What the Trump and Cosby Allegations Reveal About Rape Culture

Perhaps these allegations will help Americans accept the truth about sexual assault

Ivana Trump once accused her then husband of rape, later saying she didn't mean "literal or criminal" rape. Credit: Tom Gates/Getty

On the heels of New York magazine's moving interview and photo project with nearly three dozen women who've publicly accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, The Daily Beast published a reminder this week that Ivana Trump once made similar accusations against her then-husband, Donald. According to the 1993 book Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump by Harry Hurt III, Ivana says Donald once tore at her hair and clothes while forcing himself on her; Ivana then cried all night in terror and later called the incident "rape" to friends and, eventually, lawyers, during the couples' divorce proceedings.

Ivana soon walked back her claim, saying she didn't mean "literal or criminal" rape. And this week she called the story "totally without merit." Trump's lawyer, meanwhile, took a much weirder approach to deflecting the story, threatening a Daily Beast reporter – "what I'm going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting" – and claiming, wrongly, that one cannot rape one's spouse.

Regardless of what happened that night, what's undeniable is that Donald Trump is a sexist pig of the first order. As Anna Holmes detailed in The Washington Post in 2011, before these allegations reemerged, Trump has a stunning track record of misogynist behavior: vetting Miss USA contestants for perceived hotness, bragging about keeping Ivana's "arrogance" in check, calling female journalists who criticize him ugly, sneering at women for having sex while preening about what a stud he is for doing the same, and joking about how wives are things to be discarded when you get tired of them.

And then there are his comments about his daughter, Ivanka: "[S]he does have a very nice figure. I've said if she wasn't my daughter, perhaps I'd be dating her."

Trump's continued presence in the Republican race has in some ways been a godsend to the Democratic Party (not to mention late-night hosts). Now, with this erupting scandal, it's also an educational opportunity for the rest of us: We have a chance to talk about what, exactly, makes men rape.

This is what's been missing from the conversation about rape that's been so prominent in the media in recent years. Most of the focus, understandably, has been on victims: what they need to survive, what kind of justice they're seeking, what it takes for them to be believed. But we've hardly spoken at all about what's running through a man's head when he chooses to force himself on a woman, even though that is, in many ways, the central question here – if men chose not to rape, it wouldn't happen in the first place.

There's this myth that lingers in American society that rape is just a matter of men getting a little too excited about sex and forgetting to get consent first. Many people still talk about rape like it's a thing men do by accident, perhaps because they were confused. Or they blame "hook-up culture" for rape, suggesting that the overabundance of lust in the world is the problem, rather than men deliberately choosing to have sex with women who are unwilling or unable to consent.

But the stories of these alleged rapes by Donald Trump and Bill Cosby paint a very different picture. They remind us that there are men in this world who know exactly what they're doing – men who rape not because they were just really horny that day and lost control, but because they enjoy overpowering women.

It's also easy to see how rape fits into a larger overall pattern of male entitlement with regards to women. Because while the rape allegations against these two men remain unproven in a court of law, what is undeniable is that they've both been complete asshats to women in a general sense.

In a 2005 deposition Cosby gave to defend himself against allegations of sexual abuse, he comes across – unwittingly or not – as an arrogant sexist who thinks of women as toys to be played with rather than autonomous people. It's not just his sexual exploits, which even by his own account seem largely predicated on trying to get reluctant women into bed – he also routinely expresses contempt for women's ability to make their own choices about things like career and education.

Maybe these rape allegations, as hard as they are to hear about, will serve as a wake-up call, helping Americans realize that rape isn't a result of excessive lust or a too-casual sexual environment. It's the result of male entitlement, plain and simple.