End Trump and Our Old Notions of Romance

by Kate McCarthy

In the gob-smacking free-fall that is Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, his latest transgression is the least forgivable of them all: the widely-circulated phrase “grab them by the pussy.” It’s unfortunate that it took this level of crassness to really turn the tide against Trump, but perhaps that’s because the man is emblematic of a dying generation in which this kind of forceful and nonconsensual, yet considered in bounds and actually even romantic, behavior toward women went unchecked.

Sitting around the table at a joint family dinner with friends, us kids shouted over one another and begged for our parents to tell us how they met. The patriarch of the visiting family smiled and said “Well, I trapped Laurie up in a tree and said I wouldn’t let her come down until she agreed to go out with me.” Cute, right? At the time, that’s what I thought, and so did the rest of the table as the anecdote was met with laughter and cooing. But now, that story doesn’t sit right with me. Watching a dated movie and seeing the male protagonist refuse to let the girl get away, pulling her back by the wrist and throwing her up against the wall for a long-awaited kiss doesn’t sit right with me, either.

For so long, that’s the sort of behavior we considered to be true romance. The stories and instances of pursuance, not taking “no” for an answer and force of varying degrees are now met with shock and disbelief. For the most part, the only time that behavior is acceptable is if the pursuer is wielding a guitar and doing the overt chasing in song, like a boy band type of thing. I’m not entirely opposed to being thrown up against a wall, provided it’s within the context of a spicy and consensual night with your significant other, yeah? But in a lot of media — the very same that young girls and boys are being exposed to — we’ve normalized a depiction of romance and how to treat people, most often women, that is all about relentless, one-sided fervor.

What’s interesting about Trump’s most recent comments is that his vision of a woman’s subjectivity is marked by passivity. Everything Trump is saying describes actions done to them, but never by them: “moved on her,” “took her out,” and the now-infamous use of “grab them.” To Trump, women are objects to be used however and by whomever. It speaks volumes that though this conversation occurred only eleven years ago, the dialogue and social mores have changed significantly since then. More and more, we recognize the toxicity surrounding the way we’ve characterized the women in our media and in our lives — as recipients of action from others. Eleven years ago it might have been cute to hear that your grandpa asked your grandma to marry him every day for six years — or hear him recount hiding under her bed for five — but we don’t let that slide anymore. Let’s not let Trump slip by either.