by: Bonnie Wilkins Overcott
Coming to terms with Donald Trump’s presidency, a man whose words have opened up an old wound and evoked the memory of an evening when everything changed…
“And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” – Donald Trump
As I sort through my mother’s house, I find a letter I wrote to her forty or fifty years ago. It’s filled with details of my life, which, even after reading, I can’t recall even though I once thought them significant enough to put into a letter. Still, I’m glad I don’t have what psychologists call “Superior Autobiographical Memory,” the ability to remember every detail of every minute of one’s life since childhood. I like living life in the present, and memories chain us to the past. I like to think I’m constantly perfecting myself and don’t want to dwell on times when I fell short of my expectations. Nor do I want memories to be a ball and chain, for it’s the distance of them that ease life’s pains and fears. Still, some memories erupt when the scar they left is torn open.
When President-elect Donald Trump was heard in a lewd conversation with Billy Bush boasting about women, it affected me deeply. It dredged up a traumatic event in my life from about fifty years ago which still makes me feel vulnerable, fills me with rage, and turns my stomach.
In my early twenties, as a University of Minnesota student, I lived in a room above the commercial buildings on Cedar Avenue on the West Bank, sharing a kitchen and bathroom with other students. The streets were always busy. Gray’s Drug Store below stayed open late. Lots of students walked around coming and going from night classes, the libraries or bar hopping in the neighborhood. It was the part of town transient youths came to crash somewhere, find a party, or earn a little money playing their guitars and singing. Even amongst all the activity, the area felt safe. The hulking bikers hanging around outside the bars added to my feeling of safety, because they looked mean enough that no one would assault me with them in the neighborhood.
Next door to my apartment and directly above the drug store was Dania Hall, once called a “cultural center and performing arts space” designed for Danish immigrants by the Norwegian born architect, Carl F. Struck. By the time I lived there it was merely a cavernous, dusty hall where spirited dances were held with live music by local bands. Since no alcohol was served at these events, the youth from the suburbs would frequent the dances, hangout with the counterculture, and maybe score some pot before returning home.
One evening as I was doing homework, I couldn’t concentrate. I needed some fresh air and went out for a walk to clear my mind. I started up Cedar Avenue towards Washington Avenue. It felt good to get out of my room and just move around and breathe in some fresh air. Three fairly young, clean-cut men, most likely students, approached me on the street. They were laughing and joking. If I had to venture a guess they were likely heading from the Seven Corners Bar located on Washington and Cedar to the grittier Viking Bar, with its grandmotherly waitress, located off Cedar a block up on Riverside. Maybe they were headed to the Triangle Bar, across the street from the Viking, where “Spider” John Koerner and Dave “Snaker” Ray or Willie and the Bees often played. By midnight every night, the West Bank bars would be plugged full with people standing shoulder to shoulder.
Walking outside in the cool, crisp evening air had invigorated me and heightened my spirits. So I was shocked that when the three men on the street passed me, one of them suddenly reached out and grabbed me between my legs and then just kept on walking.
In all my life, I’d never been treated so crudely. I was sickened and angry that anyone could be so loutish to me or to anyone else. It was a demeaning act. I was suddenly afraid and felt vulnerable and alone. I felt like I’d run headlong into a brick wall as a dawn of realization spread over me as I came to understand, I probably shouldn’t walk by myself ever again.
The Australian journalist, Maria Lewis, wrote, “There is something men will never understand about being a woman and how you not only learn to live with fear but adapt and evolve with it.”
My world changed that night. Before, my world was filled with men like my Dad and the decent men I grew up around. They were respectful of others and they worked hard, and raised their children to be likewise. They literally taught Sunday school. Even the men who packed those West bank bars and weren’t always so sober were never as revolting as the man who groped me. To this day I’m still not comfortable walking alone, even during the daytime.
I know that in the whole scope of things being groped is hardly the worst experience you can go through. But for me, it’s the knowledge of how much worse it could have been that creates the fear. With this in mind, I think of the two-hundred and seventy-six little African schoolgirls kidnapped, brutalized and murdered by Boko Haram. I cannot even imagine what they were forced to endure. And I consider the fact that the Taliban instituted gender apartheid in Afghanistan and that a woman in her burqa could pass her own mother on the street and not recognize her. I reflect on the Yezidi women captured and exploited by ISIS and who suffered unspeakable abuses. And that In some countries women are still stoned to death or murdered by family members in so-called “honor killings” for perceived infractions of some obtuse social code, and that women in our industrialized and educated society are beaten and murdered routinely, often by men they know and love. It is an unfortunate reality that men often take out their frustrations and anger on women. The man who grabbed me had absolutely no respect for me as a human being with feelings, self-worth and a need to feel safe and secure. He was my terrorist, my enemy.
