“Whether you realize it or not, you’ve spent your entire life being trained to empathize with white men. From Odysseus to Walter White, Hamlet to Bruce Wayne, James Bond to the vast majority of biopic protagonists, our art consistently makes the argument that imperfect, even outright villainous, men have an innate core of humanity.” ~ Caroline Siede
I was swimming with Donald Trump today.
The second Presidential Debate was last night and I was in the pool at the gym doing my workout this morning, minding my own business, when an old guy—that is, a guy about my age—in the lane next to me struck up a conversation.
Everything went along fine as he chatted me up about what a beautiful pool it was, the float belt I was wearing and how he could understand why I didn’t want to get my hair wet.
“All women are like that,” he said, laughing.
By this time I’d noticed that he had an accent just like Trump’s and that—he kind of reminded me of Trump.
He was big and loud, took up all the space around him and had lumped me into the “what all women are like” category.
In fact, just about the moment I had this thought, he dove into my lane—a move that in gym swim pool etiquette I found to be aggressive—and kept talking to me while I walked in the water.
I thought that when I got home I would tell my husband that Trump’s ominous phrase “grab ‘em by the p*ssy” had flashed before me just about then and that I couldn’t wait for the guy to get to the steps and leave.
Soon enough he did leave, throwing over his shoulder that I should have a nice day and adding with a creepy ear to ear grin:
“Hope to see you soon, Sweetie.”
Was I his sweetie? What gave him the right to call me that? I hadn’t called him anything remotely close to that. Did I even want to see him again soon, or ever?
I suddenly realized that this guy not only sounded like Donald Trump—in a small yet pervasive kind of way—he was Donald Trump.
Years ago, I was working in a law firm in which the senior partner had a penchant for ass-grabbing the women in the office who he “happened” to be in a room with or was passing in the hall.
The first time he did it to me I was shocked. So shocked I could hardly believe it happened.
But it had happened. More than once.
Nobody said anything. Neither me, nor the lawyer nor any of the other women in the firm.
I have grown up handling ass-grabbers, breast nudgers, tongue-waggers, leerers, and all kinds of strange men who also thought they had the right to address me by a term of endearment because, after all they—like Trump—thought I “liked” all that.
Strangely however, Trump has shown me just how much this type of behavior has been around me all my life, and after Sunday night’s debate, I recognized his same body language and manner in the paternalistic, privileged, stronger-than-me, more important-than-me attitude the guy in the pool had.
Suddenly, I saw Hillary Clinton in a way that I never had before.
I identified with her.
I realized that both she and I have been used and abused, subtly and pervasively by men, even by men in our own personal worlds who claimed to love us and be committed to us, because of one thing: We are both women.
I felt for her, and I felt for me, for our courage and our patience, for our forbearance and emotional stamina and for our ability to face being ignored and dismissed all of our lives.
One of the social media comments I read said that Clinton “displayed presidential characteristics” when she stood in the debate last night without losing her composure while Trump loomed threateningly behind her.
Yes, Hillary Clinton was demonstrating presidential characteristics. But sad to say, it is because she is a woman and is not new to having to deal with bullying and implied physical threats.
In fact, all of us women have dealt with similar things.
We’ve all had men looming threateningly behind us in one way or another—waiting impatiently for us to finish talking, ignoring our personal space, ridiculing us, perpetrating threats or even acts of violence against us, or otherwise talking about us as mere sex containers.
As for me, my swimming pool moment led me to empathy and compassion for someone who had theretofore been merely a “public figure,” and—politics aside—not a real flesh and blood woman.
Let me correct that—not a real flesh and blood woman like me—one that has made her share of mistakes, misjudgments and bad calls, all the while trying to hope for respect in a man’s world that wouldn’t think she deserved it even if she were perfect.
It also helped me to see that the Trumps of the world have not only been around all my life, but that they are still around, just as close as the swimming pool at my gym.
Author: Carmelene Siani
Images: Flickr/Glen Scarborough
Editor: Travis May