Pussygate and Female Privilege


Donald Trump’s candidacy has been, to put it politely, divisive. Recently, an audio recording from 2005 was released in which Trump stated the following:

“It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

This recording has driven many Republicans to disendorse Trump and the media have certainly given the substance of the recording much publicity (certainly much more than the Podesta Emails leaked by Wikileaks, which make it rather clear that Trump’s opponent is more than happy to mislead the voting public). Trump’s statements are clearly rude, coarse and vulgar to say the least.

But the reaction to “Pussygate” has been illustrative, to say the least. Trump says a lot of outrageous things (or, if one wishes to be charitable, he says many things in a blustery, crude and non-nuanced fashion that seems calculated to cause outrage and division), but around the same time as the audio recording surfaced, Trump said something else that was also atrocious.

The Central Park Five – five men of African and Latino ancestry – were wrongly convicted of raping a female jogger. They served prison sentences ranging between six and thirteen years. They successfully extracted settlements from New York City for malicious prosecution and DNA evidence proved their innocence. But DNA evidence apparently isn’t enough for Donald Trump, who maintains that the Central Park Five are still guilty. This is consistent with Trump’s actions back when the original crime was news; he took out newspaper ads demanding the death penalty be reinstated in the aftermath of this crime. In addition, after the Central Park Five got their settlements in 2014, Trump penned an editorial in the New York Daily News in which he called the settlements “a disgrace” (see http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/donald-trump-central-park-settlement-disgrace-article-1.1838467).

Which of these statements got the most media attention? You already know the answer; Pussygate is all over the airwaves and Trump’s refusal to admit he was wrong about the Central Park Five is in a distant second place.

Objectively, Pussygate is hardly an issue; this kind of lowbrow, boastful locker-room talk and macho bravado is surely distasteful, but is it truly as reprehensible as its being made out to be? Trump stated, in coarse language admittedly, that women will let rich/powerful/famous men grope and kiss them; the presence of “they let you do it” in Trump’s quote makes it pretty hard to construe the quote as rape-laden.

Yet the media and even many in the Republican party are treating this as an unforgiveable slight against all women everywhere. Pearls are being clutched, disavowals are being written, endorsements are being withdrawn and virtues are being signalled.

But Trump’s position on the Central Park Five is not merely macho swagger. Nor does it represent a mere personality defect. Rather, it represents something far worse; a belief in the infallibility of prosecutors and police, a dismissal of the possibility of misconduct or corruption in the justice system, an endorsement of overincarceration and a complete rejection of the project of Criminal Justice Reform.

Whilst Trump’s position is getting some well-deserved criticism in the press, the outrage is minor compared Pussygate. As Janell Ross of the Washington Post put it (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/10/08/donald-trumps-doubling-down-on-the-central-park-five-reflects-a-bigger-problem/ ), “the Central Park Five’s outrage about Trump’s campaign and his continued baseless accusations about their guilt has not been joined by a chorus even approaching the size of the Trump is a misogynist collective so vocal today.”


I suggest the answer is female privilege, and in particular our culture’s determination to protect women’s feelings and to assert women’s innate value simply for being women. Call it what you will; pedastalization, the golden uterus, missing white woman syndrome or whatever, but ultimately we live in a society where women are seen as inherently precious. They are seen as deserving of being shielded from coarseness and cruelty where possible. Womanhood is a goddess, and Trump is a blasphemer.

But Trump’s apparent mindset regarding criminal justice issues will impact men (and minority men in particular) more than women; the vast majority of the incarcerated and the accused are male. Our society’s dedication to male disposability means that this isn’t seen as a particularly massive cost to bear, especially when such a cost is merely the price of safety (in particular, the safety of women and children). And, as the experience of college campus kangaroo courts makes perfectly clear, rape and sexual assault are issues which challenge many people’s devotion to Due Process. The rights of males who are accused of rape? These are prioritized far below the safety of (presumed female) rape victims.

Pussy-grabbing is one thing, and Trump is receiving scorn for his blasphemy against the sacred feminine. Yet his apparent belief that innocence does not constitute a defense against the charge of rape is, if anything, in line with the same gynocentric attitudes that demolish due process protections on college campuses. Saying mean and crude things about women is an unforgiveable sin, yet a mindset averse to police and prosecutor accountability and prone to locking up swathes of men with little concern for due process is only a minor issue. There is more outrage over Trump’s blustering references to female genitalia than there is over Trump’s apparent conviction that cops and DA’s never punish innocent men.

Trump’s heresies against the almighty vulva say very little about what he’d do as President, yet draw firestorms of condemnation. Trump’s attitudes regarding law enforcement and criminal justice are intensely relevant to his political actions, yet the prospect of legions more wrongly-convicted males gets only moderate critique. What does that say about our society’s priorities?

