Yes, It Was Misogyny

[Content note: rape culture, description of sexual assault, gaslighting]

I am here to offer what I hope to be a salve of validation.

I've seen too many prominent Election 2016 analyses that are straight-up victim-blaming. The argument generally goes that calling Trump supporters sexist (or racist) is what got Trump elected. Some male comedians, too, are hip to the meme, creating variations of the "this is why Trump won" joke anytime they see "SJWs" call out a man they admire.

Other analyses are silent on the matter of identity, taking a decidedly agendered perspective as they present ho-hum business-as-usual arguments as to why Clinton lost without giving a nod to the inconvenient fact that the US has never had a female President, let alone acknowledging any role misogyny might have played in the outcome. Example: She didn't do enough outreach in Michigan and voters were not enthusiastic about her.

Perhaps you can relate, but I found Election 2016 to be deeply painful, especially to me as a woman, in ways I've not seen widely acknowledged by those with some of the largest media platforms. It is true that Hillary Clinton won almost 3 million more votes than Donald Trump, but it shouldn't have even been close. If objective measures - competence, experience, temperament, and qualifications relative to his - mattered more than other measures, she should have won in a landslide.

The truth I find in this situation has been difficult to think about. Harder to write about.

But, Donald Trump's Electoral College win has reinforced to me that women, as a class, are widely hated in the US. This is not to say that misogyny is the only explanation for her loss, but that it is, in fact, one of many explanations. Women are hated. Even by many women. Even by many liberals and progressives. And, more to the point, it's like many feminists have been saying for decades:

Women in the United States exist in a state of subordination to men and rape culture is an enforcer of this subordination.

Rape culture is a range of beliefs, acts, and denials in our society that, per a definition in Transforming a Rape Culture, "condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm." On the ways that rape culture has permeated society, Melissa has written:
"Rape culture is the myriad ways in which rape is tacitly and overtly abetted and encouraged having saturated every corner of our culture so thoroughly that people can't easily wrap their heads around what the rape culture actually is."
This is not to say that men cannot be victims or women perpetrators, but rather, that because of prevailing narratives about male and female sexuality, rape culture uniquely impacts women compared to men, while coercing victims' silence. Consider, one of rape culture's most enduring lies - that it doesn't exist at all:
  • MRAs tell us that the concept of rape culture unfairly implicates all men, even innocent ones, and things that hurt white male reputations cannot actually be real and it's misandrist to suggest otherwise;
  • Conservative gender essentialists tell us that male sexuality is inherently predatory, task women with taming male violence, and claim that rape culture isn't real because rape barely even happens in the US anyway; and 
  • Anti-feminists tell us that women are deceptive and that we not only consistently lie about rape culture, but rape itself, and probably other things too (but if we are raped, we probably brought it on ourselves).
Legal scholar Catherine MacKinnon has observed, "Equality guarantees are everywhere, but nowhere is there equality." The particulars of individual women's lives vary, as we have our own experiences that intersect with other aspects of our identities - race, class, sexual orientation, disability, and more - but women in the United States do not exist in a state of actual equality with men.

In her essay "Women's Status, Men's States," MacKinnon has further written of human rights violations that are either "too extraordinary to believable or too ordinary to be atrocious." That a temperamentally-unfit, unqualified man who has admitted on tape to grabbing women's genitals without their consent was elected over a vastly more qualified woman, is an occurrence so misogynistically atrocious that the misogyny barely seems to register as believable.

But it is believable, to me, because I cannot unentangle Election 2016 from rape culture.

1. Too extraordinary to believable or too ordinary to be atrocious

On October 7, 2016, The Washington Post released the following audio of Donald Trump speaking about two different female colleagues:
"I moved on her, and I failed. I'll admit it. I did try and fuck her. She was married. 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 moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn't get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she's now got the big phony tits and everything. She's totally changed her look.

....I've got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it, you can do anything... Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."
On multiple occasions, he defended his commentary as "just words" and "locker room talk," although in many jurisdictions it is more aptly defined as "creating a hostile work environment" or "sexual assault."

In May 2016, The New York Times interviewed dozens of women who worked with Trump, in its piece "Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved with Women in Private." While the Times piece presents Trump as a "complex" man who is nice to some women and predatory toward others, the upshot is that Trump's recorded commentary was not a single isolated instance of bad judgment but a history of active subordination of women via collusion with rape culture. Who is surprised that a predatory man can, in some contexts, not be a predator? No one who knows how rape culture works.

Then, before the election The New Yorker ran a piece regarding the 24 women who corroborated Trump's own recorded admission of his predation. Yet, upon being met with these allegations that he assaulted, leered at, and/or kissed women without their consent, Trump claimed that the women were lying, that he didn't know them, that they were too ugly to have been assaulted, and/or that what his female opponent's husband did to women was "worse" (the "failure" there, per Trump, was that Hillary Clinton did not "tame" her husband. Men, you understand, are not responsible for their own actions).

I know that approximately 65 million people rejected Trump by voting for Clinton. But I also know that 63 million people did not. Trump's subordination of women via the tools and narratives of rape culture was not a dealbreaker for the people who elected Trump.

