Raping Evelyn

Florence Evelyn Nesbit was a petite girl, with thin hips and a small frame. She was a bit androgynous, with a boyishness about her that photographers found irresistible. Her lush brown hair draped over her shoulders in some photographs, or was piled upon her head in the more adult style in others. When she started modelling as a young teen in the late 1890s, her popularity quickly mounted. She posed for paintings, for classic photographs, for stained glass windows, for magazine ads. Her likeness was placed on postcards and hanged in museums. Evelyn enjoyed the attention, and what teenage girl wouldn’t. She was carving a life for herself away from her controlling mother and sickly brother even while supporting them financially; her father was dead. Soon her work took her to New York, where she could model and pose, sing and dance. She was absolutely lovely.
When millionaire architect Stanford White, who had built famous parts of New York City, took notice, Evelyn was flattered. She was only 15 and he in his 40s. He was portly, with a thick moustache, and married, but he paid special attention to just her, spending months flattering her, entertaining her, and taking her to private dinners, where he would smile and coo at her across the table. He bought her gifts, gave her mother and brother money, and pushed Evelyn on a red velvet swing he kept in a room of his private quarters. He even had Evelyn’s teeth fixed at the dentist, taking away her only flaw in his eyes. And so Evelyn thought little of it the night he drugged her champagne and she woke up naked in his bed, her virginity stolen. He explained that no one could know, that her reputation would be ruined if she spoke a word and that no one would ever want her again, so she mustn’t even tell her mother. Evelyn was 16. Evelyn was far from his only victim.

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But Stanny wasn’t the only millionaire to take notice. Harry Thaw had a sizable monthly income of $8000, drawn from his family’s railroad and coal fortunes, so vast that he didn’t need to work. Harry’s mother kept the family history of insanity quiet from the public, and she overlooked Harry’s habit of luring young women and young men up to his room, where he would force them to get naked, beat them with a riding crop, and sexually assault them. If the victims complained, Harry and his mother could just pay them off to keep them quiet.
Thaw courted Evelyn from afar for several weeks, sending her notes and gifts before introducing himself. Also much older, he worked to convince her that she should be with him, and began sending money to her family so he could Evelyn alone more often. With her mother’s permission, Thaw took Evelyn for weeks to Europe, and he proposed to her multiple times before she finally told him of the loss of her virtue to Stanford White, a man Thaw hated beyond measure. After weeks of violently and obsessively questioning Evelyn about every aspect of the events with White, he finally locked her in a room in a Bavarian castle and beat and raped her over the next few weeks. Evelyn was 17. Thaw would later marry her, after he had her followed, trained her how to act, and made her aware of his consistent demands and the consequences if she did not meet them. He then required her to get her dental work undone.

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In 1906, at Madison Square Garden, Stanford White sat watching a play among a crowd of hundreds, including Evelyn and Harry. As the performers sang the song, “I Could Love a Million Girls”, Harry Thaw walked forward in his tuxedo, drew a gun, and shot White three times, killing him instantly for “ruining” his wife. Thaw was put on trial for murder a few times over the next few years and, declaring temporary insanity, was placed into a mental institution. Despite violent episodes and an escape requiring recapture, he was set free just a few years later, but was soon re-confined after committing more rapes and assaults.
Evelyn herself struggled the rest of her life with mental illness, alcohol and drug addiction, and suicide attempts. She had multiple careers, including, most famously, a touring show where she sang and danced about her husband killing her lover. She lived into her 80s after becoming a grandmother.

The Nesbit-Thaw-White story dominated the newspaper and gossip circuits for years, and reporters called it “The Crime of the Century.” Who could resist a story about a super-model and two millionaires, with all of the sordid details of murder and sex and rape and violence thrown in? The public couldn’t get enough.

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Although this story is well over 100 years old, it is easy to recognize the parallels of money, privilege, abuse, rape culture, misogyny, corrupt justice, exploitation of women and their bodies, internalized homophobia, insanity, and media sensationalism that are alive and well today. Reading this history, in conjunction with the results of the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016, has left me feeling how far we have come as a society at all. Many who abuse and exploit women use the same tactics of grooming, isolation, persistence, excuse-making, blaming, violence, shaming, and threats to get away with their crimes, and the media seems to only pick up on the stories about the millionaires.

America just elected a man who has been accused of sexual assault multiple times, and who has paid off people to drop lawsuits (and yes, I’m aware, Bill Clinton did the same thing). A man who has been heard on a public recording to brag about being rich and able to do what he wants with women, who excuses his actions and words as “locker room talk”, and who regularly rates women on their appearance. A man who buys women gifts hoping to lead them to the bedroom. A man who has publicly bragged about entering the locker rooms of teenage girls and seeing them change. A man who has cheated on his spouses.

I know a great number of people who are in shock right now. Among them are women who have been assaulted, groped, groomed, coerced, silenced, pressured, and abused, who now feel that their government is loudly saying that what has happened to them doesn’t matter and hasn’t mattered. Men have been using these tactics for far too long, and far too many have ended up hurt.

