Never have I been afraid of being “a woman alone” walking in an unfamiliar area, or of meeting new people, particularly men. Never have I been so raw to the dehumanizing and degrading comments about women made by strangers in public, or the expectation that I laugh along or keep quiet in order to distinguish myself as a “good girl” like a dog—docile, submissive and pleasant. I am expected to have no retort to the attitude of “grab her by the pussy.” I am decidedly just a house pet.
I have spent the greater part of the last five years traveling the U.S., in company ranging from homeless gutter punks to active duty military families. Never before have I experienced the levels of culturally-sanctioned misogyny on my journeys that I have experienced and witnessed under President Trump. I have never been as truly frightened by the political conditions of this country as I was leaving Sherman Oaks this past December, where the social impact of a Trump presidency became not only visible to me, but inescapable.
I had a roommate there—22 years old, had lived his whole life in Illinois except for the past year in L.A.—who would only respond positively to me when I was in a position of vulnerability. If I was asking for recommendations, or needed help lifting a suitcase or reaching something on a high shelf, everything was okay. But when he invited me rock-climbing, he smirked—the notion that a woman could rock climb was a joke. When his cat hit me he asserted that it was “just his way of asserting his dominance,” in such a manner as to suggest that I had a place in the home I had paid to stay in—below the cat.
This man is not an exception. He is the all-American boy. Nine out of 10 male acquaintances that I made while visiting the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles this past fall and winter—millennial and gen-x men—were comfortable saying sexist stuff in front of me, a woman they barely know. The sociocultural ramifications of Trump’s nomination are visible, palpable already.
In the era of Trump, women are second-class citizens—an inferior variation, an accessory, like a new suit jacket or a nice car. Women have once again been reduced to tools by which men can measure their masculinity. She is not a human, not an equal, not an individual with her own dreams, passions, ambitions. She is a pet, in a cage at the pet store, for a man to purchase to own. She is a wild and exotic bird for a man to capture and domesticate. She is a boat, she is a car, she is an instrument, she is a tool, she is a trophy, she is a vacant lot, she is a plot of land for purchase, she is a tall drink of water, she is a dish, she is a plucked hen hanging, she is wet and pink, a bitch. She is any object, any property, any piece of livestock bred for consumption—anything but a friend. (Think of the term “friend zoned” uttered with bitter resentment.)
Misogyny feels once again ubiquitous; as banal as all evils, as frighteningly “normal” and toweringly prevalent as it was when a working woman was nothing but a novelty, a single woman nothing more than a walking pity party, a married woman expected to be beaten or raped.
In the era of Trump, young men want to be valued simply for being male. They want the unconditional love that children are entitled to from their parents, to be adored simply for existing. The acknowledgement of white male privilege makes these men defensive. They will suggest that civil rights have gone “too far” and that the rights of white men are now being “infringed upon” by women and people of color for wanting simply to be treated equally. To this I say: “don’t get so emotional.”
The genuine anger and aggression, the hate of young misogynists is horrifying—but what is most disturbing to me is that this is considered socially acceptable and, now, even amiable. Locker room talk. Boys will be boys. Laws have changed. Cultural norms have not yet fully caught on. Proving ourselves worthy of respect and human dignity is the sad and horrific dance we must do to survive, and it is not the only time we must dance.
Call me “easily offended” for refusing to participate in my own degradation by laughing along or even begrudgingly tolerating any degrading attitudes towards women. I am not sorry that political speech should be politically correct. Call me a “radical feminist” for wanting to be seen as a human being before I am seen as a woman. The current president has declared it socially acceptable to blatantly disrespect women in the public sphere, and this is now the state-sanctioned outlook on gender relations.
If we do not fight—and if we do not fight now—hate and oppression will become further institutionalized. We as women must write letters to our fathers that begin with “I am your son,” for misogyny is ingrained in the language. We must write letters to our mothers that ask “Do you belong to yourself?”
This country is still, for women, a pheasant farm. Us with gleaming feathers, gazing tranquilly at our attackers with blood dripping silently from our closed mouths. Call this a new wave for an old ache—for we are still bred to be hunted.