of the citizenry how sleazy the party’s candidate is.

Has Trump’s violent disregard for the dignity of women been not abundantly clear for decades?

In 1991 during the George H.W. Bush administration, Trump told Esquire magazine it doesn’t really matter what the media writes “as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”

In 2011 he walked out of a courtroom during a deposition over a failed real estate project and called the opposing lawyer “disgusting” when she asked for a break to breast feed her three-month-old child.

The Associated Press reported this month that “The Apprentice” producer Katherine Walker said Trump would constantly speculate, judge and rate women contestants’ bodies, gauging which might be “a tiger in bed.” Another crew member recalled Trump stopping in the middle of a set to point at a contestant and say “You’d fuck her, wouldn’t you? I’d fuck her. C’mon, wouldn’t you?”

Or let’s not forget about Trump’s co-ownership of the Miss Universe and Miss America pageants. In 2009, beauty queen Carrie Prejean wrote about the “Trump rule” during the Miss USA pageant in her book.

According to Prejean, Trump would appraise the girls’ appearances before the competition ever began so he could separate the ones he thought were attractive and which ones weren’t.

“Many of the girls found this exercise humiliating. Some of the girls were sobbing backstage after (Trump) left … it was as though we had been stripped bare,” Prejean wrote.

Then there’s Trump’s comments last month about the 1996 Miss Universe winner and Venezuelan actress, Alicia Machado, who he called “Miss Piggy” after she gained weight following the competition — going from 118 pounds to a completely reasonable and totally healthy 160.

“She was the winner and she gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem for us,” Trump said, because of course it was if he couldn’t milk a bigger profit margin out of a woman catering her entire existence to the righteous and well-intentioned male gaze.

Trump said in his 1997 book, “The Art of the Comeback,” there are three types of women and they can be categorized by how they react to prenuptial agreements (Trump is now in his third marriage).

Well, I think there are three types of misogynists: those who victimize women because they are in a position of power over them, those who are not in a position of power over women and therefore feel threatened, or both.

The former is ugly and often leads to overt instances of sexual harassment, assault and violence. But the latter form is more covert; it is a weak attempt at degrading women for simply existing because the idea of an autonomous, intelligent female in a position of power is perhaps the worst sin one can bear witness to. The combination of former and latter, however, is most dangerous, and perfectly characterizes Trump.

I have experienced both forms of this misogyny. When I was 15 I lost my virginity to rape by a man more than a decade my senior. I learned later that when I walked into the room full of people for the first time he pointed at me (I was also wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt then) and told one of his friends, “that’s mine.”

Similarly, in the last year I have been evicted twice and lost more job opportunities, easy A’s on my transcript and a feeling of belonging among my peers as I learned the harsh realities of navigating a physically, mentally and emotionally grueling relationship.

Occasionally, as I did tonight, I recall the time my nose was broken on Goshen Street, or a chunk of flesh was bitten from my ring finger — because how can I not think about those things when strangers walk away from calling me “tough but fuckable,” and I am left staring across the street at the same spot where my blood inked the snow red two years ago.

But what I think bothers me more about both the stranger on Broad Street tonight and Trump’s lewd existence (not just language, mind you), is their reaction, in particular, to “tough bitches.”

It’s ironic, because the fact is being a woman is tough. Being a woman who doesn’t take failure as an answer is tough. Being a woman who has an iron grasp on her own autonomy, dignity and refusal to be demeaned, patronized or pigeon-holed is tough.

And that is why Trump’s comments about women leaders on both sides of the political spectrum are so inherently, even more-so, offensive.

In 2012 and 2015 Trump criticized Huffington Post owner Arianna Huffington, not for being part of the “liberal media,” but because he thinks she is ugly. In August 2015 he called FOX news’ Megyn Kelly a “bimbo” after the first Republican debate when Kelly questioned him about previous accusations of sexism.

Later, after a CNN interview, Trump suggested Kelly’s line of tough questioning was a function of her being on her period. In September 2015 he came for the only female Republican candidate on the primary ballot, former Hewlett-Packard boss Carly Fiorina.

