Cognitive Dissonance is a Powerful Thing, or It Starts With You, Dummies
Over the summer, I caused a Facebook kerfluffle when I had the audacity to complain publicly about a man who sexually harassed me at a restaurant. Many people supported me, but the ones who thought I was being “unfair” were also vocal. What he said had to do with my boobs, and not even the worst thing that a near-stranger (or otherwise) has ever said to me. But I was at a place I’d previously felt safe because I knew the owner and pre-pregnancy, I’d been a regular. But now this asshole was the regular, and no one there claimed to have heard what he said to me, because he says shit like he said to me to women around the city all the time. Or maybe they did hear what he said to me, and chose to ignore it. Either way, he gleefully admitted, and expanded on, his comments to me via Facebook message, which I screenshot and posted in the then-growing comment thread for all to see (and some to blatantly ignore.)
Please let me emphasize that this motherfucker has been allowed for years to talk to women that way. Many people explained to me that his behavior is tolerated and accepted because of his close ties to the restaurant industry in our town. Which is a shitty excuse, but also indicative of the bigger issue of women being treated like garbage and being expected to accept it. His defenders said I was being “unfair,” that he “doesn’t mean” the things he says, and that he “loves women.” All of which implies, of course, that my reaction of anger and unbridled vitriol at being treated like shit WHEN I JUST WANTED TO EAT A FUCKING SANDWICH IN PEACE, was hysterical and out of line. Not HIS comments, those are to be expected.
But, like. No. People who aren’t assholes, people who aren’t shitty people, don’t talk to other people that way. They don’t abuse any small amount of power they may have to treat others like table scraps. They don’t demean other people by sexualizing them while the other party is just trying to enjoy a beer and a sandwich.
It was that same week, as the comment thread on my post grew and grew, I realized that Donald Trump would be our next president. Again, I had plenty of people in my corner, and many women messaged me privately to tell me about their own experiences with that scum. But man. The ones who spoke out in his favor! The ones who said he was “harmless,” the ones who asked me if I’d said something to him in response, implying that my lack of retort in the moment justified the fact that he was the one who made gross, unsolicited comments WHICH HE HAPPILY ADMITTED MAKING about my breasts. The people who, when I asked how they would feel if he spoke to their daughters that way, responded that “he would never!” (Nevermind that I am, actually, someone’s daughter.) People told me I was being “unfair” to him because I was calling him out on the internet, despite the fact that he sent me a vaguely-but-not-legally threatening private message on Facebook delightedly doubling down on his gross remarks. (Again, which I posted in the thread, and people who supported him saw it, and chose to ignore it. Or decided that because it wasn’t him literally grabbing me by the pussy, I was being overemotional.)
So many people came to his defense and defended him with the fervor of a cult member, I just knew that this was a small peek into how things would be for the foreseeable future. Men like the one who harassed me (and so many other women in our town), and men like Donald Trump, are created because people defend them. They are created because people don’t take a stand because they are afraid of hurting a “business” relationship with someone. Or because they are afraid of causing a scene or rocking the boat. Women allow it to happen because they don’t want to make a stink. They want men to like them so those men will, in theory, accept them and they won’t have to deal with the harassment those very men dole out. But the ugly truth is that men like that don’t give a fuck about anyone, least of all women.
I noticed a funny thing, though, about the people who supported that man. Many of those people are vocally opposed to our new president-elect. They do not accept that the man our nation chose as president treats women like trash. He brags about sexual assault, he only deems women worthy of his attention if he finds them attractive, he possibly raped a 13 year old girl (and who knows who else), rumors have been flying for years about his track record with domestic assault, he commonly refers to women he finds unattractive as “pigs.” He is a proud sexual harasser. Let me repeat that: He is a proud sexual harasser. And the people I know who supported my proud sexual harasser are vocal opponents of Donald Trump.
The personal is, actually, political. When we, as members of society, as people who oppose people as disgusting as Trump, and do NOT accept that a person who is so happy to admit his sexual misconduct, but allow the people in our everyday lives to treat women the EXACT SAME WAY AS DONALD TRUMP TREATS WOMEN, we are FUCKING UP. A younger me would not have wanted to rock the boat. I would have wanted to stay quiet and not challenge the status quo. But that type of person is exactly who created this monster. We can’t have it both ways. You either accept sexual harassment as the norm or you don’t. And this election made it very clear where this country stands. Maybe some of you who let shit slide on the daily should consider your cognitive dissonance.