“Where’s your smile, sweetheart?” As innocuous as this question may seem, every time I hear it or one like it my skin crawls. Although the words themselves are free of vulgarity or outward violence, what lies beneath is an implicit notion that as a woman I am expected to smile even when I have no reason to do so. There have been too many occasions in my life when an unknown male has uttered these words to me as I politely tried to discourage his uninvited company. While my one or two word replies to his advances didn’t clue him in to my discomfort, apparently my facial expressions took over. And now, those few words serve as a reminder that it’s my job as a woman to put on a happy face for him because women are supposed to be demure, sweet, and accommodating. Woohoo! It’s my lucky day. Someone finds me attractive enough to encroach on my personal space and make me feel small, vulnerable, and ultimately unsafe. I should make sure to smile about it. Don’t want to seem like a bitch.
The release of the Access Hollywood tape of Donald Trump and his lewd remarks has dredged up all sorts of uncomfortable emotions and thoughts for me over the past week. It doesn’t have much to do with the fact that it is our Republican nominee for President that is making the sexist, rape-y comments. Mr. Trump lost my respect eons ago, sometime during the early seasons of The Apprentice, and there isn’t a thing I could learn about him that would surprise me. If he unzipped his orange-skin suit and revealed himself to be a lizard-faced alien, I’d mutter “Of course.” The effect of that video tape goes well beyond disgust for me and millions of women because it is an in-your-face reminder that sexism is alive and well. It’s a visceral souvenir of times in our own pasts when we were assaulted, either verbally, physically, or both, by someone like Mr. Trump who still views women as chattel. It simultaneously baffles, scares, and disappoints me. It also makes me breathe a sigh of relief that I don’t have a daughter who I have to explain this shit to.
As horrific as Donald Trump’s words were on the tape, what bothered me more was Billy Bush’s comments and behavior which, while not quite as overtly crude, were just as creepy and demeaning. When Bush first spied actress Arianne Zucker who was waiting to meet their bus, he exclaimed, “Sheesh. Your girl is hot as shit!” Did he just say “your girl” as if she belongs to him? When they disembarked the bus and Billy suggested she give Mr. Trump a hug, I shivered. Women are continually expected to offer personal physical contact upon request, whether or not it makes them uncomfortable. It’s just what we’re supposed to do. Did Billy Bush embrace Mr. Trump when he met him that day, you know, as a precursor to all the male bonding and “locker room talk”? I keep flashing back to that uncomfortable hug with an anxiety reminiscent of PTSD. If Ms. Zucker had refused to comply, she would have opened herself to a smile, sweetheart-like comment meant to belittle her for overreacting and not giving in, or a what-a-bitch remark for her non-compliance, or perhaps forcible physical contact such as a hardy grab of her genitals as a reminder of who holds the power. Sick. And. Wrong.
I find myself checking the calendar a lot lately. Are we really in 2016? While I’ve long known we’re still a sexist society in which no woman is truly safe, I think I had somewhat deluded myself into believing we had made some sort of forward progress. Maybe the nomination of the first woman to be on a presidential election ballot buoyed my sense of optimism. But this election, with its female candidate and her harassing and demeaning male counterpart who is constantly referring to her as Crooked Hillary, has made me downright depressed. Secretary Clinton has more experience than anyone else has ever had for the position of Commander in Chief. Like Donald Trump, she has a negative reputation and scars from thirty years in the public eye that she has to overcome, but she also has sexism to rise above. And this sexism is not only from males. There are women perpetuating sexism against her as well, although I’d like to believe that sexism is so deeply buried in a dark place they’ve been conditioned not to realize exists that they have no clue that is what is behind their hatred of her. While I may not agree with some of her choices, words, or actions, I can’t help but admire Hillary Rodham Clinton. She is fearless. She has taken every type of abuse imaginable and she keeps marching forward unabated. She may or may not make a decent president, but I admire her balls. It’s crazy how brave she is to believe she is smart, capable, and level-headed enough to be President of the United States in this day and age. Perhaps more people might approve of her, though, if she would just smile more.
The next time Donald Trump is scowling on the debate stage behind her, I hope Hillary employs her balls. I hope she turns around, grabs him firmly by the genitals, and tells him to smile about it. It’s what powerful people do. And, clearly, he’s been asking for it.