The famous English jurist Sir William Blackstone once wrote that “it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” Benjamin Franklin increased the guilty-to-innocent ratio tenfold. This concern is clearly alien to Trump’s worldview, and the fact that more people are angry about him engaging in locker-room banter than they are about the prospect of even more police militarization and incarceration shows just how much people care about women’s feels and how little people care about the wrongfully convicted.

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<span class="dsq-postid" data-dsqidentifier="155926 https://www.honeybadgerbrigade.com/?p=155926">17 comments</span>

    • I don’t see much of an argument here. And yet again your comment proves my point; why is pussygate such a big deal relative to Trump’s refusal to accept DNA proof of the Central Park Five’s innocence? Refusal to accept that various cops and prosecutors engaged in misconduct and ultimately put five innocent men behind bars for years?

      A fair reading, in context, of Trump’s pussygate comments is evidence of him being coarse, blustery and frankly a bit of a pig (and certainly far less capable at putting up a front of gentility than Bill Clinton, whom (as Christopher Hitchens said) is almost certainly a rapist). But these character flaws pale in comparison to those evidenced by his continued belief the Central Park Five are still guilty. Pussygate has strained relevance at best to politics, but his CP5 comments show his basic mindset on a very important area of policy.

      Pussygate should be barely an issue, and there should be substantially more rage directed at Trump for the CP5, and for his general inability to accept that there are problems with and bad agents within the criminal justice system. But Pussygate hurts the feelings of women, and almost no one cares about the prospect of locking up more young men (particularly those of African or Latino ancestry).The distribution of rage is telling about our society’s priorities.

  • > the presence of “they let you do it” in Trump’s quote makes it pretty hard to construe the quote as rape-laden.

    Imagining you have consent to everything is absolutely very rape-laden.

    For most men (and probably most women too), the fact that “they want to” is the most exciting thing about sex. You feel attractive, desirable, accepted. There is no bigger turn off than someone who takes a “lie back and think of England” approach. In that case, there’s not a lot you can get from a body that you can’t get equally well from your hand.

    It seems to me the that rapists, or in any case the most common type of them, are really good at imagining consent. Those who see themselves as so desirable they can scarcely imagine someone saying no, they’re the potential dangerous ones.

    • If you take Trump’s quote literally and read it somewhat uncharitably, sure, you can come to such a conclusion. But if a woman LETS YOU have sex with her, that’s the same thing as her granting permission, i.e. consent (by definition).

      You’re not only assuming he’s imagining it, you’re also implicitly taking ‘enthusiastic consent’ as the legal standard of consent. You’re also reading a kind of passive reluctance into the “let you,” which I don’t think is present in the quote.

      This kind of bragging ‘locker room talk’ is not going to be linguistically precise or sensitive or laden with technical details. But he’s not saying “she said no but she just lay there and took it” (which absolutely WOULD constitute rapeyness), but rather “when you’re a star, they let you do it.” Is it unreasonable to suggest that someone permitting you to do something to them constitutes them consenting to have you do it to them?

      Surely we should interpret the quote somewhat charitably. Unless you presume Trump is ALREADY a rapist and/or “has the soul of a rapist” and then read the quote as evidence for supporting such a presumption.

      Do I think Trump’s attitude (presuming he wasn’t just bragging) is good or healthy? No, not at all. And arguably such attitudes CAN lead someone into committing sex crimes. If he gropes a woman who indeed does not let him do so, that is sexual assault and thus bad. But I am not convinced we should take him entirely literally; his whole style of speech is devoid of nuance or careful vocabulary choices. He was speaking in a context in which men often brag, and at least to his knowledge he was talking privately with a friend (I think), long before Third Wave Feminism grew into the massively toxic media behemoth it now is. Given the situation within which he was speaking, I think a charitable reading is warranted.

    • Wanting to think of oneself as wanted is not sexually predatory. It’s not an interest in superseding anyone’s will – THAT would be sexually predatory. Rape isn’t a result of imagining consent. It’s an act of contravening the victim’s refusal. Rape is inflicting a sex act on a person against that person’s will, or when/because you know the person can’t exercise his or her will to refuse.

      The act of accusing someone after actively engaging in sex with him doesn’t make him a rapist. It makes you a false accuser.

      • Thank you Hannah.

        Everyone, irrespective of sex, wants to be wanted. This is something journalist Mark Simpson discusses at length; EVERYONE wants to be desired. We all crave to be craved.

      • > Wanting to think of oneself as wanted is not sexually predatory.

