The President of My Childhood
As a young 3rd grader, our teacher gave a box of crayons with an assignment to draw the president of the United States. On my manila paper, I automatically drew a smiling man with a black suit holding an American flag, standing behind a podium giving a speech. This stick figure, with two black rectangles stacked on top of one another for a suit, was the good guy; the best American in the whole country. The words he (now potentially she) would say in his speeches would be inspiring, captivating, and important. Ultimately, he would protect me and all other Americans at a moment’s notice if anyone was ever in danger.
I had never considered as a young girl that sexual violence and sexual harassment could be associated with the potential presidential nominee, let alone the best American in the whole country, who has sworn to protect me and my rights as a citizen. The remarkable trend that is underlying this whole experience that women like me are facing is the American growing perception of how grave a crime like sexual assault is. Digging deeper into this topic is particularly timely, as a majority of the registered voters are women.[i]
We hear about how, “grabbing a woman’s genitals is not sexual assault,”[ii] and how a candidate’s sickness is an indication of their fitness to lead a country,[iii] but we hear far less about issues of significant interest relating to sexual violence that plagues the U.S. and other countries around the world. One such issue is sexual assault in the U.S. military. According to Pew Research Center, 81% of Americans view sexual assault in the military as an extremely or very important issue.[iv] By not responding to these issues, or dismissing these issues as non-relevant will actually negatively affect a presidential candidate’s chances of attaining office. This is highlighted by a uncovered video from years ago showing Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women, which produced a wave of revulsion, and many Republicans denounced him with some withdrawing support.[v]
Sexual assault allegations and dug up, vulgar interviews of a presidential candidate are more shocking to the American public because what we see is more transparent than it ever has been before. But what is it about this election that stirs up in us a revulsion towards the offending candidate so much so that this error can cost him a large majority of the female vote?
History and Numbers
Stanford history professor Estelle Freedman, author of “Redefining Rape,” said the Trump tape and the reinvigorated discussion it sparked on how society treats women could lead to the next cultural shift around sexual violence.”[vi] According to Dr. Valerie Hudson of the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Trump’s remarks have reinvigorated the modern feminist movement more so than any other previous election.[vii] While these remarks from the presidential candidate are hurtful, abrasive, crude, and hateful towards women, he has indeed sparked a debate that has too long been held in the shadows of American politics.
Sexual violence and harassment not only characterizes the dehumanization of persons, but also infiltrates all aspects of society.[viii] In American Perceptions of Sexual Violence: A FrameWorks Research Report (2010)[ix], from expert interviews, “experts described a ‘ripple effect’ of sexual violence: they listed the costs to the criminal justice and health care systems, the decline in worker productivity, and general feelings of unease among all community residents when violent acts occur, among other impacts.”[x] Thus, it goes without saying, that sexual violence is an extremely important issue and incredibly poignant at this point in the election. If a candidate gets this wrong, it may lose he or she the presidency as this issue feeds into all aspects of a society.
Regardless of whatever side of the party line we stand on, these considerations are confronting all Americans during this Presidential election season. While we are facing the potential implications of having a head of state who is, unfortunately, associated with sexual harassment and violence against women, there other current heads of states around the world in power today who have been accused of sexual assault or harassment. It takes brave women, like Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard calling out a member of the opposition party for his “misogyny,”[xi] to stand up to sexual violence that pervades politics today.
The perpetuation of this violence and harassment affects how women and girls see their potential to run for elected office. Data from the Center for American Women in Politics 2008 survey of 1,268 state legislators shows that “43% of male respondents stated that it was entirely their own idea to run for office, whereas only 26% of female respondents said the same. On the other hand, 53% of female respondents admitted that they had not considered running before someone else suggested it, and just 28% of male respondents had not already considered running.”[xii]
What to do in the face of an ever publicized outcry for justice in the face of sexual violence and harassment by our political leaders? Encourage every girl and young woman, and even current elected official to run for office and pursue their dreams of making a difference at the top-most levels of policy-making. Charge them to not entertain the insults that sting so deep and cause fear to rise within our strong, able bodies, telling us ‘No, you can’t do it, so don’t bother.’ Let them know that this pursuit is brave, noble, and just.
Let it be our goal that the next generation of 3rd graders, crayons in hand, can draw a leader that strives to end the sexual assault and harassment of women. Let our leader be one who protects his or her citizens equally, encouraging and inspiring women, and men, to become leaders for the next generation.
[i] Kellman, Laurie. 2015. “Fact Checking Trump’s History of Insulting Women.” PBS NewsHour. Accessed November 1, 2016. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/facti-checking-trumps-history-insulting-women/.
[ii] Redden, Molly. 2016. “Trump backers claim grabbing women’s genitals is not sexual assault.” The Guardian, October 10. Accessed October 27, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/oct/10/sexual-assault-definition-trump-comments.
[iii] Kosar. “SHOCKING News Released About Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Health! (BOMBSHELL).” The Political Insider. Accessed October 27, 2016. http://www.thepoliticalinsider.com/shocking-news-released-about-hillary-rodham-clintons-health-bombshell/.
[iv] Pew Research Center. 2013. “Sexual Assault in the Military Widely Seen as Important Issue, But No Agreement on Solution.” Pew Research Center. Accessed October 27, 2016. https://www.people-press.org/2013/06/12/sexual-assault-in-the-military-widely-seen-as-important-issue-but-no-agreement-on-solution/
[v] Graham, David A. 2016. “The Many Scandals of Donald Trump: A Cheat Sheet.” The Atlantic. Accessed October 31, 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/10/donald-trump-scandals/474726/.
[vi] Paquette, Daniel. 2016. “Donald Trump, Michelle Obama and America’s Long Struggle to Define Sexual Violence.” The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/10/31/donald-trump-michelle-obama-and-americas-long-struggle-to-define-sexual-violence/
[vii] Asquith, Christina and Valerie Hudson. 2016. “Donald Trump is the Best Thing to Happen to American Women in Decades.” Foreign Policy. Accessed November 1, 2016. http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/10/18/donald-trump-is-the-best-thing-to-happen-to-american-women-in-decades-election-feminism-hillary-clinton-sexism-2016/.
[viii] McMahon, Sarah and Karen Baker. 2011. “Changing Perceptions of Sexual Violence Over Time.” VAWnet: The National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women and the National Resouce Center on Domestic Violence. Accessed October 28, 2016. http://vawnet.org/material/changing-perceptions-sexual-violence-over-time.
[ix] O’Neil, Moira and Pamela Morgan. 2010. “American Perceptions of Sexual Violence: A FrameWorks Research Report.” The Frameworks Institute. P. 4. Accessed October 28, 2016. http://www.frameworksinstitute.org/assets/files/PDF_sexualviolence/AmericanPerceptionsofSexualViolence.pdf.
[x] Ibid. Page 10.
[xi] Ghitis, Frida. 2012. “The Speech Every Woman Should Hear.” CNN. Accessed November 1, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/18/opinion/ghitis-hypocrisy-womens-vote/.
[xii] Shuttleworth, Rachel. 2016. “Dare to lead and #DeclareYourAmbition!” Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. Accessed November 1, 2016. https://amysmartgirls.com/dare-to-lead-and-declareyourambition-d493985ab34?list=related#.qdt3k1539.