Some of you may have heard about Donald Trump talking about vagina-groping ladies. It’s been in the news.

One of the offshoots of this conversation has been whether it’s appropriate for men to relate their impression of it with the women in their lives. As some Republicans have backed away from Trump, they’ve cited that they were horrified because of their wives and daughters. This lead to a degree of backlash about how women are people apart from their relationship with men.

I can understand the frustration. Society has often juxtaposed women in relation to the nearest man. Formal letters are often addressed to Mr and Mrs John Smith, for example. Books about women are often titled about their relation to men (Preacher’s Wife, Coal-Miner’s Daughter). And beyond that, there is perhaps something infantizing about it and how it’s deployed.

That being said, the objections in cases like this tend to be misguided.

I don’t consider myself especially sexist or misogynistic. I’ve always believed that women should get equal pay for equal work. I entered into a marriage of non-traditional arrangement with a female breadwinner and a stay-at-home dad, and felt no special compunction about doing so. And of course, rape is bad and sexual harassment is bad and have always been bad.

Even so, it’s one thing to believe things abstractly and another to have a specific reference. While I did believe that sexism in the workplace existed, things changed entirely when my livelihood depended on my wife being treated fairly in the workplace. That was when I started seeing unfairness everywhere. Not just as it pertained to her, but I started seeing it more around me generally. Things I had before found other explanations for became “Well, Other Explanation maybe, but I suspect there is sexism involved as well.”

If we so choose, we can attribute this to Trumwill’s Failure of Creative Empathy. It is not to my credit that I was as dismissive as I was before my own welfare was on the line, for sure. But even if we grant this, my wife became a conduit through which I saw – and saw the importance of – sexism more than I had before. Likewise, having a daughter has made me more keenly aware of the importance of female strength and independence. Strength and independence from the need of a man. This may not be ideal, but it is what it is.

All of which is to say, encouraging men to look at issues of sexism with the women and girls in their lives as a conduit is a good thing. Because it’s likely to be effective. The tangible always trumps the abstract. And this does apply both ways.

Toe above tweet is supposed to illustrate the absurdity of this, but it really doesn’t. The key here is whether the bad thing that happens is male-centric or not. If it’s something that is as likely or not to happen to anyone regardless of gender, then it is silly. But that’s not really what we’re talking about when we’re talking about sexual harassment or assault. We’re talking about something I am very unlikely to ever have to deal with, or if I do it’s in a trivial or infrequent manner (like when I was a substitute teacher and rather uncomfortable with a bunch of women talking about the hotness of the CSI detectives). So it becomes easy for me to disagree with the likelihood or severity of the imposition.

Men may generally have less creative empathy than women, but it’s certainly something I’ve seen with issues that they are rarely likely to be on the wrong side of. False paternity is a historic example. Perhaps the most contemporary example of a male-centric problem is due process for college students accused of sexual assaults come to mind. I want women thinking about their brothers and sons when it comes to giving men adequate room to defend themselves against a change. When we talk about kids getting kicked out of college, I think they are less likely to think of it as “no big deal” if they’re thinking of their sons. And sure enough, women who talk about this (from a pro-process perspective) do talk about their sons.

Notably, they almost all have sons.

I am going to keep an eye on things, and if these arguments do really offend women (outside opinion-on-everything Twitter and the like) then I will stop using it. I may lack the creative empathy to see why exactly its effectiveness is insufficient to undermine its offensiveness. It would be a shame if that were the case.


Category: Coffeehouse

About the Author

Will Truman (trumwill) is a southern transplant in the mountain east with an IT background who bides his time taking care of their daughter while his wife brings home the bacon. You will probably be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.

11 Responses to Our Wives & Daughters

  1. Brit says:

    What really jarred with me were Ryan’s comments:
    “Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified.”

    The “revere” thing smacks to me as seeing women as a mystical “other” rather than as fellow human beings. Would he have said, in response to comments about men, “men are to be championed and revered”

  2. fillyjonk says:

    Forget revered; I’d settle for not being treated like a potential conquest by men like Trump. Then again, I’m old and fat and so that type of man would never give me a second look other than maybe to ridicule me for being old and fat.

    I dunno. This whole incident has considerably soured me on the human race, along with all the apologists going “Oh but this is JUST HOW MEN TALK when they are alone!” Really? ‘Cos women don’t talk about men like that, or at least not the women I hang out with.

    Hm. I wish I were in a position to go Full Lysistrata and have it have some kind of effect.

    • trumwill says:

      Don’t listen to the apologists. While people do say some crude things, that’s not normal outside certain milieus.

      • fillyjonk says:

        thanks. It’s hard for me to know as if I’m around, it’s never “just us guys” and I can’t shrink down to a fly on the wall. All I know is what my female friends and I talk about when no men are around, and it’s really pretty tame.

        • greginak says:

          The rapey abusive stuff is not how the many men i’ve know talk. I’ve never heard that. The stuff about a woman being hot yeah and i’ve heard that from straight and gay men/women. The abusive stuff is a different world.

  3. Kazzy says:

    This is interesting. I hadn’t really seen/heard the pushback. I wonder if maybe I’m guilty of it?

    I have a quasi-relative who posts alot of stuff on FB. He likes to play the, “I’m not taking sides, I’m just pointing things out” angle but is undoubtedly pro-Trump. Or, at the very least, a Trump apologist. Like, the past few days it has been all about, “Sure, what Trump said might be problematic but he didn’t rape anyone like Bill” and when called out on how deeply troubling Trumps words are, there is lots of hemming and hawing and excuse making.

    And what stands out to me is that he is the father of a 5-year-old girl. And, fair or not, it is scarier that he holds these positions and is charged with raising a girl. So maybe I’m guilty of this as well?

    If your only objection to things like this is because you fear harm to a (female) loved one then, yes, that is a less-than-ideal position. But ultimately, a huge tactic to helping people combat sexism (or racistm or homophobia) is to help people who hold these views to develop loving relationships with people who might otherwise be the targets of this bias and to develop the requisite empathy to change their ways.

    • trumwill says:

      It may be a strictly Twitter thing? But yeah, a lot of it. Framed kind of as though you said “All Lives Matter” (in fact, I think someone framed it explicitly in those terms).

      I actually meant to have a section on homophobia, where it’s more or less taken for granted that people knowing gay people (and therefore thinking about things in the context of the gay people they know) helps a lot.

  4. RTod says:

    There’s another aspect of this. As a statement, it takes those less empathetic and puts them in shoes that might allow pennies to drop.

  5. Jaybird says:

    I’m someone who quite regularly gets chastised for insufficient empathy and so I see these little hacks for feeling more empathy as an important tool. A way to reframe a situation in which I had little-to-no empathy into one where I can say “Huh… yeah… that is bad and we should not do things like that.”

    The argument that I should just have more empathy in the first place strikes me as utopian.

  6. kirk says:

    Shouldn’t we be past rescuing damsels-in-distress? I didn’t watch the Trump tape, because I honestly don’t care what he said. Fifteen years ago we all signed off on ignoring someone in the White House groping, “harassing”, or possibly even raping women. It’s a little late to start giving a damn about this same topic again.

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