So remember when people finally started to get it about sexual assault? Women students spoke out about college administrations not only not supporting them after reporting assaults but trying to silence them. Stories of sexual assaults at top notch prep schools exploded in the news. Then Donald Trump’s taped remarks about grabbing women by the pussy and forcibly kissing them came out in October and finally everyone was acknowledging and naming sexual assault.
And remember when we thought a man who bragged about touching women however he wanted because he was rich and could get away with it could never be elected President?
Yeah, not so much anymore.
Last Wednesday morning Kellyanne Conway spoke at an event in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. A young woman, a high school student, asked Conway how she could rationalize working for a man who’s been accused of sexual assault and who seemed to admit to it on the tape.
Conway paused. Was she thinking about this question, this forum, as an opportunity to push back against rape culture? Could she frame this in a way that acknowledged how inappropriate unwanted sexual touch is (she called Trump’s language in the tape “disgusting” when it broke in October) without undermining Trump? Of course not.
She was getting ready to scold the young woman for bringing up this tired old argument that was “said probably tens of thousands of times” during the campaign. Really, who cares about sexual assault now?
“Women are tired of the same argument and the same thing you are presenting to me right now. I’m glad that people looked at [those attacks] and said, ‘You know what? That’s an argument that will not create a single job in my community, not bring back a single of the 70,000 factories that have been closed, will not deter one member of ISIS from doing their bloodletting here or anywhere else in the world.’”
Conway then went on to deride Hilary Clinton for not getting more votes from women. She did beat Trump among women voters, 54% to 42%. According to exit polls 94% of black women and 68% of Hispanic women voted for Clinton. Yes, 53% of white women voted for Trump, but that figure was largely driven by non-college educated white women who voted overwhelmingly for Trump, 62% to 34% for Clinton.
There are many, nuanced reasons for how women voted, which are well articulated in “Women Aren’t Responsible for Hillary Clinton’s Defeat,” in The Atlantic. But some of it is what women expect. When you live steeped in rape culture, bragging about grabbing pussy may not seem like that big a deal, or not a big enough deal to not vote with your party.
Or your husband. Several times while canvassing for Hillary David and I knocked on the door of a woman listed on our sheet. No man’s name. Just hers. When a man answered and we asked for the woman the man said, “She doesn’t want to talk to you,” and shut the door.
But back to Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump and rape culture. My hope, when that Access Hollywood tape exposed Trump’s misogyny and objectification of women, was that the national conversation about sexual assault would continue. That this was another nail in the coffin of rape culture.
Instead a room full of young people were told that jobs and factories and terrorist attacks are more important than accusations of sexual assault. Is that because if there’s no rape there are no jobs and factories and terrorists will attack us? We can’t push back against rape culture and improve the economy and be safe?
No, that would be admitting we live in a culture that normalizes rape. When women are scared and disempowered they’re more likely to vote for men who think they have a right to control them. Kellyanne thinks we should keep it that way.