As a male in the culture, now 73 years old, I am horrified, embarrassed, appalled, and disgusted by the rampant and rank misogyny that I witness all around me—and, if I am honest, within me. Just this week, one more woman has come forward in public, announcing that she was attacked by President Trump some years ago in a dressing room in a department store. Just like numerous other women who have stepped forward to accuse the current commander-in-chief of groping, touching, kissing them without their permission over many years, this new victim has described in detail and with amazing strength what this overbearing man did to her. Though she would not say the word to one of her television questioners, she was clearly raped by Mr.Trump. That is the word one uses when unwanted sexual advances are made against anyone.
There is, as usual in these cases, no camera evidence, no eyewitness, no security guard to add certainty to her story, but there seems little reason not to believe her. After all, we have direct evidence of Trump’s proclivity with women from the infamous Hollywood tape that announced that because he was a celebrity he could do with and to women anything he wanted, these women apparently anxious to be mauled by a wealthy, virile man, whether she knew him or not and whether she welcomed these aggressive advances or not. That tape is so noxious, so odious, that only in a confused sexual cauldron such as we live in today could it not have doomed any candidate forever. But as we all know too well, not only was Trump’s race for the White House not doomed, he in fact won the election, despite losing the popular vote by nearly three million.
This latest case seems slightly different to me for two reasons. First, the president’s reaction was not quite the same as in the past, though much of it was familiar. “I do not know this woman,” he said, even though there is clear photographic evidence that they did meet and at least chatted for a time at a party. His other comment was particularly repulsive; he said, “First of all, she is not my type.” It is that line that called me to write about the affair. When any man utters such a phrase, what he seems to mean is that if she were “his type,” he would feel free “to move right in on her,” as the aforementioned tape proudly said. The other implication of the line is that this woman is simply not beautiful enough for me to waste my considerable charms on; why, I would not give her a second glance, implies the speaker. How can you possibly imagine that I would give my wondrous self to such a woman, when I can have any far more beautiful woman that I want? This is male obscenity at its very worst, and should be grounds for banishment from any polite society. It is in fact misogyny writ large, and deserves all the opprobrium that all men can muster.
Yet, so many public men are silent in the face of this horror. Mitt Romney, in the time when he was a candidate for president, called the now-president a string of powerful names that claimed clearly that he was a moral reprobate, hardly worthy of the name male let alone worthy of the highest office in the land. Romney seems silent now. At least he in the past had something to say. What of all those Republican, as well as Democratic, males—and there is a vast majority of them—in the Congress who appear to be content with the continual abuse of women demonstrated by the president, not to mention so many of their own number. And what of the rest of us males?
This most recent story barely registered in our media. The New York Times did not even place it on the first page of its second section, let alone on the front page. One can only imagine the wailing and gnashing of Washington’s teeth if President Obama had been so accused. And when Bill Clinton was so accused, by several women before the Lewinsky affair, he was summarily impeached as a liar, an event that I, as an ardent Democrat, found painful but finally appropriate. Can I not trust my president to keep his pants on while he occupies the most important house in the country? Clinton was rightly impeached.
So now where are we? How many women have accused this current president of inappropriate sexual actions over the past decades; the count surely has passed 20. We know from sworn testimony that he has paid off two women who threatened his presidential run. How many more terrible stories are out there, awaiting revelation? One can only guess. What else can we name our president but the misogynist in chief?
And what about me? I am a male in this culture, and I have added my own misogyny to the worlds in which I lived and worked. For 36 years, I was on two academic faculties, and I confess that I was too often content to speak my own carefully crafted wisdom at departmental meetings rather than listen carefully to women colleagues who in those days were embarrassingly few around the table. In my longer appointment in a theological seminary, I witnessed the very first female appointments to our faculty. I am ashamed to remember the times I joined my male colleagues in clever ripostes against a woman who was trying to get her unique concerns on the table, only to be met by thinly disguised rejection and scorn from us men who were patently ignorant of the issues she was trying to raise. In my 33 years on that faculty, I saw an ever-increasing number of women colleagues, a fact I celebrated, women from whom I learned all manner of things I could never have learned in my own maleness. Yet, the contest between men and women on our faculty continued unabated, leading too often to male recalcitrance and female fury. Misogyny is hardly dead and gone. It does not need the “Me-too” movement to make that fact clear.
Mr. Trump’s behavior, not just with women, is wholly reprehensible and must never be made to appear “normal” in any way. But his treatment of women is a hallmark example of what our society has long been and continues to be; a place where women have had to struggle for a place to be heard, to be taken seriously, to be seen as more than objects of a male leer. I am currently reading the fine book by Stephen Greenblatt, The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve, in which this superb scholar of the humanities at Harvard examines how the biblical story from Genesis has so strongly determined what the relationships between the sexes has become in the western world. It is true, as he says, that Augustine and John Milton have both played outsized roles in fixing the hierarchy of men over women, the one theologically and the other literarily. It is a fascinating read, and I commend it to you.
But the question for me, and for my male colleagues, is what do we intend to do about our misogyny? The author of the letter to the Ephesians, whether Paul or some other early Christian, said this: “In Christ there is neither male nor female,” by which I think he means that traditional hierarchies are dashed in the glaring light of the Christ of God. For those of us who claim Christianity as our way of approaching life, surely that basic statement might urge us, call us, to put off our misogyny and begin to put on the clothes of Christ. Mr. Trump claims to be a Christian; may I say to him that his misogyny has no place in his life, and I urge him to hear the upward call of God to put away his overt hatred and abuse of women now and forever. And I will try to do the same.
(images from Wikimedia Commons)