I wasn’t in the working world for long before I discovered the facts of life. I was a waitress. My manager was Charles, who was married and 25 years older. One night Charles cornered me in the stairwell, breathed on me heavily, and suggested that we get together some time at his place. “Mmmm,” I said politely. I was too timid to say “No.”
Later, I got a dream job as a book publicist. My job was to escort authors around town on book tours. One day a famous Hollywood director came to town to promote his memoirs. He was suave and sophisticated. I took him to his hotel room, where he chatted on the phone to his famous wife. After he hung up, he invited me to join him on the bed. I was 22. He was 60. I demurred politely. I might as well have been a pillow mint.
And so it went. Fending off the unwanted attentions of men you worked with was just the background noise of life. I learned that even the nicest guy might mash you up against the wall and slobber you with kisses.
I didn’t complain to anyone about these things. What would have been the point? No harm done. No repercussions. I managed. That’s what women did.
My experiences are typical of my generation of women. Most of us never encountered a pig like Donald Trump. But we spent much of our working lives in a world where crude advances and petty harassment were just something you coped with. To us, none of the revelations about Mr. Trump and women come as a surprise. It has always been crystal clear just who and what he is. The only surprise is that his enablers didn’t seem to know. They must be idiots.
It’s banal – but necessary – to say that this sordid election campaign has submerged the body politic in muck. As Aleppo is bombed into oblivion, Americans spent their weekend arguing about whether Donald Trump or Bill Clinton has treated women worse. Personally, I’d call it a draw. If there is anything that can be plucked from the sewage, it’s the knowledge that men who treat women badly are now automatically disqualified from high office. It’s about time.
Many other things have changed since 1998, the year that feminists like Gloria Steinem explained away Bill Clinton’s bimbo eruptions (not a phrase you’d hear today). Monica Lewinsky, once dismissed as a needy stalker, has been resurrected as a persecuted heroine. Most workplaces have a sexual-harassment policy that ensures any man who gropes or mashes women at the staff holiday party will get his gooseberries handed to him on a platter.
As for locker-room talk, no man I know talks like Mr. Trump when he’s with other men, and neither do their friends. That’s not to say some men don’t talk that way. I’m sure they do. But educated, upper-middle-class men don’t. They do not tell dirty jokes in the office, hang girly calendars in the basement or go to strip joints. Such behaviours, common enough among middle-class males when I was young, are considered lower class today. My husband’s all-male poker group has been getting together for decades and here’s what they talk about: the news. They’d no more use the P-word than the N-word (except when it’s in the news). They’d be disgusted by anyone who did.
Fortunately for us, men like Mr. Trump – a narcissistic bully with a vengeful streak and a lot of power – are rare. How he got as close to the White House as he has will be a topic worthy of endless thumb-sucking. But the fact that his toxic attitude toward women is what finally did him in should be at least slightly reassuring. It turned just enough people from “maybe Trump” to “Trump, no way.” We no longer live in a world where men can get away with it, where presidents can order up young White House staff for their pleasure (think JFK), or restaurant managers can hit on waitresses without thinking hard about the potential consequences.
Something else has changed. Women have. Today’s young women are more assertive than we ever were. Today, I’d tell that restaurant manager, “Are you kidding?” I’d tell the Hollywood director that I’m not a pillow mint. We’re not in Trumpworld any more. And I’d make sure they knew it.
Follow us on Twitter: