BY KELLY COGSWELL | It’s not just a joke. The only upside to the Trump candidacy is how having a sexual predator as a presidential candidate has inspired women to talk about just how frequently we are attacked and harassed.
One woman can just be contributing a perfectly harmless comment to a Twitter thread, and the next thing she knows some man is typing, “FUCKING CUNT, FUCKING BITCH,” and getting all his friends to make death threats. Another is merely walking down the street, a hallway, a subway platform, and some man screams at her, or grabs her body, or shoves her wordlessly merely because she exists as a woman in a man’s world and she happened to cross his path.
The weird thing is that people rarely talk about these attacks in the same category as racist aggressions, or homo- or trans- phobia. In fact, groups tracking hate crimes rarely even keep statistics on anti-woman acts.
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Maybe it’s because rapists, for instance, are rarely seen as anti-woman. Young and drunk, they’re excused as normal, red-blooded boys just overcome by normal sexual urges that got a little out of hand. That is why young men are not to be tempted with short skirts, scarlet lipstick. Or public female drunkenness. Who can really blame swimming star Brock Turner for getting some when he had the chance? Older men who rape become outcasts, are considered the intrinsically violent, the “perverts” whose choice of a specific female victim is almost beside the point.
In college, I remember being shocked when I read Susan Brownmiller’s groundbreaking book “Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape,” describing rape as an act of domination that was all about power, not sex, even if men used their dicks to do it. For one thing, it was the first time I understood that all girls got the warnings my mother gave me, and also that this vulnerability, this violence was partly why all the presidents and vice presidents, almost all the representatives and senators and preachers and doctors and priests… were men. (And overwhelmingly white.)
Brownmiller’s 1975 book also contributed to a growing understanding of how rape is used as a tool of terrorism, aimed at punishing and subduing whole populations. And why we see rape wherever we see war and civil conflict. Across different cultures and races. From the Sudan to Syria to the American South, both during and after slavery. If she made this leap forward, seeing rape as pure power, it may have been because she was building on work done by black women in the South who had already begun framing it as a civil rights issue when they pressed rape charges against white men who not only wanted to humiliate and paralyze black women, but shame the black men who could not protect them. Eldridge Cleaver was inspired to rape white women in revenge –– first practicing on black women –– before he had a later change of heart.
The problem with talking about rape as a tool is that it begins to sound abstract. And erases women. Making the men seem detached and calculating almost as if there were no hate involved, and that rapists and aggressors don’t hold inside of them a cache of fear and loathing that occasionally, or often, wells to the surface in violence and rape. As if Trump grabbed women by their pussies just to establish his power, and not in the joy of pure hate directed at our femaleness and out of a desire to humiliate and destroy.
We don’t have many choices in how to respond. You can fight it every time and die of grief and rage. You can ignore it, even as you shrink a little having learned, as do all people of color in this predominantly white country, that the bodies we inhabit are vulnerable, don’t quite belong to us. The way an effeminate boy learns to shudder at the thought of the locker room.
But indulge this machismo enough, allow your culture to celebrate it, you get femicide, the murders of women like Lucia Perez in Argentina, who was drugged and raped so violently the pain gave her cardiac arrest. The BBC reports that on average, one woman is killed there in domestic violence cases every 36 hours. Argentina adopted an anti-femicide law in 2012, with harsher penalties for men who kill women because they’re women.
By comparison, in the larger US, three-plus women are killed every day just by their partners or exes. Many more every day are raped. The biggest difference is that last Wednesday people all over Argentina walked out of work for a couple hours in the pouring rain to protest against anti-woman violence. Signs read, “If you touch one of us, we all react,” and “Not one more.” Protesters supported them in Mexico, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. I can’t remember the last time women in the US have been outraged enough at murder after murder, rape after rape for us to take to the streets on our own behalf.
Kelly Cogswell is the author of “Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger,” from the University of Minnesota Press.