Donald Trump, chosen by the Republican Party as its presidential nominee, said Sunday night that his skin-crawling comments exposed by the Washington Post on Friday were nothing more than "locker-room talk."
You've probably seen or heard the taped comments from 2005, which implied that Trump was accustomed to forcing himself on women without their consent. On the tape, Trump tells Billy Bush of the television show Access Hollywood that when you're a star, women let you do anything you want.
"You can "grab 'em by the pussy, you can do anything," Trump said. That's not all: Last night, the New York Times and People magazine both published more accounts by women who say Trump groped or kissed them without their consent. Buzzfeed reported that four contestants in the 1997 Miss Teen USA beauty pageant said Trump walked through the dressing room while the teens - some as young as 15 - were changing.
On Twitter, Trump denied the allegations in The Times and People. Buzzfeed said he didn't respond to an inquiry.
Trump's reaction to the Access Hollywood tape is an excuse that women have heard before. The "just locker-room talk" rationalization is one of several outrageous notions that men and their employers draw from when they're looking to downplay their misogyny or harassment. Other excuses include saying the harasser was suffering a midlife crisis, that he was just flirting, or even that it was the fault of women who needed to buck up and "get along" with a powerful executive.
Trump in this instance has not been accused of harassment related to the conversation with Bush -- he's just glomming on to an excuse that harassers sometimes use. But let's be clear: The words we use matter, and we make a mistake when we allow powerful people to dismiss predatory talk or action as innocent chatter among the guys.
(We will leave for another day the discussion about all this having occurred while Trump and Bush were at work -- not shooting the breeze while waiting for the water to warm up at the showers of the local gym. Bush, who has been suspended indefinitely by NBC News, where he'd been an anchor at the Today Show, is reportedly in exit negotiations with the network. I don't need to tell you that Trump's spot at the top of his own organization will never be imperiled - at least not by anyone clueless enough to try to seek justice by strolling into Trump's HR office to accuse him of harassment or anything else).
While the locker-room nonsense may be the dumbest excuse ever for bad behavior by men, it isn't the only one. When I wrote my book about sexual harassment on Wall Street, "Tales From the Boom-Boom Room," I came across a classic collection of rationalizations for harassment, not the least of which was that it was somehow the fault of women who couldn't get along with the men who were harassing them.
In the Garden City, N.Y. Smith Barney branch that housed a basement party room known as the Boom-Boom Room, the incessantly vulgar talk of the branch manager ranged from referring to the entire branch as a "whorehouse" to calling the all-women corps of sales assistants "a pack of humps," according to court documents. The branch manager, Nick Cuneo, and Smith Barney would wind up being sued for harassment and discrimination in 1996, which ultimately cost the firm $150 million in payouts to women.
Garden City broker Pamela K. Martens told me that after she wrote to the CEO to complain about the way women were being treated, a human resource executive from headquarters came to meet with them. The HR boss's advice: "Try to get along with Nick." As a consolation prize, Cuneo treated the women to a free aerobics class.
I'm guessing it won't come as a surprise that the non-response did nothing to stem bad behavior in an office where court records say women were openly called whores, bitches, tramps and worse. Martens, who objected to the ultimate settlement that precluded plaintiffs from having a court trial, never got a penny from the fight.
Even more over-the-top than the notion that women should strive to get along better with harassing bosses is the idea that they should have sympathy for a harasser. A woman in the Walnut Creek, California, Smith Barney branch was cornered early one morning by a male broker who began putting his hand up her skirt. The assault ended when another colleague arrived at the office.
The branch manager's reaction: the assaulter should be left alone because he was having a mid-life crisis.
Another doozy: The time a Smith Barney employee in Berkeley, California, complained about a male boss who would from time to time spread his legs and tell her to get on her knees "and give me what I want." She reported it to a manager who advised the woman that he was "just flirting," according to court records.
Those insane anecdotes from my book occurred in the late 1990s. And I think it would be fair to say that Trump's attitudes about women are pretty much stuck in the era I was writing about back then.
Trump called Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly a bimbo. When businesswoman Carly Fiorina was still in the primary race, Trump reportedly saw her on television and said "Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?" The Associated Press reported earlier this month that when he ran the reality TV show "The Apprentice," Trump would rate contestants "by the size of their breasts and talked about which ones he'd like to have sex with." (A Trump spokeswoman denied the allegations in the AP story).
Referring to the "pussy" tape released Friday, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a Trump promoter who previously opposed the real estate magnate in the Republican primaries, told CNN on Tuesday "that kind of banter goes around all the time."
By way of explanation, Carson said he'd heard guys talking about their sexual conquests when he was growing up. But Trump didn't make the remarks we're talking about when he was a hormone-addled teenager. He was 59 when the "pussy" talk was memorialized to tape.
Anita Hill, the feminist hero who 25 years ago this week challenged the nomination of then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas based on his alleged sexual harassment, wrote in the Boston Globe Tuesday that Trump's language wasn't "locker room banter" at all. It was "predatory and hostile," she wrote.
That Trump could get this far in a presidential race tells us we have much work left to do if we want to fix the problems Hill brought to the fore a quarter-century ago.