October 14, 2016
The Trainwreck Files: Arianne Zucker
by Sady Doyle
It’s time for the second installment of our new series The Trainwreck Files, in which the mighty Sady Doyle—author of Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear… And Why—looks at a figure from the headlines and answers the question: Are they a trainwreck? Because America is crawling its way to the electoral finish line, and, hey, we might as well learn something.
The point of hugging Arianne Zucker was to humiliate her. Just prior to the hug, Donald Trump had (infamously) been secured away in a bus, chattering to Billy Bush about the advantages of fame, most of which appeared to be the advantages of being a man and living in rape culture: “When you’re a star, they let you do it. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” Bush happily guffawed along, and encouraged Trump to give an appraisal of Zucker’s grabbable qualities before they met with her. She was “a hot piece of ass,” Bush volunteered. Trump floated the possibility of forcing a kiss on her: “It looks nice.”
That’s a very telling pronoun: It. A thing; a toy, with which these two men could play their little games. Off the bus, of course, Bush not-so-subtly pressured Zucker to let the two men touch her, hugging her, playing little games about who got to hold which of her arms as they walked around the set. It was a power play, made more visceral by the fact that Zucker had no way of knowing what the two men really intended, or of the fact that they were laughing at her behind her back — a way of getting one over on her, of proving how powerless women really are in a world where “they” let Donald Trump do these things.
Well: They’re not letting him any more. Zucker has, if anything, emerged as a culture hero in the past few days, the woman whose humiliation finally took Trump down. Since the tape, woman after woman after woman has come forward to accuse Trump of sexually assaulting her — forcing kisses, grabbing pussies, and so on. And, while Zucker has mentioned that it’s painful to see her eleven-year-old humiliation constantly replayed on cable news—especially since she’s just now learning that it was humiliation—she’s kept her dignity intact throughout.
“I want to teach my daughter that if she ever gets in a situation like mommy is in right now that she will hold her head high as well,” Zucker told the Today show.
Trainwrecks are women who lose control of their narratives — whose right to tell their story is taken from them, and whose humiliation thereby becomes mass entertainment. And there was certainly a time when Zucker’s humiliation entertained Trump. But when the camera shifts to a new angle—when we look not at the humiliation, but at exactly what kind of person enjoys causing it—we begin a new kind of story, one in which the women who survive it all are the most admirable characters in the whole sordid thing.
Verdict: Definitely not a trainwreck.
Sady Doyle founded the blog Tiger Beatdown in 2008. Her work has appeared in In These Times, The Guardian, Elle.com, The Atlantic, Slate, Buzzfeed, Rookie, and lots of other places around the Internet. Her first book, Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear... And Why is out now from Melville House.