Today, Kate Harding, author of a range of feminist books including Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body published an essay entitled: “A Reason to Thank Trump.” In it, she listed out the surprising assortment of places and voices now discussing Trump’s misogyny and otherwise “teaching Feminism 101 lessons to a national audience.” She closed by noting, as if speaking to Trump himself,
I’m truly grateful that you have laid bare the misogyny, racism and xenophobia buried deep in the soul of America, and that you’ve done it in a spectacular, no-going-back way. Generations of social justice activists have struggled to achieve what you’ve accomplished in the course a single campaign: forcing this country to confront how our systems and institutions consistently lift up white male mediocrity and its entitlement to other people’s effort, money and bodies. For years to come, whenever we’re tempted to believe we’re long past our most shameful days, we need only remind ourselves that Donald Trump was a serious presidential candidate in 2016.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. I certainly agree with much of her premise and have been writing many of these same things over the past few weeks. Trump’s performance in the first debate made it painfully clear that it was Trump’s gender — his maleness — that protected him from what would otherwise be immediate consequences for his utter unfitness for office. Hillary’s use of the phrase “implicit bias” in response to questions about the crisis of police brutality and police killings of black people did facilitate us having a national discussion about concepts like implicit bias in ways that have not happened before. After a recording was released of Trump bragging about sexual assault, the #NotOK/#NotOkay campaign unleashed a flood of stories from near and far of women’s everyday experiences with sexual assault.
But those last two points don’t belong to Trump in any way.
To the extent there is a collective conversation about implicit bias, it is because Hillary — not Trump — is talking about it. And Hillary is talking about implicit bias thanks to the tireless efforts of activists of color at a local and national level, of the Movement for Black Lives, which rose up from the #BlackLivesMatter created by Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza, three women of color, and of black reporters like Shaun King of the NY Daily News and Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post. NOT because of Trump.
And if Trump had his way, we would dismiss his boasts about sexual assault as mere locker-room banter. The people who have really turned the conversation around are folks like Kelly Oxford, who inspired well over a million women to stand up and speak out. Or, if we aren’t going to credit these millions of women willing to show the courage they have, how about LeBron James’ interview and the flurry of tweets from other professional athletes denouncing the idea that locker room talk about attractive women devolves into celebrations of criminal sexual violations. We aren’t taking sexual assault seriously (or even talking about it seriously) because of Trump. In fact, I’ve questioned whether the men in our lives are really taking this moment to heart at all. Whatever the answer to that question, to the extent that sexual assault is being treated as anything other than a laughing matter, that is despite not because of Trump.
I recognize this is a minor twist on what Harding was saying, and I respect her and the underlying idea she was getting at here. In fact, I think we probably agree on most things and would have a fabulous time over drinks.* But I’m not willing to give that loutish, brutish, fearmongerer credit for anything here.
I’m also not certain that the national consciousness has changed as much as Harding seems to hope or believe. I’m not sure that this is really mainstreaming feminism. My husband and I have been talking about our worries that we will see a retrenchment — a doubling down — on misogyny after Hillary is elected in much the same way that we’ve seen a retrenchment and doubling down on racism in the years since Obama became President. Trump, who was at the center of the birther nonsense, is a perfect example of this all — nonsense that he started years ago. Harding imagines a not-so-distant future where we’ll be able to look back at Trump and think of him and the zenophobia, racism, sexism and general hatred for the other as a low point in our nation’s history. I hope so, but I’m not willing to declare victory just yet.
And I’m still not thanking that dipshit — a term I previously reserved exclusively for my best friend’s ex-husband — for anything.
*Harding, if you’re ever in DC and want to grab a drink, hit me up @ladylawyerkate on twitter!