There’s an alleged ass-grabber in the Senate and a self-described pussy-grabber in the White House. In Alabama, an alleged ephebophile who stands accused of assaulting young women—including one as young as 14—is running for a seat in the Senate. He enjoys support of the pussy-grabber in the Oval Office.
The “dean of the House” paid $27,000 in taxpayer dollars to a woman who accused him of sexually harassing her; he stands accused of harassing other staffers, as well. The congressional Office of Compliance has paid some $17 million in public funds since 1997 to settle workplace disputes, according to Politico’s Elana Schor; unknown are the number of those that involve allegations of sexual harassment.
And this is just a snapshot of our current moment of reckoning in politics. Add in the allegations, admissions, and apologies from the worlds of entertainment and journalism, and you’d be forgiven for turning a skeptical eye on virtually any man who’s ever occupied a position of power in our society.
In the real lives of everyday women, though, these affronts and crimes are not merely the prerogative of society’s most powerful; they often seem like the prerogative of any man, anywhere.
Take the guy driving down the street in my neighborhood where I walked, on my way to a friend’s house. He slowed down, rolled down his passenger-side window, and asked for directions. As I walked over to the car to tell him where to make a turn, I noticed that his pants were down around his ankles. I was 17.
Then there was the pizzeria owner who grabbed my breast in a mocking way in front of a table of men. I was a 16-year-old waitress. Then there was the guy who raped me in college, the several ass-grabs and breast-grabs I’ve endured for daring to walk in public, and the guy who rubbed his dick against my shoulder as I sat on a crowded bus and he stood in the aisle. When I bellowed my discontent, the driver told me to calm down or get off the bus. Don’t even get me started on the cat-calling.
This is what patriarchy looks like. And this is just patriarchy in its more sexualized form, absent the quotidian indignities of the pay gap, the glass ceiling, of having one’s work alternately disparaged and appropriated.
Patriarchy is neither Democrat nor Republican. It is a system engaged in by people of all races, though it must be said that the dominant race in any society is likely to have a corner on the market, by virtue of its power. In America, that means that women who are not white are even more vulnerable to its theft of labor, creativity, and spirit.
It’s difficult to imagine a system more patriarchal than the one on which the U.S. economy was founded—that of chattel slavery. Plantation owners raped the women they enslaved, then enslaved any children resulting from those assaults, often using them as house servants in the domain of the gentleman farmer’s wife. This is our legacy, the part we don’t talk about. It courses silently through the veins of the body politic.
Seeing as how the Republican Party has become the home of neo-Confederates—of such people as Alabama’s U.S. Senate hopeful Roy Moore, who opposed the removal of segregation provisions from the state constitution—the depth of this legacy in both parties must not be allowed to overshadow its exercise in law, ideology, and tribalism. The sexism and misogyny found among Democrats is rightfully derided as hypocritical, since Democrats claim to stand for equality—of race, of sex, of sexual orientation and identity, of religion. But the sexism and misogyny (and racism and queerphobia) of Republicans these days is part of the brand, a rallying cry. There’s a self-described pussy-grabber in the White House. You’d have to conclude that a lot of the people who voted for him liked that about him, just as they liked the false crime statistics he tweeted about African Americans, his description of Mexicans as rapists, and his smearing of all Muslims as potential terrorists. They like it all, because it’s all of a piece.
Our choices being less than optimum, they are nonetheless stark. As for me, I’m sticking with the hypocrites.