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Why are we still shocked that men in power abuse women when Donald Trump is the President?

If a man is powerful enough, people simply don’t mind whether or not he abuses women. It all just gets brushed under the rug

Biba Kang
Thursday 12 October 2017 13:43 BST
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Donald Trump was caught on tape making lewd sexual remarks
Donald Trump was caught on tape making lewd sexual remarks

The allegations against Harvey Weinstein are becoming more prolific and more severe. Recently, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie have joined the ranks of the myriad of actresses who have explained the ways in which Weinstein used his power to sexually exploit them. Three women have now accused the Hollywood mogul of rape. The scale of the alleged abuse is staggering. It’s sickening to think that so much wrongdoing, ranging from misconduct to violent crimes, could have been going on without redress.

But perhaps the most deeply depressing facet of Weinstein’s behaviour is that it isn’t shocking. We’ve heard this stuff before. A recorded conversation in which Weinstein allegedly discusses having groped actor Ambra Battilana Gutierrez reminds us of the well-publicised recording of Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women by the pussy.

Released sections of reporter Katy Tur’s new book, Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, refuse to shy away from the reality that, as a young female journalist, she was bullied and manipulated by the now President, who used his power, like Weinstein, to make her feel uncomfortable and vulnerable.

For a long time I reached a certain conclusion about why the mistreatment of women seemed to be no barrier to international esteem and financial or political success. I concluded that, if a man is powerful enough, people simply don’t mind whether or not he abuses women. It all just gets brushed under the rug.

But I’ve heard this same narrative too many times now, and this theory’s starting to waver as I think about the relationship between sexual abuse and the capitalist success formula peddled out in so many platitudes. “He’s a real leader. Always gets his way. Won’t take no for an answer. Could argue that day is night.”

These qualities, qualities of pushiness, selfishness, deceptiveness, are not just excused in men – they are unashamedly valued. A woman who wants to get her way and plays fast and loose with the truth is a lying bitch. But a man who pushes his own agenda and knows how to manipulate a situation, well, they’ll say he’s “one to watch”.

Harvey Weinstein left by wife as number of sexual assault allegations increase

Not in a “careful, because he might assault you” kind of way, but rather in the sense of “he’ll go far”.

When you translate the image of masculinity that we value in a professional context into the setting of sexual politics, suddenly it’s a very dark picture. A dark picture which we’ve seen repeatedly painted, whether it’s the story of Jimmy Savile, Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein or the President of the United States.

Obviously, not all successful men are sexual assailants, and I’ve definitely been felt up by guys who don’t have a penny to their name, but we shouldn’t view the abusive behaviour of people like Weinstein and Trump as distinct from their renown. Often, this sinister side to their personality is noticed during their ascent, and, in some deeply troubling sense, respected.

Their victims, whether they stay quiet or speak out, are forced to face this appalling reality, and deal with their own trauma under the shadow of their abuser’s repute.

Donald Trump apologises for 'grab them by the p****' remarks, says Bill Clinton has done 'far worse'

If we continue to feign surprise when we hear of another famous man’s abusive behaviour, the problem will continue to be isolated and unaddressed. A tell-tale sign of a closet misogynist is someone who repeatedly tries to dismiss the sexual misconduct of a man on account of him being a “bad egg”, a “rotten apple”; some sort of mere aberration, whose activity indicates nothing but his own malice.

We need to start joining up the dots and treating the sexual misconduct of powerful men not as anomalous, but rather as an integral part of a patriarchal culture that the West always claims to have shed. We need to reassess how the professional qualities which we endorse might well align with the sexual abuse that we excuse.

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