I eagerly embraced the feminist movement. I rebel against being dependent on anyone. I chafe at living in fear. In one or two seconds that man took some of my power away from me. My Grandmother used to say, “Not every smiling face is your friend.” Nor is a clean-cut male student laughing and walking past you on the street.
A man, who in his sixties bragged about assaulting women, was just elected President of the United States. I watch as Donald Trump walks ten steps ahead of his wife, never worrying about whether she can keep up with him or not. He doesn’t hold her hand or take her arm. It seems like she is subservient to him like the cadre of men who follow him around. He shows her off like the trophy she is. It’s almost as if he views her worth to be her beauty, her style and her svelte figure, not her intelligence or demeanor. Despite being married to this woman, who is the mother of his child, he admits to being a predator of women.
Donald Trump is not like President Obama, a gentleman who lets his wife walk in front of him or alongside him while he holds her hand. I can’t imagine Trump emoting like President George H. W. Bush who cried while reading old love letters he wrote to Barbara. He is not like President Carter, a man who bragged about meeting his wife Rosalyn on the day she was born and who made it obvious they are full and equal partners in life. Nor can I ever imagine Trump writing a poem to his wife like the silly, loving, goofy poems President George W. Bush wrote to Laura Bush. Certainly Trump would never be married to a woman who is an achiever in her own right like former President Bill Clinton and actually go around the country campaigning for her.
“Thirteen women, including his first wife, accused Donald Trump of forcibly kissing, inappropriately touching or looking at them, or worse,” according to an article in The Daily Beast written by Gideon Resnick. This accusation echoes the same behavior he crowed about on that bus with Billy Bush. He has destroyed the security of women in other ways as well. A year ago, eighteen-year-old Lauren Batchelder dared to challenge Trump as he was asking for her vote. She said that she didn’t think he was “a friend to women.” Did he reassure her? No. The Washington Post reported that “The next morning, Trump fired back on Twitter — calling Batchelder ‘an arrogant young woman’, and accusing her of being a ‘plant’ from a rival campaign. Her phone began ringing with callers leaving threatening messages that were often sexual in nature. Her Facebook and email inboxes filled with similar messages. As her address circulated on social media and her photo flashed on the news, she fled home to hide.” Stories like this make me as sick to my stomach as the memory of being grabbed by a strange man on the street. How can a seventy year old man justify doing that to a teen-aged girl? With these actions, and too many others to mention, Trump has made it clear that he will seek to destroy any of those who would challenge him or call him out personally.
How many men in Trump’s world share his views about women? This is important to know because these powerful and influential men are going to run this country and affect our lives. Trump’s Labor Secretary Nominee, Andrew Puzder, replied to a young female reporter’s question on a cable news show about going from being CEO of a corporation to a government job by saying, “It’ll be the most fun you can have with your clothes on.” Mr. Puzder, I doubt that young woman really wanted to contemplate you without your clothes and evidently you don’t have much of an HR department in your corporation advising you. Or, do you consider yourself so privileged you can ignore their advice? In a police report from 1986, Puzder’s ex-wife claimed he “attacked me, choked me, threw me to the floor, hit me in the head, pushed his knee into my chest, twisted my arm and dragged me on the floor, threw me against a wall, tried to stop my call to 911 and kicked me in the back.”
I don’t consider myself a “#notmypresident” person. I want every president to succeed. However, I doubt if I can ever look at President-elect Trump and not get a knot in my stomach. He’s a man who spent a lifetime making women feel unsafe, fat, and ugly. He threatens them and tries to debase their sense of self worth. So when the future president says “You can do anything,” in reference to how one treats women, does he actually think he’s entitled? I honestly thought we left that attitude back in the 20th century. It’s a good thing my official Hillary for America “Woman Card” never expires. Maybe someday during this century it won’t be necessary to champion women’s rights and I can cut it up, but until that day, Donald Trump has opened up that old wound and left me frightened and very uneasy.