By now, the entire nation has heard one of the major party candidates for our nation's highest office boast about sexually assaulting women. For over a year, I have lived in fear of the rising popularity of a leader whose race-baiting, xenophobic, misogynistic, and authoritarian statements could only be outdone by the ones that followed. When news outlets bombard us with compiled lists of Donald Trump's insults, which frequently target women and minorities and use common bullying techniques, it is no wonder that a large portion of Americans like me are experiencing real psychological consequences.
As a pediatrician, I have seen the toxic effects of this campaign on our nation's children, who are as stressed out as ever. While partisan affiliation in medicine remains taboo, I stand with numerous physicians who recognize that regarding this particular candidate, our commitment to our patients' emotional and physical health mandates that we speak out against abuse at both the individual and societal level.
And, yes, many are speaking out. In droves, Republicans have emerged, somehow finally outraged on behalf of the women in their lives. Many conservative men are now up in arms, unable to stand behind a veil of morality in the face of sexually-aggressive and explicit comments. But some men (and yes, women, though mostly men) still don't get it. Some refuse to denounce these statements, or simply ignore the topic entirely, while others offer meek and illogical excuses, such as former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski's explanation that "we're electing a leader for the free world, not a Sunday school teacher."
Trump remains as popular as ever among his core base of voting men. I have heard their defenses, that there are simply more important issues at stake — the economy, immigration, and health care, just to name a few — that take precedence over the language we use to describe our women. It is clear that in this election, violent actions and rhetoric have reached a disturbing level of acceptance. Those who would minimize the role of these tapes in this election ignore an essential fact: They are merely a mirror reflecting the very real mistreatment that plagues our society.
These tapes, Trump's accusers being mostly silenced and ignored, the misogynistic dismissal of one of the most qualified politicians as a "nasty woman" on the presidential debate stage, simply reflect the subtle and not-so-subtle mistreatment that we face on a daily basis. If you still don't get that, and it doesn't shake you with unstoppable rage and disgust you to your very core, then I guess you never will.
So, to the men who still don't get it: The objectification, sexualizing, denigration of and discrimination against women is rampant. While my male colleagues are revered as doctors, I am still at times referred to as "lady." When my patients' fathers are flirtatious, sometimes inappropriately and aggressively so, I must respond with carefully-scripted words and body language that maintains professional authority without detracting from the patient-physician relationship. When I am confident in my medical knowledge and voice my opinions to my male counterparts, I am told that I come on "too strong" and have at times been considered "unfeminine."
When walking alongside the road, unless my husband is quite literally by my side, I will hear an inappropriate catcall on nearly every occasion. In my life, I have been the object of unwanted glances, advances, shouts, and obscene language more times than I could ever hope to count. And it was not until recently that I truly understood that my reaction — to smile and laugh, and, if need be, gently flirt back at these situations was out of fear and self-preservation.
In a world where my voice wanted to rise up in anger and call out each and every one of these advances, I had trained myself to endure and deescalate. Because this is what those who deny that this is an issue that plagues our nation simply do not get: This is not playful, non-threatening banter that can be brushed off. In none of these instances am I describing a social situation in which romantic interaction is being sought out or even appropriate. This is simply about power.
Women, whether or not we are actually sexually assaulted (and an incredibly high percentage of women are, in some manner), are harassed and mistreated daily. We are judged by our appearances over our character. We are catcalled or objectified more than any single woman could possibly remember. The threats of physical violence, professional repercussions, or social disfavor hang over us like a specter. We are smart and we engage or ignore as will please our aggressors. We do this to survive.
These tapes, Trump's accusers being silenced and ignored, the misogynistic dismissal of one of the most qualified politicians as a "nasty woman" on the presidential debate stage, simply reflect the subtle and not-so-subtle mistreatment that we face on a daily basis. If you still don't get that, and it doesn't shake you with unstoppable rage and disgust you to your very core, then I guess you never will.