While Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump dismissed it as “locker room banter,” people across social media were quick to call out the dangerous nature of the now infamous Trump tapes, in which Trump, among other things, discusses kissing and grabbing women “by the p—y.” After the tape was released, one Twitter user, first introduced by The New York Times, Kelly Oxford, asked people to share their first experiences of sexual assault using the hashtag #notokay. The parallels between these stories and what Trump boasts about on the recording are undeniable. In fact, Oxford was able to use Trump’s exact language when describing her own first encounter with sexual assault — she was only 12 when a man grabbed her “by the p—y.”
Actress and poet Amber Tamblyn was also inspired by Trump’s hateful rhetoric and took to Instagram before the debate on Sunday night. She captioned a photo of Trump with her own experience of being assaulted in public by an abusive ex. These stories show that Trump’s “locker room banter” is far from abstract. Rather, it is a horrifying and traumatic reality for too many.
After the leaked tapes, many members of the GOP began to distance themselves from Trump. In fact, many members of the party, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Gov. Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota, have called for the presidential candidate to quit the race. Others, like Sen. John McCain, have disavowed Trump and said they refused to vote for him in the election. Even those who continue to support Trump for president have released statements distancing themselves from his lewd remarks. Trump’s own running mate, Mike Pence, said he was “offended by the words and actions” in the Trump video and said he “cannot defend them.”
Despite the GOP’s outrage, I would encourage those Republicans who are condemning Trump’s comments to read the responses to Oxford’s #notokay hashtag and to actively interrogate their own complicity in rape culture. Rape culture, which is the cultural normalization of sexual violence, is much bigger than the Trump recording. In fact, some of the very same Republicans who condemn Trump promote rape culture in the legislation they propose.
Pence may now try to take the moral high road and claim Trump’s comments are unacceptable, but don’t forget that he himself attempted to redefine rape in a 2012 Senate bill he co-sponsored. In the bill, federal funding for abortion would only be made available to women who suffered “forcible rape.” Pence’s track record for reproductive rights is abysmal to say the least.
The outrage over Trump’s tape cannot be limited to outrage over the use of the word “p—y.” The tapes are abhorrent because they show Trump advocating for sexual assault. He demeans women and laughs about violating a woman’s autonomy. So if the GOP is going to disown Trump over these tapes — and not for the hundreds of other sexist, racist, Islamophobic and xenophobic comments he has made in the past — then the GOP must begin to take rape culture seriously.
Trump’s comments have already mobilized thousands of women to share their story. At the peak of the #notokay hashtag, Kelly Oxford was receiving two stories of sexual assault every second. This conversation cannot stop at a hashtag. Trump’s dangerous comments should mobilize serious conversation in the home, in universities and in the halls of Congress.
Lena Melillo is a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law and gender studies. Her column, “’Pop Politics,” runs every Thursday.