October 16, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Trump’s Toxic Masculinity is a Danger to Us All

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To the editor:

As both a campus center and a student organization, The Cornell Women’s Resource Center exists to serve Cornellians of all political stripes, in any way that comports with our mission: to support the full and active participation of women-identified students in both their personal and educational pursuits at Cornell. In a typical election year, we would not publicly endorse or denounce any political candidate.

This is not a typical election year.

Even the first female presidential nominee from a major party would not, in itself, warrant abandoning our political neutrality. Some of us have supported Hillary Rodham Clinton since she announced her candidacy, while others still aren’t comfortable offering full-throated support of the Democratic nominee’s policies and positions. We are no more a monolith than the entire student body is.

We are all in agreement, however, that Donald Trump must be stopped.

Regardless of our political affiliations, we at the WRC are committed to promoting social justice and equality for all. We deplore identity-based bigotry, harassment, hate speech and violence. What that means is, we should have spoken out as a group — not just as individuals — a long time ago.

We should have spoken out when Donald Trump refused to denounce white supremacist supporters.

We should have spoken out when Donald Trump characterized Mexican immigrants as drug dealers and rapists.

We should have spoken out when Donald Trump threatened to ban Muslims from entering the country.

We should have spoken out when Donald Trump mocked a reporter’s disability.

We should have spoken out every time Donald Trump used inflammatory rhetoric about Black Americans.

We could go on — and we apologize to everyone we let down by trying for too long to maintain a façade of political neutrality in this extremely unusual election year. But we are speaking out now to say we stand with everyone who has felt their identity, their family, their country, their religion or their community attacked by Trump’s hateful and dangerous invective. You did not deserve his vitriol or our silence.

We hope the entire Cornell community will join us in that, and in condemning the Republican nominee’s recently released and much discussed misogynistic remarks. Speaking to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush in 2005, Trump said, among other things, “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women] — I just start kissing them. 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 p—y. You can do anything.”

In the days since that video was released — and even in the wake of multiple women coming forward to report that Donald Trump assaulted them in just the way he describes — Trump’s team has attempted to dismiss his words as mere “locker room banter.” Admittedly, most of us haven’t spent much time in men’s locker rooms, but we certainly hope they aren’t usually full of people bragging about how they manage to get away with committing sexual assault. Touching people sexually without waiting to find out if they’re interested is not a privilege some folks can earn by dint of wealth or fame; it is a crime, even if the perpetrator is a “star.”

Conflating typical male behavior with sexual assault perpetuates rape culture. It bolsters the myth that “real” sexual violence is rare and deviant, as opposed to an unacceptably common occurrence, often committed by people we otherwise like and admire. Sowing confusion around this issue is not only dangerous to those who live every day with a heightened threat of sexual assault — trans and gender non-conforming folks, undergraduate women, and/or people with disabilities are especially vulnerable populations on Cornell’s campus — but also unfair to the vast majority of men, who do not feel entitled to use other people’s bodies as they see fit.

“Locker-room banter” that involves descriptions of criminal assault is not a function of maleness, but of toxic masculinity — the widespread belief that violence, aggression, and dominance are natural and necessary parts of manhood. Toxic masculinity teaches boys to believe any display of emotion other than anger or dominance is unacceptable, and that sexually objectifying women is the hallmark of being a “real man.” It prescribes an impossibly narrow path for boys and men to walk, one that denies or denigrates the existence of queer men, trans men, gender non-conforming people and even men who sometimes feel like crying.

Donald Trump is not just an “alpha male” who speaks like most “red-blooded American men” — we reject that dangerous myth out of respect for the men we know and love, as well as ourselves. The Republican nominee is a purveyor of toxic masculinity, rank misogyny, and racial and religious hatred. We unequivocally denounce his bigotry and oppose his candidacy for President of the United States.

We should have said so sooner.

Laura Weiss, director of the Women’s Resource Center
Kate Harding, director of the Women’s Resource Center
The Executive Board of the Women’s Resource Center