Before this election cycle, I never thought of myself as a naive person. And yet despite watching, Trump manage to weather scandal after scandal after scandal, I still thought there was the political equivalent of a “doomsday machine.” A scandal so dark, Trump couldn’t possibly survive it. I thought “pussy-gate” was that scandal. At the very least, I thought there was absolutely no way anyone with a shred of decency could defend Trump talking about sexually assaulting women as something he casually enjoyed.
Oh how naive I was.
Saturday, the Rowdy Conservatives posted a meme using the popularity of the book 50 Shades of Grey as a way of minimizing and disparaging the furor over Trump’s behavior.
So let’s deconstruct this meme because RC managed to pack a lot into a single question. First of all, American women upset and enraged by Trump’s behavior aren’t concerned about “naughty words.” I can easily and without concern type the word “pussy.” See? That’s more than the meme-makers could bring themselves to do. The real upset is what those words MEAN specifically that Trump is casually describing how he enjoys sexually assaulting women. Canadian author Kelly Oxford called on women to tweet their sexual assault stories in the wake of the scandal. Oxford’s intention was to show how pervasive sexual assault is an experience for women.
Women: tweet me your first assaults. they aren't just stats. I'll go first:
Old man on city bus grabs my "pussy" and smiles at me, I'm 12.
— kelly oxford (@kellyoxford) October 7, 2016
The response was swift and astounding.
I posted my assault, asked women to share theirs, thinking "if no one discusses I'll pull it down." 9.7million later pic.twitter.com/h1y7iIiU7M
— kelly oxford (@kellyoxford) October 9, 2016
So American women aren’t upset that Trump used the slang term “pussy” instead of “vagina.” American women are upset because he described feeling sexually entitled to any attractive woman in his presence. Presence is not consent. Fame is not consent.
The meme then radically victim blames. Apparently, if you bought 50 Shades of Grey you were consenting to sexual assault. I somehow doubt it would have sold so well if there was a disclaimer to that effect on the cover.
Now last time I checked, that’s not how consent works. Buying a book doesn’t mean I feel comfortable with anything in the book happening to me. I happen to have a copy of Red Dragon. That doesn’t mean I’ve consented to be a victim of a serial killer known as the “Toothfairy.” And yet this meme is directly equating purchasing a book with consenting to anything that happens within it happening to you. By buying a book with a rape in it, you have expressed your consent to have it happen to you.
Now notice the shift here. One sentence is “Ohhhhhh you’re upset about naughty words” and the next is “You really WANTED to be assaulted, you dirty slut.” This is YOUR fault, not mine.” It’s classically abusive behavior and if there is one positive take-away from this election cycle it’s that Trump has brought to the forefront issues of sexual assault, rape, and abuse. It’s not an accident that Trump’s campaign coincides with several entitled white male rapists getting off with minimal or no jail time.
Now, there is no doubt there is some similarity between Trump’s comments and 50 Shades of Grey. The book details Grey entering Ana’s home without her permission and later having sex with her without consent. That’s going a bit farther than just “grabbing” a woman, but Grey clearly enjoys a similar sense of entitlement. Grey’s abusive behavior, manipulating Ana, is fairly similar to Trump’s gaslighting of the American people. Regardless on where you come down on the book, fan or foe, purchasing the book does not mean you would consent to Mr. Grey or anyone else doing the things detailed in the book to you. It also doesn’t mean that you would vote for Mr. Grey for president.
Feel free to read and enjoy whatever kind of book you like. It means absolutely zero in terms of how you are allowed to react to news about sexual assault.