        Well, I didn’t remotely say that, did I?

        Without at least imagining/dreaming about being wanted, though, I think men (or at least most men) can hardly get aroused at all. So, evidence that someone can filter out in their mind all the evidence that they may NOT be wanted, is a cause for concern.

        • Remotely, no – you spelled it out in no uncertain terms with what you originally said. Further, your above comment makes an unfounded accusation – that there’s evidence Trump has filtered out being unwanted. The conversation on that tape has no such evidence. The only place that exists is in your head.

          • _I_ want to think of myself as wanted, like all other men. So no, that is a blatant misreading. No one is a sexual predator just for wanting to be wanted.

            I wonder where exactly you think I said that. Or are you claiming I edited my post or something?

            The conversation suggests that Trump think’s he’s so desirable, he doesn’t even have to make sure it’s wanted, he can just go ahead and grope. If he really believes that – a big if – I’d say he must be damn good at filtering out being unwanted. I don’t buy for a minute that in his rich man’s world, rejection never happens.

            But anyway, it’s most likely just bullshitting for the benefit of the guy he’s talking to.

          • It’s interesting that you don’t like having your words interpreted, but you feel entitled to write your own prejudices into Trump’s words.

            You said “Imagining you have consent to everything is absolutely very rape-laden,” and then followed up by adding things that were not in the conversation to make your inference seem more plausible. Finishing up with a paragraph which began, “It seems to me the that rapists, or in any case the most common type of them, are really good at imagining consent…” a statement which has no basis in the taped conversation.

            The conversation is Trump posturing after being goaded by another guy, pointing out that yes, in fact, wealth is an aphrodisiac for many women. And the fact is, he’s telling the truth – one that may be uncomfortable for you, and one many women don’t want to admit, but one that is proved over and over again by the way many women hang on rich guys… right down to the fact that popular fiction like 50 Shades of Grey sells by creating for its female audience the fantasy of being desired by a rich guy.

            To turn that into a discussion of imagining consent, and being rapey, you must first presume a man’s desire to be wanted such a rapey attitude that he’d impose in order to maintain it – even while you exclude yourself from that belief – and then you must add details to that conversation that were not present in it.

            So before you go proclaiming my reading of your statement “misreading,” you might want to take a look in the mirror and deal with what you’re projecting onto that conversation you’re interpreting, first.

            And by the way, a rapist does not imagine consent. Rape is the act of contravening the victims ability or right to refuse. A rapist either knows he or she has been rejected and uses force or coercion to get around the refusal, or expects to be rejected and uses incapacitation to avoid the refusal. None of those situations involve imagining consent. Your assessment may fit in with feminist promulgation on rape, but it is far from the reality of criminal violence. And no matter how many times feminists repeat their lies about what people are like, rape will never become something people do by accident.

          • You’re being ridiculous here. I’m right here, you can ask me what I meant. We can’t do that for Trump, we have to speculate. Is that so mean to the guy?

            I mean, I agree anyway on the point that he’s bullshitting! I also agree with you that many women are attracted to wealth and power (you’re pigeonholing me a whole lot when you assumed I didn’t) – but NOT enough that Trump would never have experienced rejection in his life. So, if he REALLY meant it – which I agree he doesn’t – then taken at face value, yeah, those words are as bad as people say. As long as Trump has met or could ever meet a single woman who does not want to be groped, then asserting that he can assume consent to such things is “rapey”.

            > And by the way, a rapist does not imagine consent.

            Oh? How would you know? Have you raped anyone?

            I haven’t either, so we’re both speculating. However, I first heard the claim that rapists are bad at recognizing consent and good at imagining it in a pop psychology book (“What they know about you” Asbell/Wynn 1991), which cited a study based on interviews with convicted rapists. I can’t dig up the reference, so it’s far from proof, but it sounded plausible to me, based on what I know about male sexuality by virtue of being one.

            Namely, that you practically can’t be aroused at all unless you imagine being wanted. Looking at porn? You imagine being wanted, maybe by that good looking person, maybe by someone else. If you instead imagine that person rejecting you … you’re not going to have a good time.

            There was also a discussion in the newspapers here. An ex-prostitute wrote a letter to the editor saying basically “just so you know it, we’re not really attracted to you!” and an ex-customer replied basically “Well, duh! We know that! We know we are buying an illusion. We thought you knew we knew.”

            So I believe most men basically can’t be rapists, because we don’t have the ability to block out signs of not being wanted – and of not being wanted really kill any sort of desire or arousal. The small subset of men (and women, assuming you’re wired the same – you tell me!) that COULD become rapists, are those who are good at imagining consent, or not seeing non-consent.

