It’s time I wrote about this. Women, though, tend to keep quiet when such incidences happen to them. That’s one of the things men know.
First, a clarification: I will be speaking in terms of men assaulting women, but I am fully aware that men assault men, women assault women, and yes, it’s possible for a woman to sexually assault a man.
Second, a definition: In tort and criminal law both, an assault is the threat of bodily harm coupled with an apparent, present ability to cause the harm. (So if you were thinking that in order for it to “really” be sexual assault, the guy has to put his hands on the woman, rough her up or hurt her a bit or go further than just groping her, nope. He’s culpable if he as much as breathes down the back of her neck and tells her he wants to ____ her; if she feels the threat of bodily harm and believes he has the ability to carry it out, that constitutes an assault.
This is something most men don’t know. (Yes, they should, but where and how would they learn it? I am only aware of it because of my stint in law school—and that was at the age of thirty-six. Certainly we don’t teach our boys this in public school, but yes, somehow, we should.) Of course, a man can make a play for a woman, flirt with her, talk sexy to her—if she is amenable. But we all should agree that uninvited sexual attention that is not reciprocated is wholly inappropriate—to say nothing of what Donald Trump said it was okay to do.
In fairness to Mr. Trump, if you listen very carefully to the audio of his casual and very unfortunate conversation with Billy Bush, you’ll hear him say these words: “They let you.” If you’re a star, his point was, they let you. Not the amorphous “they” we sometimes speak of. Women. He meant women. Women will let you “grab their pussies” (as Trump so crudely put it) if you’re “a star.”
In a sense, he’s right. This is what men know. Men know that most women don’t tell. Oh, they may go home and call a best friend and vent about the creeper or perv or lech who came onto them or was all over them and how they had to make an excuse to use the bathroom or go call the babysitter in order to get away. But most of the time in those awkward situations—at a party or at work—when a man like Trump shoves a girl against a wall and tries to kiss her, most women will just let it go. And men know this. Most men know—or to be precise, men who engage in this type of behavior—that probably the worst that will happen is a rebuff. No slap in the face, no push back, no going to the press (or the man’s wife). Women, most of the time, don’t.
Because this is what we know (and what men like Trump know): A man in Trump’s position holds the power. Say, for example, a female journalist is subjected to this behavior and she immediately writes a story and it’s printed the next day. Who will be harmed by her action? A man like Trump? Of course not. All he has to say is that she’s lying, that he would never think of doing such a thing. She has no proof, so he simply has to deny the claim. But what happens to the woman who brought it? She’s called a liar, a whore, someone out to exploit a celebrity for her own gain, someone with an axe to grind. Look at all those women assaulted by another popular celebrity who has been in the news lately. None of them came forward when it happened. Why? Because they knew. Not only would no one believe them, but their own careers could be placed in jeopardy if they said anything.
Men who engage in this behavior know this.
And women know that, most times, it’s pointless to try to do anything about it.
Three times during the years I was teaching men came at me in a manner that was highly inappropriate. Each time it began with the innocent pretense of a hug but immediately became something else. I was a single woman. All three men were married. Two of the three were popular teachers and coaches. I could have reported them. I could have gone to an administrator and documented what happened, placing their marriages and careers in jeopardy. But I didn’t. Because I knew. People—especially women—already looked askance at me for being an independent single woman, a tomboy who preferred the company of men (not for sexual reasons) over women. I knew that nothing would come of my complaint, that the perpetrators would simply deny anything ever happened, that I would be the person pointing my finger at someone—like Donald Trump—who was popular and well-liked and yes, I’m choking on the word, but yes, respected.
Interestingly (though not surprisingly), one of those men was on Facebook just tonight, I noticed, making a harsh comment about Hillary Clinton. Oh, I’m not friends with him on Facebook. But one of my highly respected teacher friends is. And I’m sure she has no idea what kind of man he really is. Or maybe she does….
As we’ve seen, when one woman comes forward, not much—or nothing at all—is done. But when many women come forward, it is sometimes powerful enough to turn the tide of opinion. Sometimes.
And there are times, I must confess, like tonight when I saw that man’s name on my friend’s Facebook page, and I read his snarky comment about Hillary, that I think how easy it would be to write a comment back in reply, there on Facebook where many, many people would see it, a comment that would out him in some way. “Yeah, ____, like that time you grabbed me in the hallway outside my classroom and….” But I don’t. He’d just deny it. I know this. And men like him? They know they’re safe. That’s why the culture of “they let you do anything” continues.