What Trump does to a former Miss Universe onstage almost seems normal. That’s why it’s so awful.
On Friday, a new video surfaced that showed Donald Trump doing to former Miss Universe Jennifer Hawkins — in public, onstage in front of thousands of people — the same thing that he bragged about doing on a leaked audio tape with Billy Bush of Access Hollywood.
On that now infamous 2005 tape, Trump said of beautiful women: “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.” And that’s just what Trump does to Hawkins at the end of this video from a 2011 business conference in Sydney, Australia, which was first reported by the Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim:
In the video, Trump calls Hawkins onstage for a disturbing display of public humiliation, including sex jokes at her expense, for a perceived slight that Hawkins says was a misunderstanding. Hawkins laughs and apologizes, and Trump also laughs as if it’s all in good fun — but he still makes insulting, degrading remarks about her in an apparent act of revenge.
And after he’s done with all that, Trump says, “I don’t know too many women who are taller than me,” puts his arm around Hawkins’s waist, grabs her close to him, and goes in for a kiss. It doesn’t look consensual or expected; Hawkins appears to put her arm between them and turn her head so the kiss lands on her cheek. The audience laughs, and there are a few cheers and whistles. “Can I sit down now?” Hawkins asks.
I heard a lot of feedback from readers who were shocked by this tape, and with good reason. It’s just about everything wrong with Trump and women in less than three minutes: he casually objectifies a woman, cruelly displays his dominance and power over her, and gives her a surprise grab-and-kiss that looks a lot like moments other women have described while accusing Trump of sexual assault.
But a lot of other readers, both Trump supporters and not, genuinely seemed to think it was no big deal:
— ynreee (@ynreeeee) October 28, 2016
— Jaxon J. (@Jaxon4Trump) October 28, 2016
@voxdotcom Is that all HRC/DNC/CNN/HuffPo/Vox have got?
He goes in for a peck on the cheek she half wasn’t expecting happens all the time
— An Individual (@Citizen751908) October 28, 2016
Normally, I might dismiss comments like these. But in this case, I think they speak to an important point that’s worth unpacking.
Again: Trump did this to Hawkins — humiliated her, made sexual jokes about her, and kissed her without warning — onstage in front of thousands of people. He clearly thought there was nothing wrong with his actions. So, it seems, did many of the people in the audience.
Trump’s infamous “grab ‘em by the pussy” tape caught fire in part because it was so shocking. But the terrible truth about Trump’s alleged crimes is that sexual misconduct is so common — so routine — that a lot of people don’t even know it when they see it.
If you think you don’t know a woman who has been sexually harassed or assaulted, you either don’t know many women, or the women you do know have simply never chosen to confide in you about things like this.
Research by Indiana University professor Carol Brooks Gardner surveyed women on their experiences with being harassed by unknown men in public — and found that every woman surveyed reported more than one such experience (and that only a tiny minority of these women, nine out of 293, didn’t find those experiences “troublesome”). According to the Centers for Disease Control, 27 percent of women and 11 percent of men have experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact in their lifetime.
When the Trump tapes inspired author Kelly Oxford to tweet about her first sexual assault and encourage other women to do the same, she was inundated with responses at the rate of at least one per second for at least the next day. And when I wrote about that, women I know started telling me about experiences they’d kept to themselves for years.
There are plenty of reasons that women don’t often talk openly about this stuff, even though so many women experience sexual harassment or assault so frequently.
But one of the biggest, dumbest reasons? We’ve been raised to expect that this kind of thing happens all the time. That it’s no big deal if a guy casually gropes you at a bar, or that it’s flattering if he gives you a kiss you weren’t expecting.
But most depressingly: being assaulted, grabbed, groped, etc is not an unusual occurrence for women. It happens throughout our lives
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) October 13, 2016
We’re taught that being catcalled & groped is an expected part of a woman’s life. (Boys will be boys!) How do you report the everyday?
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) October 13, 2016
Trump really, truly seems to think that it’s no big deal to plant a kiss without warning on any woman he finds attractive. He dismissed his leaked comments about kissing women without consent, not to mention grabbing them “by the pussy,” as “locker room talk.”
But the truth is a lot of people think the same way Trump does about women’s bodies — even if they also claim to abhor rape and sexual assault. (Trump sure says he does; recall that he wanted to execute the men who were found innocent of gang-raping a woman in Central Park.)
A lot of people think that women’s bodies aren’t entirely our own, and that we are always at least partially available for someone else’s enjoyment. That’s what we talk about when we talk about rape culture.
This attitude towards women’s bodies is why beauty pageants are popular, and probably one reason Trump loved owning them — they’re the closest thing we have to an institutionalized version of Trump’s attitudes towards women. Like Trump, beauty pageants judge women’s worth based on their physical attractiveness (“She’s no longer a 10”), and reduce women to public objects that can be paraded around and ogled by men.
This attitude is why Billy Bush — who was at least as bad as Trump in that tape, if you watch the whole thing — thought it was fine and normal to pressure Arianne Zucker into giving both him and Trump a hug, and to prod her on whether she’d pick Bush or Trump to go on a date with if she had to choose.
Like Hawkins, Zucker laughed good-naturedly at Bush’s comments. And it’s completely possible that either or both of these women genuinely didn’t mind or think anything of it, or even enjoyed the banter.
But just because a woman laughs, doesn’t mean that what’s going on is okay. Women laugh when men do something inappropriate all the time; I certainly have.
We laugh because we’re uncomfortable. We laugh because we think it’s what men want to hear, and we don’t want to be mean. We laugh because we think it’s the best way to diffuse an awkward situation — or to maneuver out of a dangerous one.
And maybe we laugh because we think it’s funny or harmless. But we also laugh because we are taught, every day, to believe that it’s normal.