Your kids know about Trump’s bus video conversation. Bank on it! I first heard the video while driving with my teenage son, who wondered, “Why is the other guy laughing?” Our kids may or may not ask out loud, but they are observing and absorbing a whole lot of confusing content right now.
The other guy — Billy Bush, the giddy bystander — was fired by NBC, a few days later. Which left the spotlight on the protagonist, alpha male Donald Trump, whose campaign response in 2016 is arguably more harmful than the impact of his heinous words from the 2005 video. Trump has taken our country on a dangerous course: he, and a chorus of his surrogates, are strategically attempting to recast his lewd behavior — and as a byproduct, sexual assault — as everyday, normal.
The content of that bus tape shocked and shook our country on so many levels: from the vulgarity of his words, to the treatment of women as objects to be hunted, to his gleeful acknowledgment of using power and privilege to commit sexual assault at will. If Trump had stopped there, with an earnest apology and explanation of why what he said was morally wrong, it would have been a teachable moment on simple right and wrong.
But instead, Trump took a much more damaging track: he and his surrogates minimized the bus tape conversation as just “locker room talk” – a modern day boys will be boys. In essence, his campaign was asserting that the objectification of women and sexual assault are commonplace, and no big deal. In the days that followed, a chorus of Trump surrogates reinforced this notion, including a US Senator claiming that grabbing a woman’s genitalia is not sexual assault, and a Congressman saying he might back Trump, even if Trump said he liked rape.
These are leaders held out as role models, and undoubtedly, our kids are watching. According to the Kaiser Foundation, our teens consume nearly eight hours of media each day. Some of it on cable television and networks, then a whole lot more of it in the social media places where kids congregate. For example, there’s been a bevy of Instagram memes linking Donald Trump to the infamous Stanford rapist, Brock Turner — ala, Trump’s words create Brock Turner’s. Even if you haven’t had the conversation yet, your kids may be trying to make sense of Trump’s words, and their ramifications.
Contrary to Trump’s efforts to minimize the impact of metaphoric locker room banter, these conversations and connections are precisely where our rape culture festers: it’s called group think. Group think is Billy Bush bystanders laughing along, trying to impress the alpha male in the pack. Group think is Brock Turner feeling such a need to impress his teammates, that while raping an incapacitated woman, he stopped to take a photo of her breasts and share it in a swim team Snapchat group.
The challenge for us, as parents, is to teach our sons not to be Billy or Brock: that real men don’t treat women that way. The message is simple, yet imperative: women are human beings, not objects. This needs to be said, and reinforced, again and again. Because once in a group think setting, the conversations create a space to dehumanize women and value them as conquests, not classmates.
The first part of the conversation is about Billy. Explaining to your son that if he hears things he knows are wrong, to say something, rather than feed the group think. You might suggest he imagines the pictures in the group chat, or the girls being objectified in chatter, as a family member (e.g. human beings).
The day after the bus tape was released, a friend on Facebook described her son moving out of a dorm suite at college because of the banter: “Mom, you can’t believe the things they say….I feel like asking them, where did your learn to talk to girls like this?” Leaving a situation of negative group think is a statement in and of itself.
The second part of the conversation is about Brock. Yes, sadly, courtesy of Donald Trump, you need to say this out loud: no consent means no! Unwanted advances — groping, grabbing, etc. — are sexual assault, plain and simple. And if a woman is too incapacitated to say yes, assume it’s no (watch this video on consent with your kids)!
The third part of the conversation is to empower our kids on bystander intervention. We all know the statistic that 1 in 5 college women (and 1 in 16 men) are victims of sexual assault while in college. But few of us know that 55 percent of college students who witnessed a sexual assault didn’t intervene, many because they didn’t know what to do (source: The Association of American Universities). Our Foundation does an annual 5k in October to empower our kids: SToPP — Stop. Think. Protect your Peers.
But mostly, talk to your kids. If you’ve felt gas-lighted as an adult watching this play out in the media, you can only imagine their confusion. Use this teachable moment as a reason to open a dialogue on the important issue of sexual assault. And leave an open space for future discussions.