It would be easy for me to join in the voices condemning the latest (and most overt) vile comments of Donald Trump. And I do condemn them, with everything in my DNA. But when I’m the most honest with myself the sourness in my stomach isn’t about Donald Trump, or even about the complicity of Billy Bush. The sourness in my stomach comes from the bits of myself I see reflected in both. And that is hard to write.
It’s true that Trump’s misogyny is an extra special brand, but it stems from the same patriarchy and sexism which socialized me. It is simply the veil lifted on the rape culture that we are all socialized in.
I had the same girlfriend from sophomore year in high school through college. I thought I was a good guy and never thought about sexism, and certainly not about rape culture. I would never even think about raping a woman so why would I need to think about it? Our relationship was, in many ways, great. In many other ways it was also terrible, and, sadly, it’s the terrible parts that are all too typical.
Like Trump I saw women, and more specifically attention from women, as validation of my own worth. My friends and I would constantly objectify women seeing them first, and sometimes exclusively, as objects for fulfilling our sexual desires and fantasies. It made no difference that I had a girlfriend, I literally rationalized cheating by citing Common ” I mighta got a little head but I wasn’t really cheating.” If I wasn’t the one talking about who I wanted I would, too often, be playing the part of Billy Bush and laugh in tacit approval. It wasn’t until my girlfriend left the country to study abroad that I had to confront this reality. And it got ugly first.
Like most men, I was so insecure, and my ego was so fragile, that when she told me she was going to be leaving I immediately threatened her with breaking up. We were at Chili’s, I still remember the conversation. We went on a break, and I went on the prowl. That weekend I hooked up with a coworker. I didn’t “just start kissing her” but the intention was the same. I was hurting and was entitled to feel better. I needed the validation I thought the attention from women provided. I was spinning. I got a membership to LiveLinks and was on there nearly every night, doing my best to “be attracted to beautiful. Like a magnet.” Of course none of it actually filled me up. That’s how rape culture works.
Not only that, I had so internalized toxic masculinity that while my girlfriend was out of the country I racked up hundreds of dollars calling her internationally because I was so worried she was cheating. I never thought of her as my property, but I was clearly acting like it. Because, well, patriarchy. I never said I would “move on her like a bitch” or “grab her by the p**sy,” but I was sure operating from the same line of thought. This all came to a head when my girlfriend came back and I assumed we would pick up where we left off. That’s how patriarchy and rape culture work, what’s yours is yours, and you are entitled to it no matter what.
I was working at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage in a temp position and coaching at Hamline. Facebook wasn’t what it is today and I didn’t have a page, but I had her login. Of course I logged in. I don’t remember exactly what I saw but I remember leaving work right away and driving to hers. I sat in the car until she got off and furiously accused her of lying and cheating; I was throwing all kinds of guilt on her about betraying me. All this while doing more dirt than I can even remember, but that didn’t matter because, patriarchy. I don’t know how long it was after that when her and I got into what would be our last argument. I was going into what had become my typical lines when she interrupted me by telling me she knew I was calling LiveLinks. I remember for half-a-second trying to deny and defend but then feeling relief at accepting we were over. When I got in my car I sobbed for what felt like hours. I was terrified, ashamed, embarrassed and, I thought, alone. Looking back that moment saved my life.
Today I picked my daughter up from daycare. When I opened the door to her classroom she smiled, laughed, screamed daddy and came running to give me a hug. How I love her is going to teach her how to expect to be loved from men. And that scares me. I know I’ve done work since that breakup, but I don’t know if it’s enough. The more I learn about patriarchy the more I recognize it in my reflection. The more I learn about rape culture the more I realize how embedded it is in the very first socializing of our children. Brock Turner is out of jail, and at least one panelist on CNN is defending Donald Trump. My fear is that we are not as outraged as we may appear. My fear is that we are ok with this being “locker room talk” and are simply outraged at it making the public eye. I’m afraid that we are ok with “boys being boys” and then becoming men.
As I check on my daughter sleeping in her crib I promise her that I will never remain silent again. I won’t ever regret the words I never said. I won’t ever laugh at the expense of her, or anybody’s, humanity. Most importantly, I promise to love myself — and other men, like the ones who loved me through my worst times did, I’m so thankful for them– through the patriarchy and into vulnerability and compassion and, ultimately, full humanity. My ego is not so frail as it was once.