There is something about this final stretch of Donald Trump’s sad, mean run for the White House that has the feel of not just a failed campaign, but of a whole era breathing its last sexist gasp.
On the day after the now-notorious “grab ’em by the, etc.” tape surfaced, our 21-year-old called from New York to report that she’d found herself sharing an Uber pool with a couple of elderly Trump supporters.
Tourists from San Diego County, they had chattered all the way uptown about the “successful businessman” they hoped to see in the Oval Office and craned their necks worshipfully when the car passed a building with the Republican presidential nominee’s name on it.
Dutiful millennial that she is, our daughter said she listened politely until they asked how she would be voting.
“I told them I wouldn’t feel comfortable living in a society where the person who runs the country doesn’t view women as equals,” she told me. “They said yes, but what about Crooked Hillary, and that Trump was a product of his generation.”
Apparently the ride got pretty quiet after that.
For the record, I probably know enough men Trump’s age to fill half of Manhattan, and I’d be willing to bet that not one has ever popped a Tic Tac and bragged about grabbing a stranger’s vagina. But the couple, who were about his age, were right on one account.
Something generational is going on, and time is not on the side of the Trumpsters.
It’s not just the matter-of-factness among women my daughters’ age at the historic prospect of a U.S. president who is female. Or the million-plus women who went public on Twitter last week with their own experiences of being sexually manhandled.
Or the fathers and sons who have taken vehement issue with Trump’s claim that his boasting on that tape was mere “locker room talk,” as if all males bond over casual misogyny when they work out. (After the Trump tape, Wall Street Journal associate editor John C. Bussey tweeted what he’d overheard that day at his gym. “Actual men’s locker-room talk: ‘… ibuprofen ...’ ‘… Who’s your orthopedist? ...’ ‘... finally up to 3 miles …’ ‘... taking the kids to Lion King …’ ”)
It’s a mood, at least among women, that I can only describe as, “Enough, now.”
It’s not Democratic or Republican. It’s not even necessarily pro-Hillary Clinton. But it’s finished with pretending that misogyny is even a little bit socially acceptable.
And there’s critical mass to it that wasn’t there when I was the age of my daughters.
In a crowded Los Angeles crosswalk one day, a stranger actually did to me what Trump bragged about doing to women on that “Access Hollywood” shuttle.
In my 20s, almost every female friend I knew had, at some point, been backed into a corner and slobbered on, Trump-style. No workplace was without an office masher – the married guy with the roving eye, the co-worker who’d stroll up from behind and, unbidden, start giving backrubs.
No one complained to the boss. Often the boss was the problem. You learned to dodge and make excuses, and invent imaginary boyfriends, and tune out the innuendo.
Same for the leering on the street and in the subways. I lost count, in my youth, of the men I had never met who felt compelled call to me on the sidewalk and instruct me to “smile.”
In a crowded Los Angeles crosswalk one day, a stranger actually did to me what Trump bragged about doing to women on that “Access Hollywood” shuttle. I was so startled that I didn’t fully process what had happened until the creep was almost to the curb, looking over his shoulder at me and laughing.
For most of the rest of the workday, I wondered what I had done to make him do that. Reporting the incident never crossed my mind.
Just to be clear: Neither I nor my female friends were made of cut crystal. Women can dish it out, too, and sexism didn’t kill us. But that didn’t make it right.
As Los Angeles blogger and author Kelly Oxford put it early this month, after asking women to “tweet me your first assaults,” it’s “#notokay” to treat and talk about women, or anyone, really, in the way that Trump has.
But like adjustments in the nation’s attitudes on same sex marriage and other issues, that understanding has not come about overnight.
Consider, for example, Anita Hill, and her riveting testimony in 1991 against U.S. Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas, which I remember with extra vividness because I watched it between Lamaze breaths from a Los Angeles hospital bed, where I was in labor.
What’s different now? Well, laws have changed. But so have demographics.
Looking back, Hill’s experience sounds no different from any of the many personal stories of harassment that women have shared in the past week. Yet only 24 percent of Americans believed her at the time.
What’s different now? Well, laws have changed. But so have demographics. The daughter I gave birth to while Hill was telling her story is now 25 years old, and she and her cohort are a lot less patient than I was with “creepers,” as they call men who share Trump’s view of women.
Politics aside, their take on Trump echoes that of Michelle Obama’s in the powerful speech she gave Thursday: “This is not normal.” A USA Today/Rock the Vote Poll in August found that millennial support for Trump was lower even than support among voters under 30 was in 1972 for Richard Nixon. And that was before this latest outrage.
Change is slow. The playing field, for many of us, remains too uneven. This week, when Trump’s misogynist rants were interrupted by Bob Dylan wining a Nobel prize in literature, our oldest daughter, who is in her 30s, texted me the Dylan lyric on her mind that morning:
So true, I thought. And Trump’s bandwagon of angry men could rattle around even after the election in some dark media niche or another. And yet, I also thought, there was a time when those of us who are older couldn’t even imagine an era of women in the White House.
I’m younger than that now.