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Voices / Column

Behind the word ‘misogyny’ are women. Lots of them.

We need to hear their stories, in their own voices, to remind us what’s at stake with a Trump administration

Elayne Clift writes about women, politics, and social issues.

Saxtons River

We hear the word misogyny so often in the litany of worries about a Trump administration that, like other words in that long list, it begins to lose meaning.

But behind that “tag” are the faces — and lives — of women in the multitudes, both inside the U.S. and farther afield.

We need to hear their stories, in their own voices, to remind us what’s at stake for women when a government is headed by a man who gloated over his own acts of sexual assault and called women “pigs.”

Writer Jia Tolentino recalled recently that “during the Obama Administration, in no small part because of the respect that the First Couple instilled for women and people of color, I had begun to feel, thrillingly, like a person. My freedom no longer seemed a miraculous historical accident; it was my birthright.”

She hadn’t thought, she said, that Hillary Clinton’s campaign was specifically focused on women, but she experienced Clinton’s loss as a “woman-specific disaster.”

That disaster is captured in the words of a woman at a protest in New York the night after the election who told Tolentino, “I’m afraid that a man will hurt me in public, and everyone around will think it’s O.K.”

Women serving in the military and female veterans are feeling the potential threat of misogyny in particular ways that call for empathy and support.

“Many of my close friends are survivors of sexual abuse in the military,” said advocate and filmmaker Patricia Lee Stotter. “Both men and women who have been raped and sexually harassed during the years they served their country are now enraged and despairing.”

“It’s understandable,” she continued. “When Mr. Trump was asked about the problem of rape in the military, he said, ‘What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?’”

“It’s a horrible trigger,” Stotter continued. “and it’s re-traumatizing survivors of military sexual assault. Their cases were adjudicated within the chain of command which was another act of violence.”

Stoddard said that for survivors of military sexual assault, “the idea of a predator being president and commander in chief is devastatingly reminiscent of their experiences in the military.”

* * *

Speaking on the promise of anonymity, one woman veteran who suffered military sexual assault told me that “women feel unsafe because Trump’s rhetoric is what many of us experienced in the military.”

“I’m triggered,” she said. “I can’t sleep. I’m having trouble focusing. I am nearly blind with anger. I feel unsafe.”

Corroborating Stotter’s concern, she continued, “Both women and men that are assaulted while serving in the military may have very limited faith in the chain of command when the commander-in-chief normalizes abusive behavior.”

And, she said, “otherwise decent people may be swept up in either participating in normalizing, or failing to oppose assaults or harassment fueled by, the Trump effect.”

“When abuse is given a green light, nobody is safe.”

* * *

Here is a voice from abroad that illustrates how far-reaching the Trump effect is. Annie Viets, a U.S. business professor teaching at a private Saudi university, sent me these remarks.

“I have heard a number of comments since the election from students who want to get their master’s degrees abroad. In the past, the first choice of many of them has been the U.S. But now some students who were thinking of using their scholarships to study there are looking toward Europe. They say, ‘It doesn’t look like we’re going to be welcome in the United States anymore.’

“They say this as women and as Muslims.”

What makes this so sad, Viets said, is that “[w]hen students return from the U.S., they are forever friends of our country. Their experiences are inevitably positive and they develop a deep appreciation for our freedoms and way of life.”

“Welcoming young people from around the world to study is essential if we want to spread the value of democratic principles peacefully,” she continued. “In turn, we benefit from their many lively minds and perspectives.”

* * *

Rula Quawas, a professor of women’s studies and literature at the University of Jordan in Amman, also said her students are afraid of coming to the U.S. on scholarships.

However, she wrote me, “the fear will not stop them from coming to be educated.”

“I agree with them,” Quawas said. “This is the time when we should stop being afraid. We must be vigilant and push back when the need arises. We are not going to let one man or his administration hijack our dreams. We are entitled to a good life and a good education.”

In this spirit, a U.S. woman who asked not to be identified told me, “The venom being spewed toward women and others is stunning and terrifying.”

“As a woman, a liberal and an activist, I feel afraid, too. And I don’t think a lot of people — even the good men we love — are getting the level of trauma and threat women feel.

“But women are mobilizing, and we will keep up our acts of resistance, whether they are marches, strikes, donations, letters to Congress and news outlets, or speaking out in public forums.

“We will support each other and validate our feelings as we strike back in solidarity,” this woman said. “We must remember to share our stories, pace ourselves for a long battle, marshal our resources, laugh when we can, feel the warmth of family and friends, honor what we have achieved, and trust in our own resilience.”

As writer Susan Chiva put it, “The overall struggle is to stay relevant in the age of Trump.”

Take note, Mr. Trump: We can — and we will.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #394 (Wednesday, February 8, 2017). This story appeared on page D1.

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