Amy: When I sat down to write this post today, I intended to write about the more “clinical” matter of anxiety. But, somehow, I kept thinking about this past week of revelations regarding Donald Trump’s objectifying and sexual bullying of women. And I noticed that this political drama playing out on the U.S. stage has re-awakened something in me regarding what we used to call “sexual politics.”
My fellow blogger David Keith and I write quite a bit about the male-female dance as it appears in our office setting. Although I do occasionally see a bully-man who appears intent on denying the “personhood” of his female parter, this is rather rare in my office practice. (An example of such is a case is the post from 4/24/16 “Teaching A Hopeless Husband to Dance“). Most of these men would not submit to the therapy process, for obvious reasons.
The public conversation these past weeks about sexual bullying of women has had an unexpected effect on me. It feels personal. I find myself reacting to casual comments in conversations in new ways. For example, when I recently called my accountant, whom I’ve known for 25 years, to ask him a tax question and he left me a voicemail saying, “You don’t need to do anything, just stay beautiful”, I heard that with new ears. I know surely the comment wasn’t in any way threatening and was harmlessly intended. And when I recently visited an acupuncturist, who, in his limited English, commented on my “beautiful body”, I knew he was speaking from a health perspective. There was nothing scary about how he said it. But I inwardly paused. My sensitivities are heightened.
Lately I’m remembering the many years of feeling exposed walking down the street in New York City. While, as a middle-aged woman, I still occasionally hear a “Hi, lovely” from a guy, these days it’s more amusing than threatening. But there were years where I would cross the street rather than have to walk in front of a line of construction workers and feel undressed by their eyes.
One of the worst incidents of sexual violence occurred for me when I was a graduate student; as I began to descend the subway stairs, on the way to my psychotherapy appointment, a man approached me and sexually groped me and pushed me down the stairs. I arrived at my therapist’s office shaky and tearful. And, I remember that my therapist didn’t really “get” the traumatic nature of what I’d just experienced. Strange as this seems now, he implied that I had exposed myself to this violence by being in the “wrong neighborhood.”
I also vividly recall the time that I lost my way in New York City and found myself in a rather sketchy part of town. New York in the 80’s could be a bit treacherous, reeling with the rampant crack epidemic. I remember my relief when I saw a policeman on the corner and approached him for directions. Instead, he began “flirting” with me, leaving me feel even more stranded and unsafe.
I mention these stories because most women have experienced these types of humiliations and violations. And these experiences are relatively trivial compared to what some women have gone through. I have quite a number of friends who’ve been raped. I believe this feeling of vulnerability becomes a part a woman’s consciousness. Now seems like a good time to broaden this discussion. I guess we can thank–if that’s the right word–Donald Trump for that.
I also recognize, despite the awful echo-chamber of right-wing media, that most men are not like this. I happen to be pre-disposed to liking men. I had a warm and loving father, and two older brothers who were, in different ways, my heroes. I have a son who is an amazing young man, and is, at almost twenty-nine years old, one of my best friends. And I have a husband who is as much of a feminist as I am, and who is truly an equal partner.
I was lucky enough to have a strong and capable mother who never appeared to me like a victim. I know I’m very fortunate in this way. And I’m comfortable with healthy aggression, having grown up in a football-playing family. I love all things sports-related, and believe that the rough and tumble of competition can be helpful in building character strength.
But what we’re hearing from Trump and his ilk has disturbed me to the core. It’s awakened, almost in flashback-like fashion, the many subtle and not-so-subtle diminutions and violations I’ve experienced as a woman. Maybe I thought I was over it, or that as a culture we’d gotten past a lot of this posture of male domination, sexual and otherwise.
The ugliness of Trump’s rhetoric and behavior has unexpectedly awakened in me a feeling of solidarity with other women, and with men who abhor this type of “man” as much as we do. I guess that’s why I felt moved to share my own experiences. This is an opportunity for all women–and like-minded men–to talk about this deep, pervasive and often subtle power dynamic in the relationship between the sexes. It’s a chance to expose, and then hopefully cleanse, the wound carried, often invisibly, by so many women around the world.
We need to shed light in order to overcome this darkness.