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Maxine Waters’s Women’s Convention keynote: “We’re waging our own war against rape and sexual harassment”

The Congress member had a message for women — and for predatory men.

Rep. Maxine Waters at a press conference in January
Rep. Maxine Waters at a press conference in January.
Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images
Anna North is a senior correspondent for Vox, where she covers American family life, work, and education. Previously, she was an editor and writer at the New York Times. She is also the author of three novels, including the New York Times bestseller Outlawed.

DETROIT — “We’re waging our own war against rape and sexual harassment,” said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA). “We’re waging a war against the perverts who believe we can be misused or exploited in the interests of a job, or recognition, or even so-called love.”

Waters was delivering the keynote speech of the Women’s Convention on Saturday, at a luncheon held in her honor. She mentioned equal pay, paid parental leave, and other issues important to many of the women (and men) in attendance. But much of her speech was devoted to an issue that had captured a great deal of attention at the convention, beginning with speeches by #MeToo campaign founder Tarana Burke and actress Rose McGowan during the opening session. That issue was sexual harassment.

“It is very fortuitous that we are gathered here this afternoon in Detroit as we continue to witness a record number of women who are boldly coming forward to reveal disturbing and grotesque acts of sexual harassment, assault, and rape, oftentimes at the hands of men who believed they were too rich and too powerful to ever be confronted or held accountable,” Waters said.

“We’ve learned that it's not only Hollywood actresses and entertainers who have been targeted and assaulted by such perverted and disgusting people,” she said, going on to point out that politicians, nurses, women in the military, and others “have now boldly come forward with their own ‘me too’ stories.”

Like McGowan, Waters connected the #MeToo campaign and women’s experiences of sexual harassment to the behavior of President Trump, whom she called “the most dishonorable and despicable human being to ever serve in the office of the president.” She mentioned the Access Hollywood tape, allegations of sexual assault against Trump, and Trump’s treatment of women politicians, including his “stalking” of Hillary Clinton at the second presidential debate. Trump’s behavior “sends a message to men and young boys out there that if the president of the United States can get away with it, so can I,” Waters said.

Her message for women: Speak up, and support each other. “At the top of our agenda at this convention,” she said, “there must be an effort to strengthen women’s courage and inspire them to continue to come forward and reveal the abuses that they have silently endured.”

She also recalled Clinton’s revelation in her recent book that she considered confronting Trump directly when he was looming behind her. “When anybody does that to you and any of these men try and intimidate you,” Waters said, “just remember what Hillary should have said: ‘Creep, get off my back!’”

And though Waters was speaking to an audience that was largely composed of women, she also had a message for predatory men: “Keep your nasty comments away from us, keep your tricks and your lies to yourself, and keep your hands off our backs and our goddamn bodies.”

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