A (male) friend asked me on Facebook why I found the following video creepy.
I didn’t want to brush off his sincere question with a glib or facile answer, so I decided to write this post to clarify my thoughts not just for him but for me too.
Let me start by acknowledging that I am nearing the half-century mark of life. I have grey hair, cellulite, an extra 10 pounds and, if I could, I would live my life in sweatpants and tees. (Basically, I’ve given up!). If you were to meet me on the street, you may not even notice me; I look so harmless, sexless, and inconsequential, the antithesis of a sexual predator’s target.
But, even now, if I am walking alone in the daytime or night, and I encounter a man either walking towards me or behind me, my fingers curl into fists. I become hyper-aware, listening for footsteps that may be speeding up, or looking for signs that the hands approaching me could be raised in a way that is threatening to me. I scan the environment for safe spaces I can run to, or an ally across the street. I don’t even realize that I am holding my breath for the entire duration of the encounter, and I will usually let it out with a whoosh when the moment has passed. And the funny thing is that the guy doesn’t even have to be bigger than me or obviously menacing in any way.
I’ve been doing this forever.
The first time I was groped (as far as I can remember) was when I was fifteen. I was returning home from school via a shortcut through some fields (I lived in a suburb of Mumbai in India). The guy ran up from behind me, grabbed my breasts, and ran ahead. It happened in the space of 5 seconds or less. I was shell-shocked, though I kept plodding toward home. I never told my parents, not even when it happened again a few months later. Why? Maybe I was ashamed. Most victims of sexual assault feel that way, however unfair and stupid it may seem. Perhaps it is ingrained in the culture somehow that the woman must have brought it on herself.
It took a couple of more incidents before the shame gave way to rage, and I started preparing for the next one with the hyper-awareness that I mentioned before. The next time it happened, it was a guy on a bicycle. I was with a friend, who remembers the incident better than I do. When the guy on the bike put his hand on me I hit his back with all the force I could muster, cursing him loudly. I vowed I would never, ever again, be a victim.
I sincerely hope not every woman has had an experience like mine, but I know for a fact that many have had worse, and nearly every woman has experienced some kind of physical dominance from a man at some point in her life. The easiest, most primitive way to exhibit dominance is to get really, really close. Maybe it is my heightened sensitivity to such experiences, but I get very nervous, even though I know that in most cases I can defend myself just fine. It’s just that I don’t want to be in that position. I would rather avoid conflict, because even though I may physically win that particular encounter, there is really no win for me in the long run. An extreme example of what I mean is in the new Hindi movie Pink, where defending herself gets a girl into all sorts of trouble, both physical and legal.
More importantly, when a man gets very close, looms, invades your space, as Trump does in that video, he is sending the subliminal message “I am the boss of you. I have power over you. I can do you harm.” And women, even the most emancipated, fearless, and empowered of our ilk, know that in a very basic, biological sense, that message is true.
When I experienced that gut reaction to Trump’s behavior last night, I went on social media to see if my feelings were unusual or if other women were creeped out too. Turns out it was not just women who noticed. Nigel Farage, the architect of the misguided Brexit campaign in Britain, now an advisor on Trump’s campaign, said this:
“He looked like a big gorilla prowling the set. He is that big alpha male — that’s who he is, that’s who he is,” Farage said. “We all have comparisons to animals or whatever it may be, but that’s how he seems to me. The leader of the pack, that’s what he’s like.”
Even an idiot like Farage could read the body language on display last night.
Jane Goodall, the primate expert, told The Atlantic magazine, “In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals…”
That’s what happened last night. Trump may have also openly called Clinton a liar, threatened to imprison her and, in general, projected a ton of bile and hatred on to her verbally, but the volume really didn’t need to be on to understand what he was saying. You just had to look at him over the course of the 90-minute debate. His message was loud and clear.