The Quiet Obliteration of Women’s Autonomy – Trump Edition

The Washington Post broke a story today about remarks Donald Trump made in 2005 while accompanied by Billy Bush, then host of Access Hollywood. 

I want to point out how Trump and Bush’s remarks about women, and the way that newspapers are reporting on those remarks, subtly dissolve the autonomy of the women who are being commented on.

Part I – The Remarks: Below are a good portion of the remarks. You can also listen to them in the link above in the WaPo story. [Heads up: they contain expletives and objectifying descriptions of women.]

On a bus, as Trump is headed to guest-star in a soap opera:
Man: “She used to be great. She’s still very beautiful.”
Trump: “You know and I moved on her actually. You know she was down on Palm Beach. I moved on her and I failed. I’ll admit it.”
Man: “Whoa”
Trump: “I did try and fuck her. She was married.”
Man: [Laughter] “That’s huge news.”
Trump: “No, no, Nancy. No this was–[cuts out] and I moved on her very heavily in fact. I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture. I took her out for furniture. I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there, and she was married.”
Others: [Laughter, a clap]
Trump: “Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.”
Bush: [referring to actress Arianne Zuker] “Sheesh your girls’ hot as shit, in the purple.”
Trump: “Whoa. Yes. Whoa.”
Bush: “Yes! The Donald has scored!”
[Laughter]
[…]
Trump: ““I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her,” [referring to Zucker][sound of tic tacs moving] “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. I just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.”
Bush: “Whatever you want.”
Trump: “Grab em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
[Laughter]
Bush: “Yeah those legs, all I can see is the legs”
Trump: “Oh, it looks good.”
Bush: “Come on, shorty.”
Trump: “Oh nice legs, huh?”
Bush: “Ooh, get out the way, honey,” [Another woman had just walked by.]”Oh, that’s good legs.”
[…]
Trump and Bush exit the bus. They greet Zucker. Trump and Zucker shake hands. Zucker and Bush shake hands.
Zucker: [to Trump] “Are you ready to be a soap star”?
Trump: “We’re ready, let’s go. Make me a soap star.”
Bush: “How about a little hug for the Donald? He just got off the bus.”
Zucker: “Would you like a little hug, darling?” [she adds a slight accent to this sentence.]
Trump: Absolutely.
They hug and Trump either kisses the air near her cheek, or her cheek.
Trump: “Melania said this was okay.”
Bush: “How about a little hug for the Bushy? I just got off the bus.”
Zucker: “Bushy Bushy.” [Zucker hugs Bush.]
Bush: “Here we go. Excellent.”
[…]
Trump and Bush walk with Zucker, and joke with her about who she would pick if she had to go on a date with one of them. She smiles and laughs and diplomatically says she would choose both. She moves herself between Trump and Bush and puts her arm around both of them.

Part II – The Analysis

Some media outlets are reporting on several aspects of this story: that Trump used lewd language to talk about women, that Trump talked about trying to have sex with a married woman, that Trump talked about and flirted with a woman shortly after getting married, etc. Other places, however, are pointing out the ways that these remarks from Trump and Bush exemplify rape culture. I want to spell out one way they are doing that: they render invisible, to the point of obliterating–I would say–women’s autonomy.

The Washington Post describes the first part of Trump’s remarks as him discussing, “a failed attempt to seduce a woman.” Seduction is an attempt “to entice someone into sexual activity.” Is Trump what is describing in these remarks an attempt to “entice” the woman? We don’t actually know, and we have some evidence to suspect otherwise.

He says he “tried to fuck her.” Because of the way we use “fuck” in the English language, that could mean anything from, “I asked her if she wanted to have sex with me” to “I tried to assault her.” Knowing the woman’s state of mind at the time would help decide that. But Trump says little about the woman’s state of mind. Because he says that “he failed” in his attempt “to fuck her,” we could infer that she was not interested in having sex with him. What she did seem interested in was acquiring new furniture. Trump offered to accompany her as she did this, and, possibly, did that so he could get into her good graces, so that he could better entice her to have sex with him.Or, possibly, he tried to guilt her into having sex with him (which would be a form of coercion/manipulation). Or, since Trump often uses words with double meaning in a cavalier manner, perhaps he did not care which of those his words and actions conveyed.

