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Recently, I was in a conversation with a male friend of mine that quickly devolved into a disagreement that surprised both of us with its meaning for the culture as a whole. When asked who he’d have dinner with if he could choose anyone in the world, my friend stated, without a blink, “Trump.”

I was a little taken aback; I knew of his political viewpoints, and they were ones I aligned with in some (limited) ways, but given the option to select dinner with anyone in the entire world, living or dead, his response troubled me.

“What’s the matter with that?” he asked, an innocent and valid inquiry.

Keeping politics out of the mix, I iterated to him that no matter what our viewpoints were politically, the fact of the matter remained that Donald Trump had, time and time again, said things about women that were disturbing, misogynistic and perpetrated a culture of sexism and harassment. Transcripts from the New York Times’ recording of Donald Trump’s 2005 conversation with Billy Bush (recorded with a hot mic, reportedly without Trump’s knowledge) contained statements such as:

Trump: I moved on her like a b*tch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look…

And later, the infamous quote:

Trump: Yeah, that’s her. With the gold. I better 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. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

Bush: Whatever you want.

Trump: Grab ’em by the p*ssy. You can do anything.

Stand against #sexualharassment. How #words can be as scary as people. Share on X

After I’d explained to my friend why such comments from Trump were disturbing at the lowest level and downright frightening in other contexts, he frowned at me.

“It’s just locker room talk,” he stated. “I can assure you, Ashley—that’s how every man talks when women aren’t around.”

My friend—a close person to me, a person of integrity and care and concern in many ways that I knew of—was also a white male, and seemed to be justifying such a conversation between two men who were unaware of the fact they were being recorded.

“We’d never say that sort of thing around you, of course,” he explained, sensing my unease. “But that’s just the way it is. Whether it’s to fit in, or impress the boss, or just to fill the silence…those words don’t mean anything.”

That’s the problem, though—they do mean something. They mean that men, now more than ever, feel it’s acceptable to speak about women in such a manner. After all, Donald Trump has done it (on many occasions that we know about), and he’s now the president of the United States.

Evan Rachel Wood—actress and rape survivor—posted a video in the wake of October 2017 reports of producer Harvey Weinstein’s 30-year-long history of harassing, abusing, and raping women in the movie industry. In it, she urged men to ask the women in their lives about their day-to-day experiences with harassment from men. “You’d be surprised,” Wood says, “you’d be shocked.” And it’s true; I think the men in my life would be horrified if I were to detail to them the little things I experience as a woman in today’s world. Things like the fact I was grabbed around the hips by a man who stated my pants “weren’t tight enough” when I worked as a beverage cart driver on a golf course six years ago. I was 23 years old, and beside him and his three friends, I was completely alone out there on the course. Things like comments that have been made to me by “church-going” men at my bible study group. Things like the way I hold my keys between my fingers in a parking garage: each key angled out between each finger, so I can gauge a perpetrator’s eyes out if he tries to attack me.

These experiences don’t even compare to the harrowing, traumatic harassment and assaults my fellow women have undergone, and which I’ve heard about at get-togethers and girls’ nights once someone feels comfortable enough to share. Sometimes these women cry when they tell me what happened, sometimes they stare off at some unseen foe. But most often, they are emotionless and matter-of-fact, because in this modern time, a time of evolving technology and advanced medicine and huge strides made in civil rights and equality, we still feel powerless against the abuse of the patriarchy.

I don’t know how to fix this, nor do I know if it can ever truly be fixed. But what I do know is that the first step to standing up against sexual harassment and abuse is informing the people around you—your family, your friends, those men in your life who really, truly don’t understand—of what it’s like to be a woman today. Because if we can share the truth and ugliness of sexual harassment and raise awareness about it, then the opportunity for change is that much bigger.

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