This Unnerving Line From Summer Zervos' Statement Shows How Women Are Treated As Sexual Objects In The Workplace
Over the past few days, multiple women have stepped forward with stories of allegedly being sexually harassed and/or assaulted by Donald Trump, accusations the candidate strenuously denies. And, with high-profile attorney Gloria Allred by her side, a former contestant on Trump's reality TV show The Apprentice has now added her voice to the chorus, shining a light on the casual harassment, objectification, and sexism women can face in the professional world. Although Trump has denied these allegations, saying he “vaguely remembered” Zervos but “never met her at a hotel or greeted her inappropriately a decade ago,” her statement speaks volumes. And there's one line from Summer Zervos' statement that vividly describes the sexism women face when they try to move up in their careers or try to form professional relationships. Update: Summer Zervos, one of the 15 women who accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct, is suing Trump for defamation. “All of these liars will be sued after the election is over,” Trump said at an October 2016 rally in response to Zervos and the others who alleged he sexually assaulted them. Trump also issued a statement in October denying Zervos' allegations and saying that he never met her at a hotel, nor did he greet her "inappropriately."
Earlier: Here's how Zervos described her feelings about Trump before the alleged incidents occurred ― she made it very clear at the beginning of her emotional statement that she had "admiration" for the bombastic businessman and TV host:
Mr. Trump, when I met you I was so impressed with your talents that I wanted to be like you. I wanted a job within your organization. Instead, he treated me as if an object to be hit upon. ... You do not have the right to treat women as sexual objects just because you are a star.
That first line, coupled with another earlier in the statement — "I had the utmost admiration for Mr. Trump, and even after I was fired [from The Apprentice], I continued to see him as a possible mentor and potential employer" — clearly details how women are often viewed as sexual objects even in the workplace and in situations where they try to form genuine, professional relationships with men whom they admire. Instead, they're treated as sexual conquests — objects that provide a sexual favor in return for a job, or a professional opportunity.
Zervos appeared on the fifth season of The Apprentice, and after her stint on the hit NBC show, she said she decided to reach out to Trump in the hopes of forging a professional relationship. And yet, she alleged that Trump had no interest in that, kissing her without consent in Trump Tower in 2007, and then groping and thrusting against her without consent at a Beverly Hills hotel a year later. According to Zervos, Trump viewed her merely as "an object to be hit upon."
While any allegation of sexual assault is dire and serious, as well as understood by a far too great number of women throughout the country, Zervos' story highlights a particularly frustrating, agonizing angle on the problem. Namely, the ways sexual harassment and predatory behavior adversely impact women in their professional lives. All those times when men of relative power ― whether on the level of a wealthy magnate, or a simple manager in an office ― feel entitled to sexual attention in exchange for women's career advancements.
If you're looking for a little window into the mindset that doesn't much care about these issues, you need look no further than Trump's eldest son. Here's what Donald Jr. said about sexual harassment in the workplace during a radio interview in 2013, as unearthed by BuzzFeed's Jon Passantino:
If you can’t handle some of the basic stuff that’s become a problem in the workforce today, like, you don’t belong in the workforce. Like, you should go, you know, maybe teach kindergarten, I think it’s a respectable position. You can't be negotiating billion-dollar deals if you can't handle like, you know.
According to a 2015 survey of 2,235 women employed either full or part time, one-third of them reported experiencing some amount of sexual harassment in the workplace. The survey also found that more than seven out of 10 women who did experience harassment did not report it, a figure that's entirely (and unfortunately) unsurprising ― thanks to the intense stigma that surrounds sexual assault, feelings of responsibility for other people's abusive behavior, and the overwhelming scrutiny and disbelief accusers are often forced to endure, it's no shock that many choose to keep their stories secret.
Trump has denied all the allegations against him in forceful and outraged terms, describing the women who've accused him as "horrible, horrible liars," as well as suggesting that some of them weren't attractive enough for him to want to assault them.
In short, the situation that Zervos alleged is of a sort that countless women have experienced in their own lives, even if not at the hands of a TV star or a presidential nominee. The moment when you realize that somebody you regarded as a colleague or a mentor reveals what they really think ― that to them, you're not a peer or an equal or someone with ambitions and plans for your own future. Rather, you're seen as little more than a sexual object.