As despicable as Donald Trump’s bragging about his actual sexual assaults and/or attempted sexual assaults of women are, the Access Hollywood sex tape provides a textbook study of how such assaults are aided and abetted by other men.
Listening to the tape, it becomes clear that Donald Trump’s sexual musings would have been much shorter without Billy Bush’s encouragement and fawning admiration. Bush’s first legible response is, “Your girl’s hot as shit. In the purple.” This is in reaction to Trump’s just having bragged about how he had apparently tried to have sex with Bush’s longtime co-worker on Access Hollywood. After relaying that he was spurned by the targeted female, Donald moves onto disparaging her in a sexually objectifying manner.
Had Bush had the inclination to show respect and loyalty for his co-worker, he could have ended it right then by saying something like, “You know, Donald, I’m not comfortable with your referring to my co-worker (insert her name, here for greater effect) in such a degrading manner.”
Instead, Billy encouraged Donald, and it only got worse after that, with Bush crowing, “Yes. The Donald has scored. Whoah my man.” to which Donald replies, “Look at you. You are a p*ssy.”
Sensing a receptive audience, Trump goes on to confide that as a star, he can kiss and grab women by the p*ssy.
Having had his manhood questioned by being called a “p*ssy,” Bush re-assures Donald by adding, “Whatever you want.” Then just to re-assert his own “manhood,” Bush decides to join in the act by referring to the female colleague (off the bus) whom Donald has shifted his ogling eyes to, in equally objectifying ways, e.g. “Yeah those legs. All I see is the legs.” Then just to leave no doubt that Donald has his “permission,” Bush says “Get out of the way honey. Oh that’s good legs. Go ahead.”
Moments later, once Ariana Zucker seeks to assert her personhood by greeting Donald and giving her name, Donald and Billy engage in a mock competition to re-sexualize her by each demanding that she “hug” them, all the while with Bush asking her, “Now if you had to choose, honestly, between one of us. Me or the Donald, who would it be?” Reacting to this later in the press, Ariana Zucker reflects:
“How we treat one another, whether behind closed doors, locker rooms or face to face, should be done with kindness, dignity and respect. Unfortunately, there are too many people in power who abuse their position and disregard these simple principles and are rewarded for it.”
In actually, Billy and Donald were following a tried and true ritual: mutually re-assuring each other of their masculinity by objectifying and sexually degrading women. For Bush, this task clearly trumps any loyalty he might have to a longtime former co-worker. He’s much more concerned with bolstering his own manly reputation to the manly Donald. And Donald was getting what he seems to expect from those who serve him: permission to degrade and sexually assault women should he choose to do so. In social studies parlance, this is referred to as “male peer support for sexual assault.”
Studies of men who have committed sexual assaults find that they often find encouragement from male peers who aid and abet their sexist attitudes and behavior toward women.
As one study of college men found, “The data strongly suggests that sexually abusive male undergraduates’ peers encourage them to assault their girlfriends or dating partners.” The researchers conclude that male peer support serves two important functions for rapists or potential rapists, first as an aspect of social learning whereby men teach one another about their expected roles as men, and secondly as a component of “effective guardianship” in which potential perpetrators are informed whether they are likely to be encouraged or punished by acting out the sexual assaults that they are openly ruminating. Viewed with this lens, men like Donald Trump’s proclamations about sexual domination (e.g. “I can do whatever I want to do”) are not “just words” as he would have us believe but important ways for him to seek affirmation for what he has already likely done and what he apparently seeks to justify doing in the future. This logic helps us to see that Billy Bush’s responses to Trump are not just the immature responses of someone who has been placed in an unfortunate situation by a powerful man but an important way that men’s power is promoted and re-affirmed at the expense of women. It is easy for some to condemn Donald Trump as an exceptionally misogynistic man, Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham points out that it is far harder to recognize the complicity of his enablers, who have multiplied exponentially beyond Billy Bush.