At some point in her life, nearly every woman you know has been told by a man who is either a stranger or relatively distant acquaintance to “just smile.”

Female celebrities are scrutinized for not appearing grateful enough on the red carpet or while accepting awards, pegged with “resting bitch-face” syndrome. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has faced this critique hundreds, if not thousands, of times during her bid for presidency, and frankly during her entire career as a politician. I faced it from a boy at the SERF who I recently learned is named Alec Cook.

When I received a screenshot of the news of Cook’s arrest for sexual assault, strangulation, false imprisonment and battery last Tuesday, it took no time for me to recognize his face as the same one which had grinned at me, and so many other women, through the machines and mirrors in the weight room at the SERF. Early my sophomore year, after blatantly ignoring his smirk as I’d learned to do, he crooned, “Hey, why don’t you just smile?”

Third victim comes forward in sexual assault case against CookA third victim has come forward in the sexual assault case against University of Wisconsin senior Alec Cook. Cook is Read…

The last month has been an exceptionally tumultuous time to be a woman, but empowering in so many ways. Regardless of political beliefs, women across the country felt the weight of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s crude narrative, proclaiming ownership of our bodies and sexuality.

The released audio has sparked a nationwide conversation and debate on rape culture, one which has led prominent politicians to revoke their endorsements, repeal their support and speak out on a national sexual assault epidemic which is perpetuated by this very sort of “locker room talk.” Trump’s costar Billy Bush left NBC after the network released a statement condemning his language and behavior, and Bush was forced out of a new contract which would have paid him $3 million a year.

That felt good to watch.

On the national stage, 11 women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct, including unwanted kissing and groping. Despite his vehement denial, childish “five minutes of fame” rhetoric and empty threats of lawsuits, these women have held their ground and continue to come forward one after the next. If there was a final nail in the coffin of the Trump candidacy, it was this.

That feels even better.

On campus, Cook’s initial arrest was immediately followed by a second, and then third, survivor approaching campus authority about their history of sexual assault with Cook. After being released a few days after his first arrest, Cook turned himself in, and he currently faces a staggering seven counts of sexual assault.

For all of this to seemingly come to head all at once shouldn’t be written off as a coincidence. Each time a sexual assault victim comes forward is equally as devastating, but we might be seeing the first few slivers of a silver lining. It seems as though, at long last, we are beginning to hold men accountable for rape culture rather than hemlines, blood alcohol content and lipstick.

University of Wisconsin under federal investigation for handling of sexual assault casesWith three open federal investigations into possible violations in handling sexual assault cases, the University of Wisconsin has the fourth highest Read…

Erin Thornley-Parisi, executive director of the Dane County Rape Crisis Center, told The Daily Beast the extensive coverage of Trump’s rough history with sexual assault and the exceedingly brave women who have stepped into the spotlight to demand accountability might have played a role in the events unfolding in Cook’s case.

In large part, this is due to the fact that national media is taking these accusations seriously, signaling to women across the country and women on our campus that if they report sexual assault, they will not be alone. As Thornley-Parisi said, “It’s possible that women are just feeling like, ‘People are going to have my back on this.’”

Rape culture will prevail so long as women are forced to answer for it, so the fact that we can finally see men squirming under the weight of their own wrongdoings is a well-deserved breath of fresh air.

Trump and Bush are paying the price for their “boyish” word vomit in the form of thousands of votes, and a lost job. Cook is paying for his grave mistake, believing his physical strength qualified him to control the smilies and bodies of women, with likely jail-time and expulsion.

Women are watching, standing, refusing to be seated and refusing to be silenced.