Many commentators likewise noted that Trump and Clinton were historically unpopular candidates. As though they were "equal and opposite" candidates, so to speak, with Clinton being perhaps a female version of Trump. I also know that, because of the way rape culture uniquely subordinates women, Clinton and Trump were actually unpopular for vastly different reasons. It's absurd to even conceive of a reverse gender scenario: A woman on tape admitting to grabbing men's genitals without their consent, who leered at naked men before they paraded before her in male beauty contests, who was accused by dozens of men of sexual misconduct? As a viable contender for President, winning against a more competent man?


I think about these false "both sides are just the same" equivalencies, employed by the left and the right, every day. I think about what it means to be a woman, when a woman like Hillary Clinton can be hated almost as much as a man like Donald Trump. I am reminded every time I see the media cover the latest Trump Tweet how very low the bar was for him and how high it was for her. I think about all of this, each time another man jabs his victim-blaming finger at a woman talking about sexism and says, "See, you are why Trump won."

Women. My friends: I see you. I see this. It is not okay. 

2. Women are deceptive

Before December 19, 2016, some had a glimmer of hope that members of the Electoral College might vote against Trump, on the basis that he is unfit for office, even if they were pledged to vote for him in states he had won.

It didn't work out that way.

I have long known that women are widely hated when we seek to be something other than men's sex objects, but I didn't grasp the depth of the hatred until five Democratic electors that Hillary Clinton  won voted for someone other than her on December 19, while only two defected from Donald Trump, who has admitted on tape to grabbing women's genitals without their consent. Three other electors who Clinton won also tried to vote against her, but had their votes invalidated.

Of course, we mustn't call any of this misogyny. Even though the last time we saw so many faithless electors was in 1912, when electors who were pledged to vote for man who had died instead voted for a living man. That misogyny could be a root of so many people's demands for purity and perfection in Clinton and Clinton alone, but that we mustn't ask people to examine that, is the game we're asked to play. So, let's examine the harsh treatment of Clinton from the vantage point of one of rape culture's favorite memes: women are deceptive, men are not.

People on the right told us that Donald Trump tells it like it is, unlike that robotic, lying Hillary Clinton. What perhaps stung more were the leftists who preached that Bernie Sanders, with his rumpled suits and wild hair, was "just more authentic" and "less packaged" than Hillary Clinton. Again, even conceiving of reverse gender scenarios where either a female Trump or Sanders were viable is an absurd non-starter.

Despite fact-checkers rating Hillary Clinton as slightly more honest than Bernie Sanders and much more honest than Donald Trump, Americans widely believed that both men were more honest than her. So, even though women historically have had little input into the design of the US political system compared to white men, 2016 became the year that the viable female candidate was painted by her white male challengers as symbolic of a corrupt Political Establishment responsible for most ills facing Ordinary Americans.

Understand this: While many express great shock about Bernie Sanders' relative success in the Democratic Primary and Donald Trump's Electoral College win, the myth that women are deceptive did a lot of heavy lifting for both men's campaigns. Take Trump and Sanders: one a corporate mogul and the other a 26-year member of Congress, and yet both of whom painted themselves as brave truth-telling, populist underdogs in stark contrast to their opponent, Crooked Hillary, who they continually suggested or outright claimed could only win by dishonestly rigging the system she knows so well.

Up is down. Left is right. Experience is bad. Honesty is dishonesty. Primaries are unfair, but caucuses are not. Voting for the progressive woman is status quo. Voting for the white men who bank on misogynist scripts is revolutionary!

These are the absurd narratives that Election 2016 gave us. As Melissa observed almost a year ago:
"To continually assert that [Clinton] is representative of 'the establishment,' into the highest echelons of which women aren't even allowed, is a neat way of obfuscating the fact that she is, in her very personhood, a challenge to the establishment."
But, women are seen as deceptive. And thus, the famous chant which Trump regularly led at his rallies: "Lock her up!"

This was a most fervent cry among many Trump supporters, who we are repeatedly told we mustn't call sexist, even though this prison fantasy is widely held about a woman convicted of no actual crime. If not misogyny, then what? Why the burning desire to see Clinton humiliated behind bars?
 Benghazi? The Clinton Foundation? Whitewater? The emails? What issue from the list of decades of smears are we to believe justifies her imprisonment?

But, it's the media's complicity that really got me. Like many, I've been struggling to make sense of the media's disproportionate coverage of Hillary Clinton's private email server during the 2016 election. What, really, can explain the sheer devotion to the topic, which greatly outweighed the media's coverage of her policy issues?

In the end, I can only offer this: in our culture, it is a given that women are deceptive. On October 28, 2016, in a piece published at Shareblue, Peter Daou observed:
"Our team went back and looked at coverage since the story broke in March, 2015. We found that the emails have been mentioned in the major news media virtually every single day since then, 600 in total. This exceeds coverage of Watergate, Mitt Romney’s 47% comment, Kerry’s swiftboating, Donald Trump’s countless transgressions, and every other major political story of the modern era.

