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My Turn/Rob Okun — No excuse for misogyny; men should demand more from the White House

  • OKUN



Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Could his sexism get any worse? The tenant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue represents among the worst expressions of manhood the U.S. has ever seen. It seemed as if that dangerous truth was being obscured by so many of Donald Trump’s other actions but his crude attack on MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski has reignited an examination of presidential misogyny.

Millions of words have been written excoriating the president on a host of topics — from denying climate change to undermining minority voting rights; from restricting women’s reproductive freedom to promoting harsh prison sentences for nonviolent offenders. Often absent in this blizzard of assaults on social progress is the misogyny. It looked as if his sexist behavior had fallen off the radar until he unleashed his recent sexist twitter invective. It revived a story that, in my mind, should remain front and center in the national conversation about men.

A virtual sea of pink pussy hats liberally dotted the heads of large numbers among the nearly 6 million women protesting Trump worldwide the day after his inauguration. Men, happily, were at the protests in significant numbers. But since then, where have we been? Beyond a campaign a small number of colleagues and I organized in February, calling on Trump to prove “nobody respects women more than (he does),” men as a group have been largely silent. This has to change. Especially now.

What kind of a male role model for our children and grandchildren do we want? Quick answer: the opposite of Trump. Sad.

Before the election, a dozen women came forward to charge Trump with sexual misconduct. Trump pledged to sue them all after the election. It’s one of a host of promises he has not kept.

Lest their names are not forgotten, I want to remember them here: Jessica Leeds, Ivana Trump, Kristin Anderson, Jane Doe, Temple Taggart, Cathy Heller, Karena Virginia, Mindy McGillivray, Natasha Stoynoff, Jessica Drake, Rachel Crooks, Summer Zervos, Cassandra Searles. Brave women who are to be commended for speaking truth to power.

Consider this: In a sworn affidavit, ex-wife Ivana Trump accused him of rape in 1991. In a subsequent deposition in connection with their divorce — while not backing away from her charge that her then-husband had “raped” her — she said she didn’t want it to be interpreted in “a literal or criminal sense,” even as she added, “As a woman, I felt violated.” It’s widely believed she downplayed her charge to not jeopardize their divorce settlement in which she received $14 million in cash.

As for the president? He’s never denied sexually assaulting women, a fact he boasted about it on the infamous “Hollywood Access” tape where he said, “When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.” His defense? His comments were nothing more than “locker room” talk. What does he call his twitter rants about female journalists — “cloak room” talk?

Given all this, here’s a simple question — a challenge, actually — for men: Why are we not standing up and speaking out that as men — sons, brothers, uncles, husbands, fathers, grandfathers — we unequivocally reject his denigrating behavior toward women?

Those of us who are fathers, grandfathers, or who serve in mentor, coach or clergy roles, need to explicitly reject Trump’s misogyny, which his administration’s policies and a Republican-majority Congress are promoting. Otherwise, by our silence, aren’t we normalizing his behavior? To advance women’s rights, men must join women on the frontlines: for reproductive rights, for earning a 100 cents — not 79 cents — on the dollar, for child care, family leave, nutrition assistance and adding (not cutting) after-school programs, among myriad programs in jeopardy.

We face many crises in the world today, from the health of the climate to the health of the Constitution. However, when it comes to advancing gender equality and justice, men have a singular role to play: modeling a sensitive, aware manhood, not what’s being expressed at the White House.

Let’s start by asking women and women’s organizations how we can support them — and really listening to what they have to say. Then, let’s talk with other men about how we want to make our voices heard. Donald Trump may be the most visible exemplar of men behaving atrociously; unfortunately, he is not alone. If men want to prevent his minions from feeling emboldened, it is up to us to say yes to a compassionate, nurturing expression of manhood. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.

Rob Okun is editor of Voice Male, a magazine addressing the transformation of masculinity.