So it turns out Donald Trump was recorded saying some truly disgusting things about women on a bus.
It’s been a strange few days of strategic apologies, diversionary tactics and running for the hills. But in truth, these “behind closed doors” comments from 11 years ago, can’t be that surprising coming from an individual who in the last few months has spoken appallingly about women – continuously and without apology.
And it seems that even Teflon-Don can’t shake this one as quickly as some of his other indiscretions – although in a recent poll two per cent of people asked claimed they thought better of him after hearing the tape – so it’s not all bad news for Mr Trump, but horrific news for the rest of us who have to live on earth. But with a campaign built on extreme opinions and ideas (he’s still pro-wall), I’m left wondering why this recording has been the tipping point for so many.
Maybe it’s because it’s sunk in that he’s actually running for office? They want to demand higher standards from our public servants, particularly those who are this close to being “the most powerful person on the planet”.
Maybe it’s because they don’t like a lot of the other things he’s said but this one seemed too far somehow? This was the chance they’d been waiting for to jump ship with dignity.
Maybe it’s because this latest recording points to behaviour rather than opinion? But there has to be some recognition that the two are, all too often, linked.
Maybe it’s just deeply unpleasant? Because it is deeply unpleasant.
But maybe it’s more than that.
Maybe it’s the fear that what this recording represents is actually a bit too close to home for the rest of us.
That, if we want to hear women being rated on physical appearance, we don’t have to go far, with lists of “football’s hottest wags” or “pop star parties back at hotel with a bevy of beauties” headlines almost daily in our newspapers and magazines.
That if we want to hear bragging about sexual activity, with verbs like “smashed” or “banged” being the new normal, then we don’t need a secret recording; we just need to turn on the TV.
That if we want to hear women being treated as nothing more than objects for our pleasure or vitriol, then we don’t need a stump-speech, we can find it all just a couple of clicks away.
Our culture seems to have this deeply unpleasant streak running through it. And like right now against “the Donald”, we can all join the chorus of boos that rises up every now and again, sign a petition, wear a t-shirt, boycott a newspaper or turn off the TV. But the greatest impact we can make is surely not to engage in some sort of ‘culture war’, but to recognise that we’re part of the culture?
Because if we’re honest as men, if we want to hear bragging about sexual activity, or women rated on their physical appearance or treated as nothing more than objects, we don’t need to go far at all. We can probably recall a conversation we were part of, a link we clicked on, or an internal dialogue we engaged in that did just that.
And whether it was 11 years ago, 11 months ago, 11 days ago or 11 hours ago, if we’re really honest, most of us can be very grateful that those foolish moments were never caught on tape.
A warning that if it keeps ‘just happening’, if it’s always written off as ‘banter’, ‘bragging’, or ‘bravado’ then before too long, it starts to feel normal.
A warning that if women of a certain size, shape or race can somehow be valued ‘more’, then what that really means is that all women are somehow being valued ‘less’.
A warning that if we allow this to pass when it’s spoken or sung, televised or tweeted, that if we sit silently, laugh along or high five in agreement, we are playing our part of creating a culture in which words can become actions. Intimidating, harassing, abusive, devastating actions.
And so we get to be disgusted, offended, and outraged by that tape. I know I am. But if on 9 November all we have to show for it is a sigh of relief and a “thank goodness for that” status update, we may have missed a huge opportunity. An opportunity to say: “No more.”
To take it on ourselves to create a culture that expects more from our boys and men. That raises the bar on how they speak, act and engage. People who take part in or create mentoring programmes and resources, to find ways to get these things talked about openly and honestly. Who create cross-generational spaces where men get together and share life.
A culture that corrects false ideas, dangerous opinions, and a warped sense of normal. That empowers people to take a stand and speak up. People who say: “Stop” when the conversation turns, that aren’t afraid of being labelled a prude, that are willing to be a lone voice in the moment – although it’s often a less lonely place than first appears.
A culture that reminds us that we are all equal. That we have a responsibility for each other and to each other. People who find ways to speak life with and over each other, who refuse to rate or judge, who actively seek out equality and fight against injustice.
That all sounds a bit idealistic, right? A pipe dream? A utopian fantasy?
Maybe, but in a year when the first black American president could make way for the first female American president, all while Donald Trump from The Apprentice is a viable alternative candidate, it feels like stranger things have happened.
We might not have a vote, but we definitely have a choice.