I hate saying this. I hate what saying this says about me. But I can’t listen to one more cry of righteous indignation about this awful man who wants to be President, without saying this:
I’m just like him. I did it too.
I’ve told and laughed at countless piggish jokes about women. I’ve grabbed a kiss at the office party; copped a feel on a crowded train. I’ve stolen second base or third when the girl wanted to stop at first. One time — young, drunk, stoned, and inexcusably — I ignored an equally inebriated young woman’s unmistakable murmured “no” and went all the way. Today, we call that date rape. Back then, I didn’t even know the words.
It was sexual, but it wasn’t about sex. It was entirely about my privileged understanding that there is me, and then there’s everyone else, and everyone else (including any random woman) is simply an object to which my male power entitles me.
Just like Trump.
When the Trump tape first surfaced, I gloated: “The bastard is finished!” Then I saw a post from a woman I care about, recounting, like thousands of others in a storm of social media, how she was groped, and worse, as a young woman. And I felt the awful first twinge of recognition that I’m just like him.
Now I’ve just watched Michelle Obama’s unbelievably powerful speech in New Hampshire. The Trump debacle shook her to her core; she shook me to my core. I want so much to hate this guy, and I do, and I can’t, because I’m just like him, because I did it too.
This realization compels me to now disclose my personal culpability as a victimizer of women, seeking neither redemption nor the cleansing of my soul, but, rather, to redirect the discourse and jump start a searingly honest, reflective conversation by, among and for men.
Ms. Obama said that the men in her life don’t do things like this, and neither did I learn it from my father, but I did it. I learned to do it from the world around me. From purloined issues of Penthouse Forum under the mattress, the stuff of adolescent fantasy. From other boys, then other men. From men I worked for and men I worked with. And always, relentlessly, from mass media, pop culture, pro athletes, all forming my personal experience of privilege.
Until the Trump tape, I had thought of myself as a pretty good guy. I have a well-oiled persona as a warm, big-hearted, generous and spiritual fellow. I run in liberal circles and toil in the social impact space. I practice the Twelve Steps. I belong to a progressive church focused on Christ’s message of peace, justice and human dignity. I raised a son and a daughter, now great young adults, who deplore Trump and all that he stands for. How do I now look them in the eye and reveal that I’m a hypocrite and a false role model, that I’m just like Trump, that I did it too?
I’m writing because I don’t think I’m alone — and I’m not referring to the overtly misognynistic angry white men who have fueled Trump’s rise. Call them “deplorable” all you want, but at least you know where they stand.
No, I’m talking about the silent majority of “pretty good guys” who have done it too. Perhaps you are one of them? If you’re anything like me, you’ve done it in big ways or small, overtly or covertly, consciously or unconsciously. If you’re anything like me, you’ve brushed away that pang of remorse when you’ve laughed at that joke or undressed her with your eyes or done much worse. You likely come from every walk of life and every point on the political spectrum. You might even identify or be identified as an ally of the courageous women who, like my friend, have been telling their stories in public.
Pray God, that Donald Trump not win this election. But what he embodies won’t be solved by a chorus of outraged women’s voices, nor by the politically correct likes and affirmations of their stories by self-righteously indignant males, and most certainly not by Republicans running for the exits and Democrats pouncing on political opportunity.
I believe the most powerful response of all may be for pretty good guys to step up and declare our own Trumpness. I call upon fellow men to tell our stories as perpetrators — specifically, directly and personally. I offer my own merely to get the conversation started. Please, men, speak up at https://www.facebook.com/IDidItToo1/or IDidItToo.org.
Let us name and understand and take responsibility for ourselves as sexual victimizers of women, so that an honest dialogue can emerge about how to change the conditions and conditioning that led us to do these things against our pretty good nature and our higher selves.
Let us condemn Trump, yes, for this and so much more, but equally condemn ourselves for being of a kind, if only in this singular way.
Underneath all of the hype and hypocrisy in this twisted election season lies a culture crying out in pain. By owning up and speaking up, let us change the pattern of abuse that we claim to abhor, but that, without a new kind of conversation, will surely continue.