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The Rejection Of White, Male Entitlement Is Not Oppression

Trump's ascension to Presidency was based on a patriarchal fantasy of white men’s oppression.

16/11/2016 3:04 PM AEDT | Updated 16/11/2016 3:05 PM AEDT
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Joshua Lott / Reuters
In Victoria, "sexual assault happens when someone does not consent to a sexual act or acts" which includes kissing, or grabbing someone by the "p***y".

"Nobody has more respect for women than me."

This was Donald Trump in the final presidential debate of the U.S. election campaign, right after Karen Virginia came forward as the 10th woman to accuse Trump of sexual assault or harassment. Virginia was waiting for a car to take her home from the 1998 U.S. Open when Trump allegedly grabbed her on the arm and touched her breast. Shocked, Virginia said that Trump repeated: "Don't you know who I am? Don't you know who I am?"

The line is classic Trump. Emboldened by his sense of superiority and entitlement, Trump's track-record of misogyny is a text-book study in the conditions that allow for violence against women to occur in the first place. The most famous example, of course, is his assertion that when he sees beautiful women, he "just start[s] kissing them": "I don't even wait. When you're a star, they [women] let you do it. You can do anything. Grab 'em by the p***y. You can do anything."

It is worth pointing out that this fits the definition of sexual assault. In Victoria, "sexual assault happens when someone does not consent to a sexual act or acts" which includes kissing, or grabbing someone by the "p***y". These acts are "unwanted" and "occur without the free agreement or permission" of the person affected.

While Trump has never been found guilty of sexual assault in a court of law, he has had multiple accusations against him, most prominently by Jill Harth. Most importantly, such a statement shows that Trump disregards the autonomy of women and the question of consent altogether; assuming, perhaps in line with his well-documented narcissistic traits, that he is entitled to their bodies, and their affection.

In fact, I would argue that entitlement is precisely what Trump's election is about. In The Guardian on 13 November, American novelist Siri Hustvedt wrote that Trump had succeeded in tapping into the backlash that characteristically accompanies threats to masculine privilege:

"People who grew up with a powerful sense of white, masculine privilege (as well as others who sympathise with that image of power), people for whom that sense of superiority was always precarious and always needed protection, found in Donald Trump a figure for their own fantasy of the restoration of an era now gone.

"He made humiliated, emasculated white men (and the women who identify with them) feel better about themselves. Now all of us will pay for a collective fantasy that belonged to only half of us."

'Restoring' power to white men (and propagating the notion that it had been lost) was integral to Trump's campaign to "make America great again". For example, in key swing states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, Trump's success is heavily tied to his promise to return manufacturing to the U.S. (and away from countries such as China, whom Trump has also threatened with tariffs of 45 percent).

For many Americans, particularly white men, the manufacturing era is associated with America's ascension to a global economic and cultural superpower, but also to their heyday as traditional breadwinners of their families. Yet, as reported by Andrew McGill, the demographic of the average factory worker has changed significantly in the past 30 years. Crucially, in 1979, almost "three quarters of manufacturing workers didn't have any schooling past 12th grade". In 2014, "more than half the employees in factory jobs had some amount of post-secondary schooling".

Nonetheless, Trump worked tirelessly to exploit the promise that he could return such jobs to those with less education -- as in his now-famous claim (after he won the Nevada Republican Caucus) that "I love the poorly educated". With that, Trump the billionaire became the savior of the poor emasculated.

Key to this persona was to hinge the downfall of this 'great' era to a raft of 'Others' whose increasing liberties were framed as threats. This meant not only women -- who now dare do things such as run for President -- but African Americans, Muslims, Mexicans, queers and environmentalists. The latter argue inconveniently that America's greed for fossil fuels during the manufacturing era contributed to the irreversible effects of global climate change, felt most brutally by the already (geographically, socially) marginalised.

For Trump and his supporters, the increasing cacophony of these subaltern voices contributes to the sense, articulated by former Australian Liberal politician Ross Cameron at a Trump election party, that "we've been oppressed".

Ironically, the family violence sector argues that it is [white, male] entitlement which creates the conditions for the oppression of women. This is best articulated in Change The Story, the national framework for the prevention of violence against women. In it, the authors are firm that men's control of decision-making and limits to women's independence set the necessary social context in which violence against women is condoned and enabled. Trump's rhetoric is so dangerous because it promotes the idea that challenging gender stereotypes and roles and promoting women's independence and decision-making contributes to the oppression of white men.

But it is more complicated than this.

In turn, such rhetoric condones the white supremacist notion that it is, in fact, the 'Other' who is a threat to whites everywhere -- women included. No more clearly is this seen than in Trump's statement that many Mexican immigrants to the U.S. are rapists. In one deft rhetorical move, Trump evokes neocolonial fears of invasion -- not only across nationalist lines, but as a direct threat to white men's rightful property -- white women. This fiction of white men as white women's protectors further fuels the patriarchal fantasy of better times, of white supremacy and women's dependence on white men. Perhaps most scarily, this fantasy resonated with white women, the majority of whom voted for Trump.

This proves not only how much work is left to do, but how inextricably the question of gendered violence is also racialised. To contest this collective fantasy we must begin with this recognition.

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