            Trump is one of those worrying people who’s good at filtering out or rationalizing away ANYTHING that doesn’t bolster his self-image. If he’s also that way in sexual matters, it wouldn’t come as a surprise.

          • Trying to turn this into an argument about meanness is irrational, dear.

            You aren’t entitled to expect to be treated by one standard while treating others by another. Either you get to expect to decide how others take what you say and others are entitled to decide how you take what they say, or you’re not entitled to complain, nor subject to their complaints, when you put your own spin on their words, and they put their own spin on yours. You cannot have it both ways.

            So if you’re entitled to decide what Trump meant, claim it makes him rapey, and use it to make statements about rape, then I’m entitled to make those same judgements of your speech – regardless of what you now claim you were trying to do. If I’m not, then neither are you.

            You keep trying to turn Trump’s statements about wealth being an aphrodesiac into a false claim of never in his life of having been rejected, using it as a jumping off point to portray him as rapey, and using that as a jumping off point to make a claim about rape for which you have no actual basis.

            Your train of thought there relies on three things: 1) Trump having uttered the statement “I’ve never been rejected in my entire life,” and 2) a reliable record (not just your assumption) that he was rejected and 3) also showing that he ignored/contravened the rejection and engaged in sexual contact anyway.

            You don’t have those things, and are projecting your own thoughts and beliefs onto the conversation… a behavior which is not only bullshit, it’s bigoted.

            “Oh? How would you know? Have you raped anyone?I haven’t either, so we’re both speculating.”

            Actually, no. You’re speculating. I’ve been a rape victim more than once, under more than one circumstance, with one rape involving more than one perpetrator. I do have experience with this.

            I also have research from which I draw to make that statement.
            The vast majority of rape is committed by a small minority of people, most of whom have other violent tendencies.

            These are not people who imagine consent, but people willing to not care about consent. You don’t hold a gun on someone, wrestle/beat them into submission, or drug them because you believe they want what you’re going to do after they’ve been subdued. You do those things because you know they don’t and you want to do it anyway.

            While a mentally healthy individual may not be able to be aroused without imagining being wanted (not the same as assuming consent) a predator either does not care, or gets off on getting what you don’t want to give. Get back to me with your bit about speculation after you’ve had a conversation with one across the tip of a pistol while trying not to piss yourself because you’re already humiliated enough. When you get there, look into that person’s eyes, and tell me if you think you see confusion, or intent.

            “Trump is one of those worrying people who’s good at filtering out or
            rationalizing away ANYTHING that doesn’t bolster his self-image.”
            I think the truth is, you’re one of those worrying people who’s good at filtering in or rationalizing into your memory anything that gives you an excuse to maintain a prejudice with which you’ve become all too comfortable.

          • I’m not interpreting what Trump wants. I’m just taking his words at face value. He literally says every woman is OK with him groping them.

            Your 3) is pure fantasy, which I won’t even bother to argue. People can just read back.

          • Actually, at face value his words are nothing but a statement that many women (it’s you who put “every” in to his mouth, not Trump) are such gold diggers that the prospect of money significantly affects their attitude to favor sexual engagement with a man they might otherwise reject.

            And popular entertainment for women, such as the novel 50 shades of grey, backs that up by achieving widespread sales TO women – many women do fantasize about being pursued and dominated by a rich, powerful man. The evidence is there. Trump was more blunt and crude about the way he stated it, which makes the point much more blatantly obvious than the roundabout way women usually prefer to hear said fantasies described, but what he said is at its meaning no different.
            It was only the bluntness, which shines a light on an admission those same women would be uncomfortable making publicly, that has them so offended.

            And no, point 3 is absolutely necessary in order for your original point about imagining consent and Trump’s statement being rapey to carry any weight at all.
            You just don’t like that because you are aware you can’t back it up.

  • Now that rape is legal maybe the liberals need to support making self defense legal again, too. Maybe if women are able to keep and bear arms for their self defense and are allowed to shoot anyone who attempts to rape them there will be balance in the world again. The new standard can be, “well, you didn’t shoot him when he tried to rape you, so, that constitutes consent.”

  • As Hannah Wallen pointed out:

    Rape is inflicting a sex act on a person against that person’s will, or when/because you know the person can’t exercise his or her will to refuse.

    And therein lies the problem. The same wealthy man who attracts some women, intimidates others.

    “Let” can mean genuine — if not terribly enthusiastic — consent. It also can mean not fighting back even when you don’t want it…like if you suspect the powerful person doing it can ruin your career if you reject him.

    That’s why many organizations consider it harassment (if not worse) in and of itself for a boss to make advances to a subordinate. They figure the subordinate can’t truly consent.

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