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.

the first Mrs. Trump

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Donald Trump has been in the spotlight for years. He likes it there. He likes the attention and the controversy. He likes being found charming and important. He pushes for it, and when he pushes too hard, well, then, he shrugs and changes the subject. And when people get critical of him, disapprove of him, or question him, well, he gets revenge. He’s gotten very good at that over the years.

I’ve found myself curious about the origins of Trump lately, about this man who I found obnoxious and entertaining as the host of the Apprentice, and who I find megalomaniacal and insane as a presidential candidate; where did he come from? Though I’m an avid devourer of biographies, his name hasn’t come up in a single book I’ve ever read, and I read a lot. I spent some time last night watching old footage from the 80s and 90s about Trump and his career and life before he became a reality television star.

Trump was the middle child of five in a very wealthy real estate family, and with a father who was frequently in court for various reasons. The footage I saw showed Donald as a poorly behaved child who frequently taunted teachers and his siblings, a kid who made frequent demands until his parents sent him to military school at 13, where Donald learned discipline in academics, how to be popular with the guys (apparently he loved baseball), and how to enjoy beautiful women. According to him, he was quite the ladies’ man back then. Trump stated that he learned business and real estate from his father, by just listening while growing up, and he quickly took big risks in investing in properties and turning them around for profit.

Then on a trip to Canada for the Olympics, he met an athlete and a super model, Ivana Zelnickova, who was born in Czechoslovakia. She grew up an Olympic-level skier and worked as a model for fur companies in Canada, where she moved after a failed marriage, and then she met and married a young Donald Trump. Ivana was a partner in many of his first, and most famous, business dealings, including the Taj Mahal Casino and the Grand Hyatt Hotel. Between the years 1977 and 1984, she and Donald had three children: Donald Jr, Ivanka, and Eric, and many argue that she raised the children pretty much solely on her own; she is now an involved grandmother of 8. Ivana continued running parts of the business and managing properties.

Rumors of Donald having affairs must have plagued her for years, but one stood out more than the others: a long-term affair with beauty queen Marla Maples. Ivana confronted Marla and got the proof she needed. Ivana filed for divorce and it got very ugly for a time as the two battled it out in the courts and the tabloids. There were rumors of more affairs, a disputed prenuptial agreement, rumors of domestic violence, accusations of assault and rape against Donald, and the death of Ivana’s father during the process before things finally settled, and Ivana walked away with several million dollars. Things stayed tense as Ivana’s third marriage fell apart two years later, and more lawsuits and rumors flashed through the headlines. (There was a fourth marriage with subsequent struggles years later). Ivana’s divorce from Donald alleged a marital rape, and “cruel and inhuman treatment” by Donald toward her.

Ivana is now 67 years old, and she in many ways mirrors the journey of Trump himself; honestly, the two seem like relatively kindred spirits. She has stayed in the public headlines with her own reality shows, she has launched clothing lines and written books, and she offers semi-frequent media interviews. While she has remained largely silent during Trump’s campaign for presidency, she occasionally offers quips to the media, commenting on Melania’s speech abilities or on how Donald didn’t help her raise the kids but she has remained strangely silent about the recent womanizing allegations.

Ivana does, however, believe Trump should be president, that he would be great at it, and that he was always meant to be a politician. In one interview, she blamed the Marla Maples scandal for disrupting Trump’s political plans, because the world hated Trump at the time of the divorce.

Although, even after researching, I still don’t know about the woman who defined Donald Trump’s early life, understanding her helps me better understand him.

And it doesn’t make me any less scared of a Trump presidency.

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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.