In the dark, depressed days following Donald Trump’s victory this exact time last year, I sat in a Brooklyn coffee shop with Lena Dunham, ostensibly discussing the final season of Girls, but mainly comparing notes on our post-election gloom. We’d both campaigned for Hillary Clinton – Lena as a ‘surrogate’, speaking at rallies for young people around the country; me in a less public role, calling voters across the US from Hillary’s New York HQ. We were, therefore, not only shocked and shaken by her defeat, but feeling a very personal sense of failure, too.
And there was something else we were sharing, much to our surprise: a feeling that, perhaps, we might not have been the good foot soldiers of feminism we’d always seen ourselves as. Pre-election, if a man had wolf-whistled or made a comment on my appearance in the street, I generally never reacted. I found it harmless, even a little attering, and couldn’t really fathom why some women found it so o ensive. Suddenly, post-election, I saw it as part of a sickening structure of sexism and misogyny, which directly contributed to Trump’s victory. For the first time, I felt compelled to call out such behaviour every time I encountered it.
‘I am even revising the way I talk about myself,’ Lena told me. ‘I’m not interested in making any more public jokes about what I look like, or about wishing some guy would grab my butt, because I feel as though those jokes are perpetuating something that is not safe.’ We realised that we had, unwittingly, been propping up and perpetuating a system that degrades, demeans and disempowers women.
And Donald Trump is directly responsible for my newly heightened intolerance of bad behaviour in dating. New York is a brutal place to date at the best of times, but now that I am hyper- sensitised to sexism and misogyny, I take no prisoners in my personal life.
Even if I fancy a man rotten, I am unable to turn a deaf ear to him saying anything remotely off -colour; call me humourless and po-faced if you like, but a corrective lecture will be swiftly delivered. In my very brief sojourn into app dating, I found myself composing lengthy messages explaining in great detail to men I had never even met (and now never will) why their ghosting was so offensive and unacceptable. The other weekend, a former fling got drunk and grabby at a party; I asked him to leave and, when he didn’t, had him escorted off the premises. And when, recently, a former lover attempted to reignite things, I found myself rejecting his overtures repeatedly, until, finally, I was forced to explain that I’d changed.
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For four years, I was content with our relaxed, no-strings relationship, even though it was largely conducted on his terms. He could be demanding and, at times, difficult, summoning me to see him at highly unsociable hours, and getting angry if I refused. So, most of the time, I capitulated, until, eventually, I ended things. His recent attempts at a reunion made me realise, with clarity, that I am not the girl I used to be, and no matter how satisfying the sex, I simply cannot entertain a relationship involving such inequality.
My job involves interviewing A-listers and so, over the past few weeks, I’ve had a ringside seat to an entertainment industry in meltdown, as titans of Hollywood stand accused of sexual harassment and assault.
Friends have asked, why now? Why, if these predators had been abusing their power for decades, did nobody investigate the rumours and hold them accountable before? It’s partly strength in numbers: thanks to high-profile cases such as that of Bill Cosby, against whom scores of women have brought charges of rape, there’s a greater confidence that allegations will be taken seriously, and less of a fear that women’s reputations and careers will be ruined by a backlash and victim-blaming.
But every actress I have spoken to in the past few weeks agrees that it’s no accident of timing that now, with Trump in the White House, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, Ed Westwick et al are standing accused of sexual misconduct (Ed Westwick has strongly denied allegations of rape). The election of a man who himself boasts of sexual assault, bragging about grabbing women ‘by the pussy’,is an insult to women everywhere.
And the anger we feel towards Donald Trump is being diverted into dismantling sexist regimes and codes of coercion and silence elsewhere. I’m not overstating it when I say that this feels like a sea change, the start of a new world order. The patriarchy isn’t crumbling, it’s imploding, hoist with its own petard.
Though it’s a bitter pill to swallow, none of this, I suspect, would have happened had Hillary become President. With a woman in the White House, we’d have believed the battle had, largely, been won, just as the election of Obama gave the illusion, for eight years, that the US was post-racial.
Of course, I still wish the outcome had been different, but Trump has inadvertently ignited a new feminism. Truly, we are woke – even if that means I’ll probably be sleeping alone for the foreseeable future.