The news reporting is vastly disproportional to the importance of the story. Polls show that the majority of Americans are tired of hearing about this issue, one that doesn’t directly affect their daily lives."
Media Matters further reported that after James Comey announced, less than 2 weeks before the election, that the FBI would review additional emails related to Clinton's use of a private server, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post alone published 100 stories, 46 of which were on the front page, eclipsing all stories about Trump combined. (Comey wrote a letter two days before the election indicating that his investigation affirmed the original findings that Clinton did not engage in criminal activity).

Clinton has indicated that she believes Comey's announcement proved to be "one hurdle too many" to overcome. I'll add that another significant hurdle too great to overcome is that she was widely believed to be deceptive, even though hearing after testimony after investigation indicated that she was not.

I saw that. I saw all of that. It was not okay.

3. The evolution of rape culture

I have written before about how I place Election 2016 into a context of Internet harassment culture.
The casual acceptance of Internet harassment, with legal recourse lagging behind (too ordinary to be atrocious?), is itself an expression of how rape culture has adapted to new technology. Many women understand, even if just intuitively, how Internet harassment - the rape threats, revenge porn, obsessive and cruel taunting -  often feel like emotional terrorism intended to silence us as women. As Soraya Chemaly noted in Time, unlike harassment many men receive, much of the Internet harassment targeting women "is an effort to put women, because they are women, back in their 'place.'"(Related: Lindy West's recent article on why she's quitting Twitter).

With this framework in mind, I was troubled with Wikileaks' involvement in Election 2016 from the get-go. With the stereotype that women are inherently deceptive comes the idea that digging must be done to get "the real story" beyond the surface of what women say. It thus seemed so obviously suspicious to me that only stolen emails detrimental to Clinton's campaign - the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and John Podesta emails - were reported on, but not those of her opponents.

With a shrug, those on the left and right used these stolen emails against her. Women's boundaries are violated everyday on the Internet. No big deal, right? So, the US media uncritically reported on, hyped, and amplified this stolen content. Hillary Clinton warned us in front of millions of people during the final debate between herself and Donald Trump, that Russian operatives were interfering with the election in this way. But, Donald Trump interrupted her and people made a million jokes about his "no puppet, no puppet" line.

But then, as The New York Times later extensively reported after the election, it turned out she was right.

But before that, for 18 months we lived in an absurd moment in time where the media gave more coverage and portrayed as more scandalous a hypothetical risk of national harm due to security breach, than its own complicity in an actual, ongoing national harm that was occurring due to actual security breaches and foreign interference.

That's right: The US media spent 600 straight days covering Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server from which there is no evidence of hacking, under the ostensible reasoning that it was a vital matter of national concern. At the same time, many of these same media sources were effectively serving as, in the Times own words, "a de facto instrument of Russian intelligence" by uncritically citing the stolen DNC and Podesta emails.

You almost have to laugh to keep from crying. Or, grab a bottle of vodka, because it gets better. In September 2016, at the Center for Public Integrity, David Levinthal ominously warned:
"There’s no Trumpian analogue to what’s been Clinton’s most enduring transparency saga: her use of a private State Department email server."
This take was mainstream: Hillary Clinton Was Hiding Big Things, Unlike Trump!

As with the obsessive coverage of Clinton's email server, I struggle to understand why Russian interference wasn't a bigger story during the election. I struggle with the media's casual, uncritical reporting on stolen content and now, even worse, the lazy cover-their-ass defenses, like one Los Angeles Times editor: “My default position is democracy works best when voters have as much information as possible about the candidates and their campaigns." Or, on the left, Kevin Drum's take at Mother Jones: "...I never put two and two together long enough to think about what this hack might mean. In my defense, no one else seems to have given it much thought either...."


Those with some of the largest media platforms probably missed the biggest, Watergate-level story in recent political history, and ....why? How? We're supposed to be okay with, Well, everybody else was doing it.

Going forward, I see it as a travesty that those with the most unexamined of privileges have the largest media platforms, mostly because they seem to so consistently fail women and, in the process, our nation. I am supremely uninterested in the stale, victim-blaming post-mortems some of these folks now offer. Don't call Trump supporters sexist? Whatever, Champ. For, I'm convinced that Trump could nuke Chicago, a city he disparaged after residents protested his appearance during the primaries, and we'd still see a final misogynistic last gasp from a white man with syndication at a major newspaper, Well, you all brought this on yourselves, really. 

Election 2016 was not "the same as rape," to me (to preempt simplistic take-aways from this piece). Rather, it communicated certain truths about what it means to be a woman in the United States, one of which is: Women are not, de facto, equal to men.

Despite this, I will not despair. I think of all the institutions in our society that have thrived because predators coerce silence - sports programs, religious organizations, youth groups. Deep down, the purveyors of rape culture know that words are not actually "just words." Look at all the friends and foes telling us not to talk about misogyny right now. In these demands, we see a secret to rape culture's fragility: Words reflect thoughts and those, in turn, reflect perceptions of reality. By speaking out, we resist the widespread gaslighting regarding this matter and in so doing, we take crucial steps toward liberation.

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