Donald Trump is about as far from a feminist President as we could have possibly asked for. The perfect foil to feminist icon, Hilary Clinton, in 2016, Trump rose to fame and power not just in spite of the nearly two dozen accusations of sexual misconduct against him, but perhaps also because of them. The leaked Access Hollywood tape of the future President declaring that he likes to grab women “by the pussy” was supposed to tank his political career. It didn’t.
The Trump presidency has been a disaster for women. The most long-term consequences will likely come from the courts. Women’s rights are on the line in states across the country, and soon in the Supreme Court.
On the coattails of the blue wave that began in 2018 in response to Trump, which included an unprecedented number of women running (and winning) office, Democrats were poised to offer women some relief.
Instead, out of a field that included candidates like Kristin Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren, we got Joe Biden.
Now, American feminists are faced with an increasingly nauseating task—deciding which (alleged) rapist to vote for.
On an episode of left-wing podcast The Katie Halper Show former Biden staffer Tara Reade recounted an instance of Biden sexually assaulting her. At the time, Reade worked as a staff assistant in Biden’s Senate office in 1993, managing the office interns.
"He penetrated me with his fingers. He was kissing me at the same time.."
According to Reade, the incident took place when she was asked to deliver a gym bag to the Senator.
“He said ‘Come here, Tara’ and he smiled at me and greeted me,” she told the New York Times.
Then, she says Biden pushed her up against a wall and began kissing her.
“It happened at once,” she said, “and that’s what's so hard about telling this story. He’s talking to me, and his hands are everywhere, and everything is happening at once and very quickly. This happened in like under two minutes.”
Reade claims that Biden used his knee to spread her legs. Then, “he took, it felt like, one or two fingers and inserted them in my vagina,” she says.
“He went down my skirt, but then up inside it. And he penetrated me with his fingers. He was kissing me at the same time.”
Reade says she “wasn’t kissing him back, I completely froze up.”
“Come on man, I heard you liked me?” Read says Biden asked her. She didn’t reply, but she says she must have had a certain look on her face, she told reporters. “When I looked in his eyes he was angry,” she recounted.
“He pointed his finger at me and he goes, ‘You’re nothing to me. Nothing.’”
Reade left and cleaned herself up in a bathroom (she doesn’t remember which one). The next vivid memory she has is of trying to calm down.
“I was trying to pull myself together in the back stairs of the Russell building with those big windows. I remember just sitting on the stairs, and nobody was there, and my whole body was just shaking, literally, I couldn’t control my shaking. I remember just being so cold, so cold.”
"You’re nothing to me. Nothing."
Reade filed a complaint for sexual harassment with one of the Senate offices (she doesn’t remember which one). The complaint did not detail the assault, she says, but rather the culture of harassment and retaliation she received. Within a month, she was removed from her position and was unable to find work on Capitol Hill again.
At the time, Reade told her mom about the incident. Her mom told her to file a police report immediately, and to preserve evidence. Reade says she wanted to pretend it didn’t happen, though. She threw away all of the clothes she was wearing that day, even her shoes. Reade’s mother has since passed, and so did not corroborate the story.
Other friends of Reade’s have been able to corroborate certain parts of Reade’s story. Two of Reade’s friends remember her recounting aspects of the story to them. Senate office interns remember their boss, Reade, leaving the job in the middle of the year without explanation.
There are aspects of Reade’s story and her past which make her more or less believable depending on who you ask. For one, Reade’s story has evolved over time. She says she was initially afraid to tell the whole truth after being doxxed and harassed online. Reade also has a history of praising Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin. She has also previously spoken positively of Biden, even as recently as 2017.
During the nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, another accused rapist, Biden himself expressed solidarity with survivors who come forward to share their stories.
“For a woman to come forward,” he said, “in the glaring lights of focus, nationally, we’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real whether or not she forgets facts, whether or not it’s been made worse or better over time. But nobody fails to understand that this is like jumping into a cauldron.”
