How can women retain their dignity in the age of Trump?
This was the question on my mind today, after listening to women express their dismay that a “sexual predator” had been elected to the White House. A man who’s proven that he values women for their looks and their sexual availability to him. Instantly women feel devalued and defeated, as if Hillary Clinton’s defeat means everything that Donald Trump thinks about women is true.
It is not. That’s the first step: to remember that his attitude towards women is not reality. Even if every man in America suddenly turned into Trump and echoed his beliefs about women — that they can grab you, that they can “do anything” to you, that your value comes only from your looks or your youth — do not internalize that message. Reject it with every ounce of your being. It wasn’t true when he was running for President, it isn’t true today. Shore up your emotional and mental defenses and know your worth.
Second, keep safe. I’m hearing reports here and there of men grabbing women, pulling off hijabs, boys grabbing at girls in school. Although one report of a woman being beaten and robbed has been discredited, chances are there will be real attacks against women, especially women of color and visible Muslims. Take extra precautions. Let people know your whereabouts and your movements. Travel together if you need to. There’s no shame in doubling down and being vigilant in threatening times. Don’t feel ashamed if you want to take your hijab, or keep it on. Do whatever you need to in order to keep safe. If you are confronted by a hostile person, do not respond to them; simply call the police.
Third, know your rights. There are still laws against sexual harassment, against assault, against discrimination. This is a great opportunity to educate yourself on those laws, and how they come into play. Organize sessions and lectures at your workplace and campus to inform others about them. Get campus police or the neighborhood watch or community police involved, especially women police officers.
Fourth, speak out about your concerns and needs. Write in the newspapers and web sites. Make your presence felt, visible, and known. This is not the time to disappear. This is the time to appear in greater numbers than ever, and to let others know that you’re neither intimidated, nor panicked, nor, frankly, terribly impressed by all the sound and fury.
Stronger together. That’s the way to retain your dignity in the age of Trump, as a woman, as a citizen, as a human being.
You may find it strange that I, a Pakistani woman, have been thinking about this. But these notes are offered as a guide from someone who lives in a country where the attitudes towards women are much worse than even Trump’s. As I wrote in my recent essay on honor killings, in my country:
…regressive societal attitudes toward women label us as commodities, second-class citizens and financial liabilities to our families. This leaves us open to abusive and violent traditions, dictated by tribal codes and enforced by social and religious conservatism: child marriages, forced marriages, bartering of women to appease feuds and the most egregious gender crime, honor killings.
And yet we continue to live, to struggle, to hold our heads high, with far less protections and far fewer opportunities to succeed. We had a woman leader, Benazir Bhutto, but she was assassinated; and yet today we have many strong and capable women in Parliament, and succeeding in all areas of life.
You can do the same.