But we simply don’t know from these remarks whether Trump was trying to seduce the woman or assault her. However, his later remarks suggest that it was the latter. In the later part of his remarks, Trump states that he  “just starts kissing” beautiful women, such as Zucker, and that, “It’s like a magnet. I just kiss. I don’t even wait.”

While that statement seems to be made partly in jest, it suggests that Trump is not overly worried about whether a woman he kisses really wants to be kissing him. After all, he seems to pop a tic tac before he knows a single thing about Zucker and whether she would be happy to kiss him. He (jokingly) anticipates sexual activity  here before he knows anything about a woman’s state of mind.

Trump then says the attention-grabbing line: “when you’re a star they let you do it [kiss them]. You can do anything. [..] Grab em by the pussy. You can do anything.”Again, this could mean anything from, “women really want to have sex with you when you are famous” to “you can get away with assaulting women when you are famous.”

If we lived in a cultural vacuum, I might advocate the former reading. But we don’t live in a cultural vacuum. We live in a culture where men such as Crosby, Ailes, Ghomeshi, and others have used their fame and power to assault, harass, and then silence women.

Trump and Bush are continuing to silence them here, by discussing these women in a way that assumes that (or doesn’t care whether) they consent to the sexual attention Trump and Bush subject them to.

To note, Zucker herself seems unperturbed by the men’s behavior, and is even actively friendly towards them. However, it is somewhat disturbing that her friendliness seems irrelevant to their treatment of her. The two men do not warm up further to her, or become even more flirtatious, when she responds with friendliness. They continue to act towards her the exact way they acted before they had any clue what her own thoughts and desires on the matter were. Her autonomy seemed, in this way, inconsequential to them.

Similarly, the autonomy of the woman Trump spoke about earlier seems inconsequential to the Washington Post and Boston Globe, who report that Trump had tried to “seduce” her. Even though in the next breath Trump talks about kissing women on impulse (aka assault), they decided to assume that Trump’s “attempt to fuck” this woman was an attempt at seduction, and not an attempt at assault. Perhaps it’s because Trump is considered such a reliable narrator.

No wonders people look at us funny when we try to talk about rape culture. Even when we know the political mantra that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and we know of cases of famous men being serial rapists, a man with a penchant for lying almost as often as he breathes is assumed to be talking about consensual sexual activity, even when in his next breath he jokes about assaulting women with kisses.

Yes, the bit about Trump uncontrollably kissing women was said as a joke. But for one, it’s not a funny joke unless it has some grain of truth to it, or it’s totally opposite from the truth. The latter seems highly unlikely, so it would have to be the former. And Trump and Bush are certainly  laughing in that audio.

Second, Trump’s point is nonsensical unless he’s talking about what he wants to do, not what women want him to do. When he says women will “let you” “grab em by the pussy” when you’re famous, that in itself could possibly mean that women want famous men to do that. But Trump gives the game away when he admit that women will let him “do anything.” Because “anything” is not a desire. (“Oh women these days, they want anything.”)

The only thing it makes sense for Trump to be saying here is that he gets away with doing anything to some women–whether or not they are humiliated by it, feel violated by it, or flat out don’t want it.

So if we ‘objectively’ describe that as “kissing” and “seducing” without further comment on our epistemic lacuna, (let alone acknowledging where the circumstantial evidence leads), we quietly dissolve women’s autonomy into nothingness. The very possibility of the violation of their autonomy is silently taken off the table.

3 thoughts on “The Quiet Obliteration of Women’s Autonomy – Trump Edition

  1. “Oh, it looks good.” “It”! Only once before in my life was I this desperate to awaken from what I thought was a nightmare—when a man raped and nearly murdered me.

  2. @Susan Brison – Yes! The use of dehumanizing pronouns is a whole other dimension of what’s going on.

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