Let me begin by stating emphatically that I am horrified by the statements Donald Trump has made about women, minorities, Muslims and essentially any and every demographic he doesn’t fit into. Until recently, I was baffled by how anyone could support him even if they did subscribe to his political ideology. I wondered how anyone could look past the unmistakable and disturbingly cruel, denigratory mocking he has persistently and unabashedly doled out. Over the past few weeks I have decided we owe Mr. Trump a bit of gratitude and here is why:
He has initiated a necessary conversation about how a significant portion of our country view women. I know Trump supporters who support most of what he says and I know Trump supporters who acknowledge they aren’t okay with his scathing remarks but are willing to overlook them. This is what is startling and upsetting to me as a woman and a mother of two daughters. Reducing a woman’s worth to essentially a value based on her physical appearance and perceived ability to attract men is something we don’t like to talk about but seems to be very much accepted by a large percentage of the population. Saying “I don’t like it but……” speaks loud and clear about how accustomed we have become to how women are perceived.
I have, like many, many women in this country experienced behavior based on this perception since I was in my early teens. I have tried to recall what it was that caused me to also adopt acceptance to some degree and all I can come up with is that I believe it was a great many things. I remember my first hospital job when I walked in on a conversation my managers were having that revolved around my physical appearance and questions they had about my personal life. I pretended I didn’t hear it as I tried to hide the overwhelming combination of anger, embarrassment and frustration that came over me. It is a terrible feeling when such a thing occurs and I find it difficult to describe.
Objectifying women in this manner isn’t flattering and it initiates an immediate punch that knocks us off balance and leaves us scrambling for our footing.
I worked very hard, graduated at the top of my class and my primary goal was to excel in my career and be viewed as an equal. A male supervisor insisted I work with him each shift so he could tell me inappropriate jokes as he “mentored me” in the intensive care unit. When I came to work one evening and told him I wanted to experience another part of the hospital, he assured me the other supervisors viewed me as “too green” and would look to him to suggest when I might be ready. I felt stuck. When I was pregnant, it didn’t stop, as comments were made about the size of my breasts and how my then husband, must have been so happy with the change. As I write this, I wince as the words hit the page and I imagine this is part of the reason we don’t talk about these experiences. I am saddened as I remember how desperately I wanted to be viewed as a valued member of the team and appreciated by my colleagues and how my response was to work even harder to prove my worth.
This is a short list of things I have encountered and chose to “suck up” because the fall out, in my mind, would have been worse than the fight. I share this because I know I am not alone in these experiences and there is power in the sharing because things must be seen and known before they can change. Mr. Trumps solution would be that I should have sought a different employer but why should anybody be forced to seek out an environment where they are valued and respected? As I gained years and a few pounds, I found I was relieved at the diminishing encounters of this nature. Still, I shudder at what my daughters may still have to endure.
He has given us little choice but to pay attention and take action. Even if you are a woman supporting Trump, you can take action against the demeaning attitudes toward women that have bubbled up as being accepted by so many. I believe my generation has dropped the ball to some extent in regard to women’s issues. I was told, by my mother who became an adult during the 60’s, that I could do anything. I could have a family and a career because of all the women who had worked so hard for my rights to have this choice. The problem with this is that I think we believed the work was done and the problem was solved. In fact the word “Feminist” has become so rejected that one dares utter it for fear of distain and rebuke.
I believe partly because of this, we have become apathetic and accept the heavy cloak thrust upon us or simply learn to navigate life encumbered by the weight of it.
Neither should be accepted because it is a disservice to everyone when any member of our society is unable to reach their full potential. We get distracted by what we are told we should view as important like how much we weigh or how not to look our age. We pay less attention to issues that we need to be educated on to effect change and be active participants in our neighborhoods and our world. In this distraction, we waste time judging one another on things that don’t matter and don’t bring us to the dignity we deserve and that should be our right as citizens of this nation. Only we can change it.
He has shown us how very important it is, to be heard. Maybe this is the year women turn out in record numbers and say it does matter how we are spoken of and treated in this country. Maybe this is the year that women’s presence in the Senate and Congress is more reflective of our presence in the population. Maybe this is the year we realize all the work hasn’t been done and there is a long road ahead that will take organization and hard work from Democrats, Independents and Republicans alike. I hope this is the year we make our voices known and loudly and clearly say we care about what is happening in this country and around the world. This year we stand up and say “Locker room talk” isn’t an acceptable excuse for deplorable behavior and we believe anyone who engages in this should be judged accordingly and is not the example. We are active participants who are capable of a cultural revolution if we put our minds to it and I don’t see how we can stay silent anymore.
Michelle Chaffee is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Älska, a technology solution created to empower patients and their caregivers through improved communication with care teams, secure, mobile storage of personal health records and tools to better manage chronic disease. She is based in Minneapolis, MN. Follow her on Twitter.