More than just talk: combating rape culture rhetoric

At issue: Donald Trump’s comments perpetuate rape culture.
Our take: We can combat toxicity with awareness and involvement.
Last week, a tape released by The Washington Post captured a 2005 conversation between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and former “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush. The recording captured Trump discussing sexually assaulting various women, stating, “when you’re a star, they let you do it.”

The release of the tape incited immediate backlash from both parties. However, this isn’t the first deplorable comment regarding women the real estate mogul has made—there have been many offensive remarks made in his campaign. As Megyn Kelly pointed out in the GOP debate this August, Trump has called women “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs,” and “disgusting animals.” These comments have caused considerable controversy but have all somewhat been rationalized by Trump supporters because they were targeted at specific women. These comments are much harder to rationalize because the identity of the woman Trump speaks about is ambiguous—essentially, his comments are targeted at all women.

We’re well aware of Trump’s tendency to clumsily beat around the bush to distract audiences from his vile tact and cast off his actions (coupled with frantic arm waving, of course). And this past week when he brushed off sexual assault as “locker room talk,” he once again attempted to erase lines he’s crossed. But this time the etch-a-sketch effect won’t hold. His rhetoric is more than euphemism—it’s rape culture. These words, “locker room talk,” normalize sexual assault. It’s ammunition for the behavior, gender performance, and socially constructed sexual dichotomy that has historically fueled sexual assault. Language is powerful, and dismissing violence against women as innocent, meaningless banter between men ignores a problem that impacts everyone in this election and everyone on this campus.

With advocacy campaigns like Emerson STANDS, Violence Prevention and Response’s interpersonal violence prevention strategy, and the Office of Housing and Residence Life’s upcoming domestic violence and street harassment awareness week, our community is doing its part to combat violence. Emerson STANDS week is sponsored by WPR, with Director Melanie Matson and survivor advocate Greta Spoering leading the events. This program is a direct response to the needs of college students and is created to not only start a dialogue but to provide students with the proper tools to prevent violence. It’s a strategy for halting power-based violence, including sexual assault, harassment, stalking, and abusive relationships. Violence, in all its forms (even words), is intolerable, and disrupting rape culture begins with proactive programming like Emerson STANDS.

Similarly, the upcoming week of resident assistant sponsored programs about domestic violence and street harassment turn talk into action. For years, many Emerson students have complained about street harassment, and rightfully so. But directly combatting those uncomfortable situations with programs about intervention, education, and equality takes those complaints out of the abstract web and into reality. These changes are happening because the student body is listening to the rhetoric being used on a nation stage by people like Donald Trump, and it is recognizing, “We don’t want that happening here.”

Theater kids, film buffs, news junkies, slam poets: we’re all here to study communication in some form. We’re setting ourselves up for failure if we don’t pay close attention to language and semantics, both in the classroom and in the real world. Picking apart rhetoric isn’t nitpicky or fussy or, god forbid, “political correctness gone mad.” Talk is always more than “just talk.” Words can empower someone or tear them down; words can build and words can destroy. Words are weapons—the onus is on us to disarm those who are careless with them.