Although broadcast media largely ignored it, in social media a separate conversation developed, with its own discussion of the impact, questions, and values expressed in the Trump video. Its revelations go beyond one man's misogyny.
October 12, 2016

Credit: Steve Sack / Star Tribune

The effect of the Washington Post's release of NBC's archived video footage of Donald Trump's conversation with Billy Bush on a bus on a studio lot has gone beyond the politics of did he or didn't he and spread into a national conversation that can be grouped into two parts. The groupings follow from the impact of a clearly audible conversation guided by Donald Trump who on tape describes his efforts and angst at not being able to persuade a married woman (entertainment anchor Nancy O'Dell) to have sex with him, although he tried "mightily" and was newly married at the time.

In the latter part of the conversation, Donald Trump, the current Republican nominee for the Presidency of the United States, brags about his sexual prowess. He claims he can do anything he wants to women sexually and get away with it! He walks the line toward sexual assault when he cites as an example that he can "grab them" by the [vagina] and they won't "do anything." Because he's a "star." The conversation took place during the time when Trump hosted "The Apprentice," an NBC show famous for dismissing a contestant each week when Trump said, "you're fired."

A firestorm broke out. Had Trump confessed to committing sexual assault? Was his verbalized behavior so abhorrent it made his winning the election virtually impossible? Was the conversation he guided so reprehensible he should resign the Republican nomination? How would he and his campaign react?

The videoed conversation was introduced to the nation as a political talking point and politicians, especially, Republicans were quick to act. Statements were released. Panels were loaded with pundits and Trump surrogates. The tape was permanently looped. Were Trump's words a smoking gun? (One many in both parties hoped for?)

Although the media stream broadcast media largely ignored it, in social media a separate conversation developed, with its own discussion of the impact, questions, and values expressed in the video. Its narrative was not party driven. It involves not quick PR fixes to mitigate damages. It was driven by women, mainly on twitter. In continued for 14 hours, non-stop. It hit a sustained peak of fifty posts a minute. By Monday afternoon, According to the New York Times, 27 million women had participated! Their first person accounts, in 140 characters, one by one, contradicted the politics of spin.

"The Locker Room"

Trump issued a video expressing regret to those offended and described the conversation as the type found in "locker rooms." In doing so, he creates the first part of the extended conversation. It is characterized by false comparisons, pushing verbal violence as a male norm, equating the responses of victims and oppressors as deserving equal disparaging, despite very big differences in context, social meaning, and power.

This first part (the political part) of the discussion after the video relied on the familiar, jaded, claim: "he did it too!" (The "he" being Bill Clinton, but also all "he's"). Generalizing blame doesn't make any act of violence acceptable or normal! What others do, doesn't make any separate case right! The claim that violence and sexual assault is a causal mass act, that is so ugly it lives in the minds of men who only express it extreme situations of isolation and privacy among themselves does not justify or excuse its perpetuation. The standard--the way society values speech that expresses the freedom to commit violence against women does not depend on popularity--but on the values of morality and dignity, the freedom from threats and intimidation.

Variations on this theme ignored the violence, the relish with which Trump is saying his television show and appearances have given him an entitlement with which he can cross a forbidden line is seen in the example he chose! He knows he's wrong, but says television has given him a new power that mitigates rape and assault. He relishes the power: "I'm a star!"

Another variation ignores the context and makes the threat and harm implied by Trump equal to the discordant cursing and profanity seen in rap music and videos. Former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey (R), who hates "lewd and bawdy language," went after Beyonce and Hillary with her mishmash of logic. In a brilliant takedown on McCaughey's Facebook page, a member of the BeeHive (as Beyonce's legions of fans are known) offered a snap: Queen Bee was talking about her husband and their good sex (afterward "I took you to Red Lobster."). "In no way can be [her lyrics] compared to Trump's comments. I sure didn't hear Beyonce talking about being entitled to go around grabbing random penises because of her star power. So SIT DOWN somewhere and next time you decide to take a snippet from a lyric, go on or any other website and get the meaning behind the lyrics first."

