I was recently flying from Chicago to Boston and experienced in real time, in real life, Trumping. While this phrase may be unfamiliar, we are all aware of its power, extent, and use. Similar to the Trump effect, Trumping is the actual, physical experience of uttering the nonsense that spews from the mouth of Presidential Candidate, Republican Nominee, Donald Trump, and then applying this to your everyday practices and performances. Trumping is the actual practice of using not just male privilege or white privilege, but overt and outward racism, sexism and misogyny.
While I was waiting to board my flight, I saw two
gentlemen individuals, one very vocal, discussing the wait to board the plane. He used aggressive verbal language and his body language matched. I felt that security should have been called, but they proceeded to the back of the line. I Snapchatted what I witnessed and immediately wondered had these two individuals been Black or “Muslim-looking”, would the results have been similar.
Let’s call the vocal, aggressive one Mike. And little did I know, I would encounter Mike firsthand.
As we all proceeded down the “cat walk??” (what is that thing even called!), I had the fortunate pleasure of standing behind Mike and his male traveling companion. As soon as I approached, they began talking to the person in front of them – they recognized each other from middle school. They started reminiscing about a middle school teacher and Mike’s first response was “oh the one with the short skirts.” I didn’t appreciate this immediate recollection of your childhood teacher in this manner. I’m not naïve to sexual development especially among the middle school ages, but the manner in which he said ‘short skirts’ was more than normal development and sexual curiosity about the opposite sex. But I didn’t say anything. And everybody is laughing at his jokes. He is big and intimidating and this is often what happens when a person of his stature enters a space and commands power and attention – everybody goes along with whatever he says.
I continued to listen to their conversation and then airport staff began passing us along the catwalk, and Mike said “yeah I’ll grope her…I’ll grope her too.” As several women pass by.
I don’t like this word grope. It’s sexually coded language AND it implies unwanted sexualized contact. I immediately chimed in without thinking.
“I hope you are you joking,” I said, knowing that even if he were joking, sexual assault and unwanted contact is no laughing matter.
“Of course I am but I’m voting for him,” he said not really sure what to make of my intrusion.
“I don’t care who you’re voting for you won’t disrespect women in my presence,” I stated.
“Well, I’m just joking,” Mike says.
“Well, I’m just not,” and I continue staring with my female gaze all in the back of his neck. He doesn’t look back in my direction. And he laughs and shrugs off the experience probably concluding that he won. Of course he see’s conversations as competitions – one’s that he has dominated for years.
But we all lose. There is no winning. And I’m left wondering if my intervention went far enough. Most people just ignored him. Most people just ignored me. But I want him to think about me when he attempts to use that kind of language again. And I am confident he will.
So what can you do when Trumping occurs? There are different levels of interventions. And this list is not exhaustive of them all. I’ll list a few I pondered during my encounter with Mike.
1. Nothing. Yes this is an appropriate response. It’s not a woman’s job to check the oppressor. Our social institutions have long failed us (families, friends, religious institutions, workplace, school, media, etc) and one person checking another won’t be enough to curb the growing tide of street harassment, online harassment, workplace harassment, misogyny, etc. So keep your soul intact.
2. Nothing. Yes, again, you could do nothing but for a different reason. I had extreme anxiety when hearing him and contemplating my response. I thought back to the classroom of being silenced and teachers saying ‘that’s how boys play.’ I thought about being ignored in the workplace. I thought about adults justifying me being ‘groped’ as a teenager (that’s how men are). I thought about having to justify my worth to students and colleagues in academia. Yes all that comes back up because there is this thing called trauma and post-trauma. And we relive it everyday. Sometimes its amplified depending on the multitude of identities you embody.
3. Nothing. Yes, still talking about not responding. If I had engaged in a truly heated debate I wondered who the airline would have defended and protected. Recent examples had me conclude that it wouldn’t have been me.
4. Nothing physically but something digitally: Post what’s occurring on social media. Don’t get in trouble or fired as some people have for calling out men for their inappropriate behavior. But do so in reason and always protect yourself. This highlights and connects examples of what we’re seeing so we realize these are not isolated incidents but rather connected to a structural and institutional culture of silencing women and privileging this so-called locker room that is our society.
5. Digital intervention – physical presence: Snapchat or post a live message on social media so the offender can hear you. Just talk about exactly what you’re witnessing. This may invite the offender to engage you personally but if you aren’t recording them directly you can ignore them. Again, protect yourself because you could get in trouble for violating this person’s privacy – instead of him being in trouble for being offensive.
6. Ask questions: Are you joking? You’re not serious are you? What does groping mean to you? Do you think that’s appropriate? What would your granny say? These questions don’t put the burden on you entirely – it puts the ball back in their court to have to answer. And you could just end it there or engage further. But this highlights to the Trumper that we hear what you’re saying and don’t like it.
7. Ask questions and then respond. Using the above prompts, ask the same key questions and then proceed to tell him why it’s inappropriate. This is where things could go south. Others could chime in and support you or just look away as they did in my case. Look them all in the face and say, if this is ok with you all then we are all doomed. Something dramatic. Leaves a lasting impression.
My purpose with this list is first to vent about my experience, and also to highlight the different things I processed within a matter of seconds in deciding whether or not to intervene. I knew I had to do something, I just didn’t know what it was. But the educator in me demanded this Trumping be responded to. For all those beautiful girls and women (cis, trans, non-binary, etc) who are often silenced, I did this for you. I will be your voice.
We’ve let this behavior exist unchecked and unbothered. And the overt went covert and dormant for a while under this stupid PC culture we have. Under this system, we aren’t educating people – we are merely hoping for tolerance – not acceptance. And that’s our problem. But they gon’ learn today.