Recently, there has been a great deal of commentary on a current Presidential candidate’s statement from years ago, but I am bothered deeply by the conversation taking place about it, because I feel like it is missing the problem entirely.
Many years ago, a current Presidential candidate was caught on a recording saying some less than Presidential things, and in the interest of healthy conversation I’ll quote the most relevant part here:
Candidate: Yeah, that’s her, with the gold. I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. I just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
Unidentified voice: Whatever you want.
Candidate: Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.
Some amount of this – particularly the use of “vulgar” language – has come under intense scrutiny recently. What I feel is missing the point is the attitude toward a wealthy man being able to do anything he wants to with other people, in this case women. And even though this candidate issued an apology, he also stated that his opponent’s husband has actually exploited women and asserted she was complicit with that.
My problem with what he said isn’t the language, but the whole sense that the other person had no agency to reject him, and deserved none. Focusing on the language is a distraction from the real issue here. Using the word “pussy” or even “cunt” is not the problem. The whole attitude of “I can do whatever I want to anyone I want because I’m rich” is the problem.
I’m going to paraphrase and repeat that, because it is important:
The problem I have with the whole situation is not that my delicate ears cannot tolerate the word “pussy” – there is no polite word for that body part, and I refuse to believe that censorship is healthy. No, what bothers me is the sense that consent is meaningless, that persons of wealth can do whatever they please to others without repercussion.
That is the crux of the problem: the total disregard for consent. What is shocking is not that he said “pussy” but the entitlement that he expressed, that he feels it is his right to take what he wants.
I have deliberately left the candidates’ names out of my discussion, because the identity of the person in question is not important to this discussion beyond knowing that he is rich and famous. Other rich people do the same thing, and it is wrong then, too. I am not focused on an individual character flaw from years gone by, but one deeply embedded in our American culture still today. As a nation, we must learn how to respect people’s consent.
There’s actually a very clear example of consent from later in the transcript:
Friend: How about a little hug for the [Candidate]? He just got off the bus.
Lady: Would you like a little hug, darling?
Candidate: Okay, absolutely. [My wife] said this was okay.
I see consent thrice: Explicitly when one person says “Okay, absolutely”, implicitly when the lady responds to an outsider’s request by getting consent so that she can hug him, and lastly when he said his wife had explicitly said it was okay ahead of time.
We as a country need to be more cognizant of respecting people for getting consent and being of upstanding moral character. Disregarding other people’s consent needs to be condemned for what it is.