Much has been written about what a Trump presidency might mean – for the global movement against climate change, for US relations with Russia and China, and for US citizens’ access to affordable healthcare. Yet despite all these words we are not really any closer to knowing the answer, especially given his own lack of consistency, logic or depth.
We do know, however, what a Trump Presidency will mean for the campaign to end violence against women and girls – and it’s not positive.
The most powerful man in the world has repeatedly and deliberately demeaned women. “When you're a star” he said, “they let you do it. You can do anything …Grab them by the p***y … You can do anything.” He has gloated about sexual assault and argued that objectifying 50 per cent of the human race is exactly what the other 50 per cent do privately. even if they pretend otherwise in public.
Trump's election campaign and professional track record are distinguished by sexism and misogyny. There is very little he could say or do now to reverse the damage he has already caused, the consequences of which resonate beyond the US and beyond women and girls.
Trump’s degrading and belittling directly contributes to what can only be called an epidemic of gendered violence. In the UK, one in four women experiences domestic violence in her lifetime. Globally one in three will experience violence at the hands of a male partner. Domestic violence hotlines in the US receive around 20,000 calls daily. Words matter and they affect behaviour. Whoever occupies the Oval Office helps shape the attitudes of a generation. As a woman and feminist, the prospect of any girl growing up in a world where leadership involves groping women without permission turns my stomach. As the mother of two sons, tackling the impact of someone like Trump on boys’ understanding of manhood feels particularly pertinent.
So giving young people in particular the opportunity to be equipped with the skills, confidence and information to safely explore their own sense of what’s right is critical. That’s why, on the day of Trump’s inauguration, I’ll be in Westminster presenting a Private Members Bill on statutory entitlement to PSHE – Personal, Social, Health, Economic Education – as a vital part of how we safeguard young people. Education that helps teach self respect and respect for others. Education that empowers. Girls are in the "locker room" too and what they want counts.
It’s not just Trump letting down young people; we are too. In 2010, 40 per cent of 16 to 18-year-olds said they either didn’t receive lessons or information on sexual consent or didn’t know whether they did. Good PSHE would change this. It would help tackle gender inequality and challenge gender stereotypes too, including those prevalent in much of our media and advertising.
One schoolgirl wrote to the Everyday Sexism project saying that the boys in her school held up page three images, and marked girls out of 10 as they walked past. We know the President of the US has done similar – on the sets of his TV show, over the radio waves and backstage at beauty pageants.
Excusing or laughing off this kind of behaviour negates the idea that we can – and should – strive to be better, both as individuals and collectively as a society. We owe it to all our young people to confront the harmful notions of masculinity peddled in the name of male bonding, and instead present boys with positive alternatives. We owe them the chance to develop healthy body images. And we owe it to them to call out sexism whenever and wherever we see it, no matter how powerful the perpetrator.
When I first started campaigning around PSHE, I came across NSPCC research showing that almost half of teenage girls believe it is acceptable for a boyfriend to be aggressive towards a female partner, while one in two boys and one in three girls believe there are some circumstances in which it is okay to hit a woman or force her to have sex. I wonder what impact Trump will have on these young people?
When high profile leaders fail to set the example we deserve, we have to all become leaders – and what better way than to empower all our young people to be citizens of a world in which they feel safe, valued and respected.
This year, 2017, could be memorable for some of the right reasons. Getting a green light from Government for young people’s right to learn how to keep themselves safe would be a hopeful way to start the year.
Caroline Lucas is co-leader of the Green Party
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