79 Million No’s Mean No

Trump traumatized our bodies and our democracy much more than we could have ever imagined; we have a lot of healing to do.

no means no trump rape culture
A scene from the 2017 Women’s March in D.C. (Wales Arts Review / Creative Commons)

I cried myself to sleep the Saturday before the election. I could not stop thinking about the prospect of having a man with a decades-long record of women and girls accusing him of sexual assault—including rape—re-elected president.

The tears, that night, were prompted by a call earlier in the evening from one of the rape survivors in my life sobbing to me after being triggered and having ten months of buried pain unearthed. Through her tears she said:

“How can we have a president who did to someone what my rapist did to me?”

The defeat of Donald J. Trump feels like emerging from a misogyny-trauma-hangover. The fact that he was ever elected and, as of this writing, has received over nine million more votes than his first run, is a massive global metaphor for rape culture.

For survivors of abuse and those who care for them, it was traumatic to watch his first ascendance to power, horrific to live through, and dehumanizing to have the prospect of a second term dangled in front of us. From the perspective of a women’s studies professor and life-long-feminist, one who is closer to sexual assault than anyone likes to be, the whole process felt traumatic.

Reliving the First Trump Campaign

As the election approached and Joe Biden rose in the polls, it became harder and harder to hear the mainstream pundits naively ask: “Why is he doing so much better than Hillary Clinton?” I kept yelling at my screens, “I know! Pick me, pick me!”

Had analysts learned nothing since the 2016 election? Did they really think Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton because he was the most qualified candidate? Did they really think sexism and misogyny had nothing to do with the 2016 election?

Hearing the ridiculousness of the question meant we are very far from having a woman president. The stock response, especially as to why centrist Republicans appeared to be leaving Trump, is that “now he has a record; people know he is incompetent.” Well, if people listened to the survivors in 2016, he had a record then too.

The first Biden-Trump debate in 2020 also brought back one of the more disturbing memories of the 2016 campaign. In Clinton’s first debate with Trump in 2016, she simultaneously slayed him while he physically stalked her on stage. But as a woman auditioning for the highest office in the land in the midst of sexist double standards, she had to keep her cool.

In an interview afterward, a reporter asked her if she was aware he was there and she stifled a laugh and said, “Of course.”

In contrast, Biden regularly rolled his eyes at Trump and famously implored: “Would you shut up man?!” For the Trump-haters it was cathartic because we were thinking the same thing. But if Clinton tried to pull that, despite the fact that he was stalking her, her campaign would likely have been over on that stage.


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Reliving the Misogyny

Trump’s campaign opened their 2016 drawer, found tropes, and looked for new victims. Enter: Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Lock her up” was not just to rile his base in an attempt to ultimately get far fewer votes than needed, but it added fuel to an already very volatile situation. Do not get me wrong, Trump bullies anyone he is threatened by—he just happens to be most threatened by women. As Kate Manne cautions, when a woman veers from the patriarchal path, misogyny is there to police her. In the case of Governor Whitmer, Trump tried to punish her via his crowds’ deplorable “lock her up” chant—knowing that she and her and family’s lives were already in danger.

By the time the first votes were starting to be cast at least 26 women had come forward with sexual misconduct or assault charges including two cases of rape. His defenses range from:

The latter of course translates to “I don’t believe sexual assault is a thing; women are mine to do with what I want.”

no means no trump rape culture
A protester holding a sign that reads “Rape is not a joke” and a man giving her the finger at the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, D.C. (Wikimedia Commons)

That said, a voter would not necessarily know this unless they read feminist sources like Ms. I watched an unhealthy amount of cable news leading up to the election and I can reliably say this information was not a staple of the coverage. The late-night shows and parodies did make sure we were thinking about it, however. For example, in the new Borat movie, Borat takes his daughter shopping in a department store and asks the woman for the “no means yes” section. While I cannot say for sure, I believe that is a reference to the E. Jean Carroll rape case. Carroll has the jacket she wore the day Trump allegedly raped her with a man’s DNA on it; once out of the White House, he will no longer be able to stall his way out of accountability.

Emerging from the Misogyny-Trauma Hangover

For me, the anxiety the prospect of his re-election caused took many physical forms, including nausea that felt like a razor in my stomach which made it impossible to eat. (I suspect many people had the opposite response and stress ate.) As my fourteen-year old son observed before the election was over, Trump needed to lose so I could purge him from my body: He was clearly a bacteria preventing me from eating.

As we emerge from his defeat, despite the fact that as of this writing he has yet to concede, we are brushing the trauma off, rehydrating and nourishing ourselves again. Trump’s fabricated narrative that this election was stolen from him is strikingly similar to a rapist’s upside down view that no means yes.

In this case, there were 79 million NO’s—and counting. Let’s say it together, “No means no.” Trump traumatized our bodies and our democracy much more than we could have ever imagined; we have a lot of healing to do.

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About

Dr. Julie Shayne is a teaching professor, co-founder and facilitator of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington Bothell. She is the author and editor of four books—most recently, Persistence is Resistance: Celebrating 50 Years of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies.