The brouhaha about Trump’s most recent crudeness had me totally and utterly confused. Why could it be that the media, as well as authorities in the party which nominated him, are suddenly disavowing any allegiance to him over this one thing? This one thing, which is as common as a dead animal rotting by the side of the road?
Like most pretty young girls, I was subject to sexual harassment and sexual assault/attempted rape by figures of authority too many times to count in my youth, from middle school onwards. The only way to cope was to dissociate, wall it off in my psyche, and regard it as something unpleasant from which you try to move on, like stepping in dogshit on the street. One learns at an early age that it doesn’t even matter if anyone believes you when these things occur. The people you go to with complaints or allegations, be they family or teachers or police, may believe you. They probably do. But there is a certain type of silence which falls over them. A certain silence which says, “You are not a person any more. You are a problem.” This silence allows you to slink away; if you press your claim, you will be freshly verbally humiliated by your supposed protectors.
But the story which is most grievous to me comes from later days in my life, when I had matured and fattened past the point of being prey for such hyenas (And isn’t this one of the best arguments for remaining obese? Perhaps why many women do? But I digress.).
This story takes place in my town of Tallahassee, where a certain colleague of mine practices. He is board certified in a specialty. He practiced in partnership with a chiropractor who was the son of a respected local minister, a man who was politically connected, who eventually served on the Board of Chiropractic for many years.
It was my second or third year of practice that the first young woman came in to see me after leaving his practice. She was about 22. She had long straight hair, big eyes, a slender build, and large breasts. She said, “I know that chiropractic care can help me. But Dr. X insisted on having me undress completely for my examination and then he did a breast exam. Is that normal?” (No, it is not normal.)
Later, a massage therapist asked me if I was on the provider list for a particular HMO. This HMO restricted its chiropractor list to a very few practitioners, and getting added to the list is highly political; you have to “know someone” to get on the panel. I knew that Dr. X was on the panel, so I mentioned him. My massage therapist friend said, “No, this is for a female client. Dr. X uses, er, handles when he adjusts.” My friend put his hand over his nipple to make it clear what he meant.
Another young woman came in. Big eyes, big boobs. Cried when I asked why she was switching from Dr. X. Refused to say more.
A male patient mentioned his daughter had gone to see Dr. X and been molested; the male patient went to Dr. X’s office and threatened to punch him in the nose.
Another young woman who fit the description of Dr. X’s preferred victim came in. When I heard her story, I went into my office, printed out a copy of the Board of Chiropractic’s complaint form, and gave it to her with encouragement to report. I never saw her again.
I had lunch with Dr. X and another chiropractor. Dr. X was urging us to refer patients to him for evaluation in his specialty. I told him I would never do that because he fondled his patient’s breasts. He said “Well, you never know if a woman’s headaches could be caused by metastatic breast cancer, do you?” He changed the subject abruptly, excused himself, and left a few minutes later. The other chiropractor, a man, complimented me once we were alone for calling Dr. X on his behavior.
I was advertising for a receptionist and I interviewed one candidate who had worked six months for Dr. X. (I eventually hired someone else for the job). I asked her, “Why did you leave?”
“Because of what I saw there every day. Dr. X is a pervert and I couldn’t keep silent and be a part of that behavior.”
The next time a 22-year-old, big eyes and breasts, long hair, came in, and I saw on her paperwork she was a former patient of Dr. X, I had the complaint form all ready. All she needed to do was to write in her short description of the molestation and sign. I even had a stamped envelope ready, addressed to the Board. I gave out four more of those forms with the ready envelopes over the next fifteen years.
At a chiropractic society dinner one evening, I was seated next to a married couple who are both chiropractors. The husband mentioned that Dr. X was going to an offshore medical school and was thinking of becoming a gynecologist. I said, “Really? And would you want Dr. X doing your daughter’s first pelvic exam?”
The wife interrupted. “We are not talking about Dr. X any more at this meal. And, Peri, no, he is not touching my daughter.” She abruptly changed the subject. Women, like Hilary Clinton, learn the rules if they want to get ahead.
One day at a chiropractic convention, I met Dr. X’s former partner, who was by that time on the Board of Chiropractic. We were standing in a registration line together. I asked him point-blank why nothing ever happened to Dr. X and how he could stand to be associated with him.
“I was never associated with Dr. X. And I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. And that silence came over him. You know, that silence I talked about? When you stop being a person and you become a problem? That silence. And I knew at that moment, if I wanted my chiropractic license to remain clear of discipline, I had better shut up about Dr. X.
My point is: men in positions of power commit this type of behavior wholesale, every day, everywhere, in public and in private, and are protected by both men and women who overlook it. From Kennedy through Clinton, Presidents have behaved this way, and they’ve been given a pass by their subordinates, their opposition, and the media. The only difference with Trump is that he never put a hypocritical face on it; he was openly a pig from the very first day he hit the public eye, and he has never changed.
So what’s up, that all of a sudden, his supporters seem to have “woken up” to what a pig he is? It surely wasn’t that video; he’s said things in public, on record, many times which were just as offensive. The only way I can understand this story is as a scapegoating narrative. The scapegoat is an ancient custom; a goat is chosen to represent the sins of the village. The goat is driven out by the shouting of the whole village and banished to the wilds, to be eaten by wolves, or stoned to death just beyond the village gate and left for scavengers. The primitive archetype is saying: drive Trump out and government will be clean and pure again.
Ludicrous! Nonsense! Some people, given power over other people, will abuse that power. Power thus attracts people who want to commit abuse. If their taste runs towards sexual abuse, sexual abuse will happen and the victims will be powerless to stop it. This was true in the days of the Renaissance, when the Pope was the protector. It’s true today.
These life experiences are part of why my political beliefs changed over the years. In my teens and twenties, I was a radical feminist, a socialist progressive. I bushwhacked into the wilderness for a week on Election Day 1980 to avoid watching Reagan be elected. I listened to Maya Angelou’s “On the Bright Pulse of Morning” and wept for joy. However, I evolved. Now, on some days I am a bleeding-heart libertarian. Other days, I would be best described as an anarchist. Whatever the label, I have certain core convictions, certain consistent principles.
The first of those principles is this: whenever and wherever possible, deny others power and authority over you and over those you care about. And the second goes hand in hand with the first: care about the helpless.