On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Mika Brzezinski asked Biden point blank if the incident occurred.
"We’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real."
“No, it is not true. I’m saying unequivocally—it never, never happened,” Biden stated. He called for the National Archive to release any complaints against him, and said he is confident that there are no complaints against him. “It’s an open book, there’s nothing for me to hide,” he said.
When Brzezinski pressed him on his previous support for survivors like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Biden backtracked. “Believing women means taking a woman’s claims seriously when she steps forward and then vetting it,” he argued. “But the truth is what matters and in this case, the truth is, the claims are false.”
Biden has also cited his long record on women’s rights and his strong policy record on violence against women.
It’s not clear if Reade’s accusations against Biden are true or not, but what is clear is that Biden supporters have twisted themselves into knots to try to discredit Reade without looking like massive hypocrites.
Prominent #MeToo activists like actress Alyssa Milano have faced public backlash after supporting Joe Biden while apparently ignoring accusations against him. On April 28, Milano broke her silence on the topic.
“I want Tara, like every other survivor, to have the space to be heard and seen without being used as fodder,” Milano tweeted. “I hear and see you, Tara.”
Other Democrats have been less sympathetic, though. #IBelieveBiden trended on Twitter on Friday, with over 125 thousand tweets (and growing).
Biden’s defenders, many of the same people who rushed to support Dr. Ford in her accusation against then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, are falling into the same old rape myths that Republicans dueled with only a couple years ago.
The accused is a respected member of society. The woman has ulterior motives. She changed her story. She waited too long to report. She didn’t go to the police.
Any genuine feminist analysis is sorely missing from the conversation. When #MeToo activists told us in 2016 to “believe women”, the black and white slogan didn’t leave much room for nuance, let alone one of their own to be accused. Now, “believe women” is apparently out the window. Not that woman.
Democrats are unwilling to accept that they may be no better than the Republicans on this issue. Whatever the facts of Tara Reade’s case are, the fact remains that there is no Women’s Party in the United States. Neither Democrats nor Republicans actively represent the interests of women—they each represent the interests of their base. The Democratic base has been more in line with women’s interests lately, but as soon as Democrats find this no longer politically convenient, the party has no more obligation to women than Republicans do.
So what’s a feminist to do in 2020?
It’s hard to tell a woman, let alone someone who is a survivor herself, that she must vote for the “lesser of two evils” when that evil may be just as much a rapist.
Are there degrees of rapist-ness? Trump has 22 accusations, Biden only has one (although, Biden has a long history of inappropriately touching women in public). Trump brazenly admits his misconduct on camera, Biden actively denies the accusations. Trump is (probably) a rapist and a misogynist who wants to take away women’s rights. Biden may be a rapist, but he is at least, on paper, supportive of women’s rights. Now what?
“Just close your eyes and think of England.”
I’m reminded of the phrase, “Just close your eyes and think of England.” I don’t know where I first heard this phrase, and apparently neither does anyone else. The unattributed quote has a history of being used to encourage women to tolerate unwanted sexual intercourse with their husbands for the sake of the country.
Being a feminist and voting in this election feels much the same. I suppose in November I will just close my eyes, think of America, and try to bring myself to vote for the (alleged) rapist who will do the least harm to women’s rights. I can’t say for certain I’ll be able to finish the task.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Let 2020 be a wake-up call to American women: the two main parties do not represent our interests. American women have been consistently failed by our “brothers” from the very beginning of the American Left.
Women are constantly told to prioritize the struggles of every other group and class above ourselves, and the Democratic Party offers the clearest path to this. Maybe women should collectively put our foot down, striking from party politics as usual—go our own way, as it were—until a party rises to meet women’s needs. A party by and for women, led by women, funded by women, and intolerant of men like Trump and Biden no matter their political bona fides.
Systems, organizations, and political parties built by and for men will always disappoint women in the end. No matter how feminists decide to vote in 2020, this much has been made clear.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, M. K. Fain
Cover photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr