Donald Trump’s sexism has once again stirred controversy. Among the shocked and offended by a leaked Access Hollywood tape revealing a crass conversation between Trump and Bill Bush—in which Trump, to quote The New York Times, “boasted about groping women’s genitalia, vulgarly commented on their bodies and generally described women as sex objects who could not resist his advances”—were some of the GOP’s current leaders.
Trump’s vice presidential running mate Mike Pence, who said he “was offended by the words and actions” in the video. House Speaker Paul Ryan was “sickened” by Trump’s comments. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell demanded that Trump apologize for his “repugnant” remarks. “As the father of three daughters,” he added, “I strongly believe that Trump needs to apologize directly to women and girls everywhere, and take full responsibility for the utter lack of respect for women shown in his comments on that tape.” In no time at all, a parade of other high-profile Republicans joined the chorus.
But here’s the thing: I’m shocked that everyone is so shocked.
Only very recently has the idea of men grabbing women’s genitalia, or any other part of a female body, on the street, in the subway, or on a date, unbidden, been seen as sexual assault. For years, those molesting grabs were friskily referred to by men as “copping a feel” and would never, ever have landed any guy in front of a judge, much less in jail. “Lighten up,” was our directive.
Once in Greenwich Village a young guy in sweatpants who had been coming towards me suddenly grabbed my vagina; I ran after him for blocks, yelling and screaming, until, exasperated and humiliated, I lost him in the crowd. On another occasion, I was momentarily paralyzed, stopped in my tracks, as I watched a tall, slender, Brooks Brothers’ guy walk off merrily swinging his briefcase after grabbing my ass as I ascended the subway stairs at West 57th Street in front of him.
Thankfully, things are changing. This behavior is being recognized for what it is—a crime. That’s why GOP leaders are disturbed and outraged. But what Pence and Ryan and McConnell, so self-righteously appalled by this image of Trump feeling empowered to grab a woman in her most private part, don’t seem to realize is that they do so in legislatures every day.
They effectively advocate forced childbirth by impeding women’s access to birth control, morning-after pills, and safe, legal abortion. They comprise the health and lives of young low-income women by banning funding to Planned Parenthood and laboring to close down clinics, depriving these young women of all reproductive health and preventive cancer care. They vote against equal pay for equal work, paid maternity leave and paid sick leave. While they criticize Trump for his sense of entitlement to the bodies of women, they have the same sense of entitlement. They refuse to respect women’s moral authority, spiritual beliefs or choices—to work or not work, to combine motherhood and career, to choose or reject motherhood, to carry a pregnancy to term, or not.
They may not grab “pussy” the way Trump says he can, but make no mistake: they grab it, without apology. That, too, is criminal. When will lawmakers taking these liberties with women’s bodies shock us, too?
Angela Bonavoglia is an author, journalist and blogger covering women’s issues—especially religion, health and the arts. She is the author of Good Catholic Girls: How Women Are Leading the Fight to Change the Church and The Choices We Made: 25 Women and Men Speak Out About Abortion. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The Nation, Salon, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, Newsday, Religion Dispatches, Women’s Media Center and the Huffington Post. She’s a former Ms. Contributing Editor.
Opinions expressed here are the author’s own. Ms. is owned by Feminist Majority Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization, and does not endorse candidates.