Real costs

And all this groping and copping and leering and following isn’t just a nuisance, unpleasant, irksome – it works as a kind of purdah, restricting us in ways we shouldn’t be restricted (in ways men are not restricted). Amanda Taub in the Times calls it a tax.

The leaked footage of Donald J. Trumpboasting of sexually harassing and assaulting women is just one particularly notable example of an all-too-common phenomenon: Far too many men treat women’s bodies as if they are fair game for anyone who happens to encounter them.

This kind of behavior isn’t just offensive; it also imposes real costs on women. The burden of avoiding and enduring sexual harassment and assault results, over time, in lost opportunities and less favorable outcomes for girls and women. It is effectively a sort of gender-specific tax that many women have no choice but to pay.

How do you avoid assault when it’s ubiquitous? You stay home, or you go out only if someone can go with you, or you avoid particular situations. It’s all a tax, it’s all purdah.

Dangers that common are practically impossible to ignore, and many women have had no option but to learn how to protect themselves in such an environment. As my Times colleague Amanda Hess put it, “When Trump is alone with the guys he brags about assaulting women. When women are alone together we warn each other about men like him.”

From an early age, many American women absorb the message, subtle but unmistakable, that they cannot assume others will prevent or stop men from groping, harassing or even assaulting them, so it is their job to anticipate and avoid such acts.

Schools, parents and society at large tell women to take “personal responsibility” for their safety, even if that means limiting their own freedom.

And of course it always does mean limiting their own freedom. Don’t go out alone, don’t go to this park or that area, don’t drink, don’t don’t don’t.

Whereas men can freely seize an opportunity, women must pause and weigh the costs. Here are some examples of the questions women may ask themselves:

■ Is it worth accepting a professor’s offer for one-on-one research mentorship on the assumption that his interest in me is strictly academic?

■ At a business dinner, when drinking gets heavy and the clients start to seem awfully friendly, is it worth staying in the hope that the sale will close and things won’t turn uncomfortable, or worse?

■ At a conference, when networking happens late, at a bar, and the conversation starts to turn, is it worth staying to make valuable professional connections?

And so on. Men don’t have to ask themselves those questions.

If you watch the leaked 2005 “Access Hollywood” video closely, you can see the tax in action. Mr. Trump and Billy Bush, the host of the segment, approach Arianne Zucker, an actress, and request hugs. After she stiffly complies, Mr. Bush demands, over her obvious discomfort, that she choose which man she would prefer for a date.

It’s impossible to know precisely what Ms. Zucker was thinking, but she looks far from pleased by the line of questioning.

However, despite her unease, she complies. Refusing the hugs or ignoring the question would have risked angering two powerful men, which could have had consequences for her job.

They treated her like a bimbo, and she had to go along with it.

These taxes are the broader cost of the kind of behavior Mr. Trump boasted about in the leaked footage. Sometimes that cost is the pain and humiliation felt by the women who men directly grope, kiss and harass. But it’s also the aggregate losses of all the women who stayed home, who stepped back, who didn’t take an opportunity because that would have meant risking pain or humiliation that, at the time, just didn’t seem quite worth it.

It may well not be worth it – but that’s the tax. It’s as if all men’s opportunities came with a decent chance of being bitten by a tiger. Many such opportunities would seem not quite worth it…and that would be a tax.

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