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Billy: the Other White Bush

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I remember Billy Bush.

In my early college years, he would show up on various clips on television, talking about the latest celebrity gossip news and the newest movies. I never gave him much thought. I remember thinking that he was a lot like Ryan Seacrest, a very white guy, moderately good-looking, middle-aged, well-groomed, with a good radio voice, the perfect white guy host for white guy Hollywood.

I remember wondering if he was connected to the Bush family of presidents, and turns out he is, George H.W. Bush is his uncle, and George W. his cousin. Which also means he grew up with a lot of money and privilege. In fact, a quick Google search of his father, Jonathan Bush, shows him to be a prominent and wealthy banker who has had a number of financial scandals over the years, including potential ties to money laundering and illicit Saudi investments. (Jonathan is still alive. He’s 85. And, weirdly, he sounds a little like Donald Trump. Daddy issues?)

Well, suddenly, with that fact, Billy’s kid brother relationship to Donald Trump makes a lot more sense.

A few days ago, a tape from 2005 surfaced. At the time, Billy was in his early 30s, with a career in radio and television established for him. His radio show was called, and I kid you not, Billy Bush and the Bush League Morning Show. After a few co-hosting gigs, Bush moved himself to Los Angeles and got an ongoing gig with Access Hollywood. As a co-anchor, he started raking in the money, and his name became very well known. And on the side, he hosted reality shows and competitions, kept a radio show going, and showed up at various events for reporting, like the Oscars and the Olympics.

Billy married his wife Sydney Davis, in the late 1990s, and they had three daughters. I have no doubt Billy is a loving husband and father, and he has very lovely things to say about his family being in priority in multiple interviews.

Yet somewhere along the way, Billy got connected to his twisted older-brother-father-figure, Donald Trump, a billionaire who often declared bankruptcy, and a man two decades older than Bush. I’m unsure of the true nature of their friendship, but it is clear the two were more than just professional acquaintances. Billy traveled around with Trump, interviewed him on various shows, and he began hosting Donald’s Miss Universe pageants, a job that I’m eerily sure Donald Trump hand-selected him for. And that’s all kinds of creepy. Trump has stated, for example, that he would walk in on his changing contestants to do inspections, and that they couldn’t keep him out because he was the boss; where was Bush with all of this? Participating? Watching from the shadows with that eerie laugh of his? I’m sure there is much more to this story.

Anyway, in 2016, Billy Bush got the ultimate break in his career, when he was upgraded to a host of Today with a nice salary boost. And then, a few months later, his world caved in.

The released 2005 video footage from last weekend, in which Bush and Trump are on a bus with their microphones on, show Donald Trump talking about trying to coerce Billy’s co-host, Nancy O’Dell, into having sex, despite the fact that he was married. He then shames O’Dell’s new look, “fake tits” and all. Billy sits by, laughing consistently and encouraging Donald on, somehow temporarily forgetting his wife and daughters at home. (Donald was also newly married, with a pregnant super-model wife, and was the father of two daughters).

The bus then pulls up to the soap opera set where they are working, and Billy comments on Arianne Zucker, the actress waiting to greet them, and Bush tells Trump that she is “hot as shit”, adding “Yes, the Donald has scored!” Donald grabs some Tic-Tacs in case he wants to forcibly kiss the woman, as Billy keeps laughing, and Donald says how he just starts kissing women, against their will, and even grabs their genitalia, and they let him do it because he’s a star. Billy just keeps laughing, commenting on Zucker’s legs with impeccable English. “That’s good legs.”

They get off the bus, and Billy pushes Zucker into giving Trump a hug. “How about a little hug for the Donald? He just got off the bus.” (Because getting off a bus is such hard work for men, and they clearly deserve a reward. Note: Donald had a hard time opening the bus door). Bush then asks for one himself, “How about a little hug for the Bushy? I just got off the bus.” (Again, hard work, he deserves his reward, right?) Zucker appears uncomfortable, having originally greeted the men professionally, with a handshake, but complies with the hug, cameras rolling the entire time. 

Also, he affectionately calls himself “the Bushy”. This is clearly not the first time he has used this nickname, and I can only presume that he not only thinks it works well for him, but that it has elicited positive results for him with women before and after this, each woman grating with disgust as they moved in for the “Bushy hug” with fake smiles plastered on their faces.

Since this has gone down, Billy has been called names and repeatedly shamed over Twitter by critics who say he is repugnant and disgusting. He has been suspended from his Today show job, and he has offered public apologies, saying he is ashamed. And some feel that this is unfair, that he wasn’t the primary instigator, and that the comments are over a decade old. Many are dismissing them, as Donald keeps saying in presidential addresses, as “locker room talk”.

I’ve been in locker rooms, as a teenager, as a college student, and as a grown-up. I’ve heard men refer to women with lewd statements in such settings. It’s inexcusable, and I have never participated, and when I’m uncomfortable I say something or walk away. For some, talk like this is an every day occurrence. Teenage boys and college frat guys sit around dissing on women and objectifying them.

