There aren’t many things spookier than a silent Manhattan, except maybe the reason behind the quiet: Donald Trump had been elected president.
Running on jet lag and fear, I stayed up all night watching the election results come in from my parents’ basement in New Jersey. It was just after 3:00 a.m. when the call was made and I felt like I had been punched in the gut.
The next day, I stared blankly out the window of my taxi from Port Authority to my apartment on 3rd Ave. The sidewalks were just as crowded as any November day, but it felt haunted. There was a chilling silence on the streets. It was as if everyone was too shocked to form the words – I know I couldn’t.
I grew up very privileged. Aside from the fact that I’m a white woman, my parents are very well off and I grew up in a town with an acclaimed public education system. Besides the usual middle school bullying and general feeling of not belonging, I hadn’t experienced much hardship in my life. But when I was 15 - before I even knew who I was as a woman - I was sexually assaulted and it changed the entire map of my life moving forward. Because of that, for my entire adult and most of my adolescent life, I have felt in some capacity that my existence as a woman was threatened.
The night following Election Day, I was at a concert in Times Square - an event I committed to when I thought the day would be filled with celebration. Despite what was happening in the world outside, I mostly enjoyed myself and just focused on the music. But at some point when I was walking through the crowd, a guy around my age grabbed my butt. I spun around and told him not to fucking touch me and he smirked, shrugged and said, “What? It’s cool now.” It had been less than 24 hours and I was already feeling the early shots from this administration’s war on women. This sort of behavior had been given the stamp of approval by the Commander in Chief.
I remember quite clearly the day the Billy Bush tapes were released - a day that would have had more than a footnote in the history books had Trump lost the election. Because I am a decent person who believes in equality, I was anti-Trump long before he announced his campaign. But his existence didn’t affect me much prior to him throwing on that Make America Great Again hat, and I understand that is due to my white privilege. Though the fact that he was still able to have even a sliver of a career after leading the Birther Movement against Obama still makes me sick.
Hearing those tapes for the first time brought back to the surface a lot of feelings I had been working to overcome since I was 15. But I foolishly thought that they would be enough to drag down any remaining chance Trump had of becoming president; that the vocabulary in them would highlight how big of an issue sexual assault is. But roughly half the country decided that bragging about sexually assaulting women was not enough of a reason to not elect someone as president, and I have spent the past year feeling threatened by that revelation. It took years to finally feel like a normal person again after my first sexual assault, and the last twelve months have made all the effort feel like wasted time and energy. It’s hard to feel OK when it’s been proven that people in this country would rather a man assault a woman than trust a woman’s competence and elect her into office.
Throughout all the chaos and the never-ending bad news cycle, I’ve found continuous comfort every night on NBC at 12:37 a.m. As someone who works in media and entertainment, I always did my best to keep up with all the late night shows, but hardly ever made an effort to stay up and watch one in its entirety. But the closer we got to Election Day, the more I found myself on the Late Night with Seth Meyers YouTube page every morning, catching up on A Closer Look – which by fall had me staying up past my bedtime four times a week.
So on November 9th as I rode a somber R train back to my apartment, I frantically kept checking my phone to make sure I’d be home in time for Late Night. I sat on the edge of my bed with a box of donuts (because calories don’t count when you’re worried about the fate of your existence) and violently sobbed following Seth’s monologue that night. This part really got to me:
“I do really feel for the parents who had to explain this to their kids this morning—especially parents with daughters because a lot of them, like me, probably thought Hillary would be our first woman president. But she won’t be. But that does mean—that does mean—that someone’s daughter is out there right now who will one day have that title. . .The fact is, we don’t know who you are, but I imagine this moment today will be a defining one for you. One that will make you work harder, and strive farther, and whoever you are, I hope I live to see your inauguration. And I hope my mom does, too. She was really excited yesterday, and. . . I was really sad for her.”
After a day of feeling so vulnerable and defeated, it was nice to know I had a right to be those things. When Seth signed off his monologue that night by warning Trump that he and his Late Night staff would be watching him, I believed him and he has not disappointed. His show has become a necessary part of my nightly routine. When every single day feels worse than the last, it’s comforting to end the day with laughs – without feeling like I’m being spoken down to. While the majority of late night shows have stuck to their formula and white man voice, Late Night is consistently giving the microphone – both literally and tonally – to women. The Harvey Weinstein scandal is a perfect example. While white men condemning Weinstein’s acts is important, so is giving the women a chance to speak – which is what Seth did when he invited three of his female writers out to talk about sexual harassment from their perspective. As someone who has felt like the last decade of her life has been defined by sexual misconduct, it meant a lot to me. Equally meaningful to me was two days later, when Seth dedicated his A Closer Look to Systemic Sexism and the parallels between Trump and Weinstein:
“There are predators of all political persuasions and in both parties. This should not be a partisan issue. And moreover, the onus should not be on women to stop harassers, and women should not be held accountable for the predatory behavior of men. This is a problem with systemic misogyny and male entitlement and men need to speak up and address their complicity in the system that allows this to happen. You want to argue that Harvey Weinstein is just as bad as Donald Trump? Great! Harvey Weinstein has, after far too long, been found out and fired. Donald Trump has been found out for a year and we’re still waiting.”
Once again, after a week of feeling crushed by the headlines and being forced to relive some of the worst moments in my life, I found comfort in a late night talk show – something that by definition is for entertainment. But in the past year, all forms of media have taken on a higher responsibility, and it was by finding the voice that spoke to me that I realized my job may not be as stupid as I often used to write it off to be.
I run a magazine called NKD, which is aimed primarily at young women. The week following the election, I wrote a piece saying that if one person felt inspired by at least one person I chose to feature, I had done my job. I wrote about women who use their positions for good and encourage diversity, acceptance and honesty. But I didn’t feel confident that I was doing a good job. Now I do. I’ve accepted that I have a voice, and a platform, and with that platform I’ve been more particular than ever about who I choose to feature. I know it means something to people when they find people in the magazine whose stories speak to them. I don’t take that responsibility lightly anymore. Some days I don’t know what I can do beyond using my platform to speak about my experiences or give my platform to others with something to say, but while some days feel helpless, most days that feels like enough.
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