Women’s advocacy groups at Cornell are working to facilitate a discussion of consent and sexual assault in the wake of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s leaked 2005 tape, in which he discusses kissing and groping without their consent. In the weeks since, a the slew of women have come forward to accuse Trump of sexual assault.
Prof. Kathleen Perry Long, director of the feminist, gender, and sexuality studies program, said that the election has instigated a discussion of sexual assault on the national level has forced some to confront the fact that many Americans accept sexual violence as an intrinsic part of the country’s culture.
“The issue of sexual assault has been brought into the open in this election, allowing us to understand how normalized certain behaviors have become, and how in some circles they do not even register as unacceptable,” she said. “This is something we already knew, but we now know more clearly how urgent the work of educating people about sexual assault has become.”
Jenna Zitomer ’18, vice president of programming for student group Consent Ed, said she believes the election has negatively impacted productive discussion of consent.
“Donald Trump creates this misconception that men are entitled to anything they want, including a woman’s body,” she said. “It can have a serious effect on the way people think, regardless of whether or not they realize it.”
The Women’s Resource Center Executive Board, which wrote a letter to the editor in The Sun last week endorsing Hillary Clinton and condemning Donald Trump, said the board felt duty-bound to speak out after enduring months of Trump’s rhetoric.
“Our letter was not about the campaign. This entire election [is] not just about a campaign anymore. It’s about what it means to be human, and who we want to represent us in that,” the letter said. “It is our duty to speak up when people are being treated unfairly, and that is just what we are doing now. We are not touching on policy or which party we lean toward. We are talking about an individual who is disgusting to other humans and this, unfortunately, cannot be separated from his platform.”
Zitomer stressed that a Trump presidency would be harmful to women and lead to setbacks in women’s rights.
“[Trump] basically supported and bragged about perpetrating sexual assault, and I have no doubt that he’ll continue to do so as president of the United States,” she said. “I think that the way he speaks about women will affect the way men think about women, as well as way women think about themselves.”
Zoe Maisel ’18, co-president of Planned Parenthood Generation Action, said that PPGA is concerned for the rights of women and minorities if Trump is elected and said she was disappointed that it took many people so long to denounce Trump.
“It’s not an option at this point [to support Clinton]. It’s a necessity,” she said. “It was disappointing to see the national outcry [over Trump’s conversation with Billy Bush], because in the whole feminist movement and reproductive freedom movement, the idea of white women being the people who need to be protected over minority groups and people of color who he’s already offended so greatly is problematic.”
However, Maisel said she hopes the Trump-Bush conversation and the sexual assault allegations against Trump will help men to realize that Trump’s rhetoric and actions are potentially damaging to women and motivate them to vote.
“There’s this tension, because it’s obviously problematic to characterize women in terms of their relation to men, but at the same time, if it’s getting someone to the booth, then that’s also really positive,” she said.
Zitomer said she is hopes a Clinton presidency will prove that women are just as capable of running the country as men.
“The idea of women in a place of real power is finally going to be viewed as legitimate, which is absurd because this concept is accepted in so many other countries,” she said. “Once a female leader of [Clinton’s] caliber is placed in the Oval office, I believe that female leadership will be accepted by the masses.”
Long agreed, adding that powerful women are often viewed differently than their male counterparts.
“This campaign has made more evident the discomfort that many feel, women as well as men, with the prospect of women seeking power,” she said. “I am hoping that this election will result in a more serious and sustained discussion of the status of women in our society.”
The WRC Executive Board concurred, writing that “there is a pressure for Secretary Clinton to present herself as likable. Donald Trump can say any racist, sexist, and hateful comment that he would like, and is rewarded and applauded for such behavior. Secretary Clinton, on the other hand, is constantly having to perform.”
To educate people in the face of problematic rhetoric about sexual assault, the Women’s Resource Center is sponsoring Sexual Assault Awareness Week and hosting Hump Day lunches every Wednesday to “discuss issues pertaining to sexuality.”
Zitomer said Consent Ed will continue to work toward its objectives by giving presentations around campus about sexual assault prevention and bystander intervention. PPGA sponsored an event with Consent Ed last week and hopes to continue education efforts by working with other groups on campus to promote discussion of consent and sexual assault.
However, all groups say it is important to acknowledge how the campus conversation fits into national themes. Zitomer said the growing popularity of the term “nasty woman” — Trump’s reference to Clinton during the third debate — is a way for women to own being criticized for vocally standing up for their beliefs.
“Women sometimes are fearful of being forward and vocal out of fear of being labeled a bitch,” she said. “But at the end of the day, it’s something to rally behind. We’re the ones that are standing up for what’s right, and we don’t care how the world sees us nasty women getting things done.”