But here’s where I have a very difficult time with that argument. First, we have to presume that Trump has talked like this with many other men on many other occasions, and we have to presume the same about Bush. We also have to presume that the two of them talked like this often, about co-stars and about Miss Universe contestants. But even if this was an isolated incident, even if this is the only time it ever happened between the two men, it was hardly locker room talk. It’s sexual harassment in the workplace.

What we have, in this video, is pure sexual harassment. Two men in the workplace, one in his thirties and one in his fifties, sitting around and laughing about their female coworkers, relegating them to the status of sexual objects and referring to their, and I quote, “tits” and “pussies.” Lawsuits, terminations, and criminal prosecutions have taken place on less. If their mics had been off, it would be disgusting still, but they did it with their mics on, where anyone could hear them, and with cameras rolling just off the bus. Think about that for a moment.

I will maintain my disdain for Donald Trump and his unfitness to be president. I can only imagine how embarrassed his inner circle is, particularly the women he surrounds himself with, namely  his wife, daughters, and campaign managers.

But this entry isn’t about Donald Trump, it’s about Billy Bush. And he is hardly innocent in all of this as either. Looking past the extreme irony that his last name is also a euphemism for female genitalia, the fact that this man with a decades-long career in Hollywood is being held accountable for his misogynistic and sexist words and actions is absolutely appropriate.

Being a well-meaning, hard-working professional who is also a loving husband and father, does not excuse sexual harassment, even when you shrug it off as locker room talk. Sexism is sexism, and harassment is harassment.

 

8 deplorable responses to Trump’s misogyny

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Last night, the universe was set on fire when footage was leaked of a 2005 video that involved Donald Trump making deplorable statements about women that alluded to sexual assault. I won’t quote the statements here (they are easy to find, and very offensive). Since then, there have been seemingly millions of Tweets, Comments, and Posts about the events, expressing all kinds of opinions. Many of these responses are utterly deplorable. Here are the eight worst categories of response that I came across.

8. Blame Hillary.

Many on the Internet seem to be blaming Hillary Clinton for all of this, basically stating that Donald Trump and Billy Bush are innocent men who were just minding their own business when Hillary master-minded the release of this video to get people to stop talking about their Emails. Completely overlooking the disgusting words to further vilify Hillary… it just blows my mind. Even if she were behind the ‘leak’, it’s a presidential campaign, and it would be a brilliant strategy move.

7. Saying Hillary is still worse.

Many are arguing that even though Trump is a terrible choice for president, he is still a better choice than Hillary Clinton, and thus his words should be excused. I get that people don’t trust Hillary, that they think she is dishonest, and at times even a criminal (I do not share these opinions), but a willingness to excuse misogyny… that is truly terrifying.

6. Saying it’s expected in Hollywood.

Many are excusing Trump because he was in Hollywood, running reality shows and making guest appearances on talk shows and soap operas, and that is just how it is in Hollywood. Trump certainly carved out a little empire in Tinseltown for a number of years, but expecting terrible treatment of women as part of an entire industry and excusing it, even for one person, is despicable.

5. Saying Bill is worse.

There is no doubt that there are many men out there who objectify women and who cheat on their wives, but a lot of people are offering comparisons, saying that what Trump said was bad, but it doesn’t compare to what Bill has done and how Hillary has helped him do it. Trump offered this comparison in his own initial “apology”. While Bill’s infidelity (and yes he also has assault accusations) are inexcusable, that doesn’t mean Trump’s are not.

4. Boys will be boys.

I see many Trump supporters coming out in favor of him, saying Trump is just a typical guy, that this is how men talk, it’s no big deal. Trump himself called this just ‘locker room talk’. He, and they, may very well be correct, but it is the very essence of rape culture, and these words do not belong to a presidential candidate.

3. It was a long time ago.

There are posts excusing Trump because the statements were made ten years ago. Three responses I have to that: 1. Every presidential candidate is subject to fine-tooth-comb searches of their history that are then used to determine their fitness to be president. 2. The fact that it happened ten years ago doesn’t make it any less vile. Trump had just married his super-model wife, his third marriage, the same year. 3. This is hardly the only negative statement Trump has made about women; the statements are consistent, 30, 20, 10, 5, and 2 years ago, and they are consistent now.

2. His words are excusable because he has everything else right.

Many people feel that even though they don’t like his statements about women, he has enough else right (immigrant and Muslim banning, punishing women who have abortions, etc) that it is worth having him in the White House. Imagine the people he would staff the White House with. Imagine how he would treat female foreign leaders and their spouses. Imagine him being in charge. His words are not excusable.

1. He’s right, good for him.

A large number of Trump supporters seem to not only not be ashamed by Trump’s words, but seem to agree with him, support him, and celebrate him, believing that women ought to be objectified and subject to dominant men who take what they want. And that is simply the most disgusting response of all. And there is a lot of it.

In other news, we see a lot of people finally dropping their support of Trump after this latest debacle, and I’m left wondering how it was they kept their support for him after every other thing he has said.

With the last presidential debates, I was unexpectedly a ball of anxiety. For the one taking place tomorrow evening, I’m making popcorn.