“Look at that face,” Trump said of Fiorina. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that being the face of our next president? I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not supposed to say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”

And let’s not even dive into the dozens of times Trump has threatened to reignite conversations about Bill Clinton’s infidelity to Trump’s opponent, Hillary — as if the whole nation, and then some, hasn’t been aware of that debacle for the last two decades.

Trump’s attacks on these women, and countless others in similar positions of power, are pathetic, pitiful and petty. He is desperate. His money can’t get him what he wants because these women are not interested in being bought.

Huffington, Kelly, Fiorina and Clinton each had to claw their way up by consistently proving people wrong by flexing their brains, not their tiny clenched fists, or wallets.

Currently, there are 23 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies — that’s 4.4 percent of the total — and Fiorina was one of them at Hewlett-Packard. In politics, there is only 19.3 and 20 percent representation of female lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate, respectively. In the media, there is virtually almost no female ownership in the print, radio or television industries.

Regardless of how “crooked” or “evil” or downright terrible of a person you can make Clinton out to be, the fact is she — like her Republican counterparts, Kelly and Fiorina — had to be “tough” to get where she is.

In an interview with Humans of New York owner Brandon Stanton, Clinton shared the time she was taking a law school admissions exam at Harvard. She and her friend were the only women in the room.

“And while we’re waiting for the exam to start, a group of men began to yell things like: ‘You don’t need to be here.’ And ‘There’s plenty else you can do,’” Clinton said. “And they weren’t kidding around. It was intense. It got very personal. But I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t afford to get distracted because I didn’t want to mess up the test. So I just kept looking down, hoping that the proctor would walk in the room.”

This is the reality of being a woman in the real world. You can not afford to lose your cool over being degraded simply for existing in your female body. You can not afford to sacrifice your success by allowing others to demean you.

“I know that I can be perceived as aloof or cold or unemotional,” Clinton continued. “But I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off.’ (…) But if that sometimes is the perception I create, then I can’t blame people for thinking that.”

This is the cold, harsh reality of learning to be “tough.”

I am so grateful for the experiences and supplements to my life’s narrative I’ve acquired in tirelessly pursuing what I love to do. I am in my second year as Editor of one of the best college newspapers in Virginia. I have won state and national recognition for my work, as have so many of my peers, friends and colleagues.

I hired the first female sports editor in decades — because she earned it. Our creative director is a female, too. And we work our asses off, tirelessly, without taking anyone’s shit, because that is what we’ve had to do each step of the way to get where we are.

I’m not unaware of the times I am the only female in a room full of reporters. I am not unaware of when interview subjects spend more time looking at my chest, or complimenting my hair than giving me a semi-intelligible statement.

I’m not ignorant to the fact that at the Atlantic 10 and NCAA Men’s Basketball tournaments I could count on one hand the number of women reporters sitting courtside among the dozens of seats — or the fact a group of men in the work room had nicknamed me “Tits.”

Coincidentally — that’s also what the boy who raped me six, nearly seven, years ago called me too.

I learned a long time ago that anger, frustration or outspokenness rarely address these problems. When you are working you need to keep your head on straight and focus on the task at hand. Success is the sweetest revenge — and maybe that’s what makes a “bitch” a little too “tough.”

Today is the last day to register to vote.

I implore you to do so. It’s online, free and easy. I absolutely implore you, however, to not cast your vote for Trump on Nov. 8.

If you have a sister, daughter, mother, lover or friend who is female-bodied you can not afford to elect this man to the highest office of the most powerful nation on earth.

It is unacceptable, disgusting and an embarrassment this man is even on the ballot. Take it from me, a cold, hard, sweatpants-wearing “tough bitch.”


EXECUTIVE EDITOR

Sarah King. Photo by Julie TrippSarah King
Sarah is a senior studying political science and philosophy of law. She is a copyeditor for INK Magazine and reporter for the Capital News Service wire. Last spring, the Virginia Press Association awarded Sarah 3rd place for Public Safety Writing Portfolio and the Hearst Awards recognized her as the 4th place winner for Breaking News Writing. In April, Sarah was invited to the White House for the Administration’s innaugural College Reporter Day. She previously worked as an editorial intern for as Congressional Quarterly Researcher and SAGE Business Researcher in Washington, D.C., as well as RVAmag and GayRVA.com
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kingsa@commonwealthtimes.org

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