Another poster pointed out the harm of Trump's comments for men. The "locker room banter" expounded by Trump is extremely harmful. Not only against women but against other young men who feel that they have to demonstrate their own "manliness" by engaging in this demeaning competitive dialogue.

Rudy Guiliani was all over the media and campaign trail with "the boys are boys" line, the age old, tarnished favorite showing the legendary insensitivity and void of empathy that he demonstrated when he informed his then wife (and mother of his two children) of their separation and his involvement with his paramour via a city hall press conference. He pressed a case against Hillary because she was mean to the women Bill cheated with.


The politics deflected from the real conversation taking place on twitter. Its focus was women. The safety and pain of women in a society still silent about the manifold ways sexual violence scars their lives, the depth of their scars, what women suffer at the hands of man, random and known, who bring the "locker room" to life.

These 27 million women didn't compare their experiences--they shared their experiences, and each story was deeply, profoundly personal. The women showed great courage. (Trump is not mentioned.) 27 million women say our nation does not have a "locker room" in which sexual braggadocio separately resides, secretly from society to protect women.

Their stories on twitter--women were asked to post their first memory of being sexually assaulted in their own words--detail a society where silence hides the acts of abusive which are wider, more frequently, more devastating and more lewd and repulsive than we think. They describe a democratic society where girls as young as four are assaulted by neighbors and adults and older boys, a culture of violence and fear that does not depend on star power as its enabler. Their stories tell of a culture driven by a moral breakdown that affects women's lives indelibly, all to exercise the power of force and control for fleeing instances by deplorable men.

Sexual assault is an act that makes you uncomfortable in your own skin. It makes it hard to breathe. Your body recoils against the presence of the air. It is silly, selfish, and shallow--and powerful. It shatters your private crystal stairs. It is sleeping with fear when peace flees. Rape is when courage knows fear and honor knows shame.

The question, unasked and unanswered is how far past sanity can we go? The acts of assault happen in the domains of the powerful and the poor; they are our history behind the invisible veil. Will they become a part of our truth? More and more, any hope of a higher standard for humanity seems to be becoming obsolete.

These stories show assault can be dismissed, but it doesn't go away. Sexual assault secretes its own kind of resin and cocoon.

These stories, told by 27 million women (and counting . . . !) deserve a context. Theirs is the large collective demonstration ever in the history of social media, including the Arab Spring, which dramatically altered Middle East and Arab politics. This spontaneous outpouring with no help from the mainstream is larger than the hourly audiences for the three cable news channels combined. It represents more voices than those who assembled at the March on Washington. It is more than thirty times the size of the causalities suffered in the US Civil War. It is slightly less than a quarter the size of Super Bowl viewing audiences.

The women speaking out double the votes Trump received in the primaries, his totals the largest in GOP history. They say speech that celebrates either the fantasy or reality of sexual assault is "#notokay." Sexual assault is private, just as Trump's words were--yet his words reinforce and normalize the millions of assaults 27 million women describe publicly. The fact that Trump said his words as "private" speech (in a workplace) does not reduce their impact!

The stories come soon after Congressional women organized to read a rape victim's letter to the court at her rapist's sentencing from the floor of the House. These 27 million stories represent the world's largest gathering ever to come together to share stories of sexual assaults directly from women who were its victims. The anthology is historic, impressive, massive, and tragic. It is strength-building, cathartic, and empowering for women and their friends. It is a call to action. The stories hold thousands of lessons and touch millions of lives. Let's hope those who deny their reality will find a way to love the truth more than they crave power and fear, as they hide behind untenable political spin.

Kelly Oxford a writer with more than 700,000 twitter followers put out a call for posts at 7:48p Friday.

Here are ten of the posts and an intro.

. You can find others on her twitter account.

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