I’m a woman. So despite growing up in locker rooms, my experience with locker room talk is likely quite different than Mr. Trump’s. Or any man’s for that matter. I’m guessing my experience with sexual assault is a little different too. To understand why this whole “locker room talk” issue is so important to me, we have to start the story back when I was much younger….
Girls Locker Room: Middle School
The locker room was where I mastered the art of replacing my regular bra with my sports bra, and then back again without ever exposing a breast: a critical skill of the times. It was also a place with dry showers.Very few were comfortable enough to fully expose our bodies. They were growing in weird places, with hair and odors, and some of us were able to get pregnant now which didn’t make ANY sense because we were children ourselves.
Boys and grown men were suddenly giving us attention for our bodies. We like the attention, but its confusing. Our bodies never really mattered before. Now they seemed to affect everything. We noticed how the world expected a female’s body to be perfect. And we knew OUR body was NOT perfect. We did suspect that the body of girl at the locker next to us was closer to perfect. So we wished our bodies were more like hers.
Locker room talk was an awkward exploration of a sudden awareness of our bodies. A battleground for self-consciousness vs. self-acceptance and jealousy vs. friendship. The building blocks of the shared female experience. The locker room was a safe and terrifying place. We were most fully aware of our gender there.
It was about our body. It was about who we are. It was important.
Ladies Locker Room: High School
Unlike for our aunts and mothers, high school sports had become more than a new thing we were allowed to do. We loved competing. We loved being part of a team. We loved the new strength and athleticism in our bodies. There was a different kind of respect forming for our bodies from ourselves and from the world. That felt important.We talked about how sore we were, how tough we were, and how we might move our bodies differently in the next game. It was about being competitive, strategic, STRONG. We built each other up and felt real strength…physically, mentally and socially.
It was about our body. It was about who we are. It was important.
The Locker Room: The Dirty Details
We talked about sex. Described sexual activities graphically, explicitly. The older girls had experience to share. It was curiosity, education, exploration and connection. We were figuring out how to interact with our sexuality and opposite gender. We learned new terminology and contemplated the loss of virginity. What was it like? Did it hurt? Are you glad you did it? Is he still nice to you? We shared fears, reservations, and excitement. It was healthy and supportive.
We talked about accepting our sexuality, developing it, using it even. This was interesting. It felt empowering. We had all been in situations where we thought someone was interested in US but they were only interested in our body. It was painful and humiliating. Taking control of our own sexuality was exciting. It meant someone else can’t use it against us. We were fighting back, protecting ourselves. But the hurt still happened, of course. Over and Over again.Together we started to learn the relationship between sexuality, self-respect, and self- worth. We were building relationships and discovering how to be women.
Locker Room Talk was about our body. It was about who we are. It was important.
Boy’s/Men’s Locker Room
I was never a boy and I’m not a man. But I can’t imagine the early years of locker room talk were all that different than my own. Different in specifics and anatomy of course, but similar in the purpose it served. Growing up. Building strength. Bonding. Self-awareness and acceptance. Exploration of gender, sexuality, relationships and how to function in the world. Talking about the opposite gender and sharing ideas about how to interact with them: casually, intimately, sexually, respectfully, successfully. You were building relationships and discovering how to be a man.
Locker room talk was about your body. It was about who you are. It was important.
The Corruption of Locker Room Talk
At some point locker room talk began to change for all of us. Gradually. Maybe you joined in. Maybe you didn’t. But something changed.
There were powerful forces at play. The world was sending corrupt messages about what it meant to be a woman or a man. So a new, corrupted version of locker room talk emerged. It became an umbrella term used to minimize the perceived harm in the objectification of women and undermine the credibility of the women who claim to be affected by it. It became the counterpart to another exploited phrase:”Boys will be Boys.” It was adult males degrading women, mocking them, rating them, judging them, and discussing them as toys for them to play with. And the world accepted it, even rewarded it. It was not just in locker rooms, it was everywhere.
For women, it became confusing. We had started lying to ourselves so it was hard to be honest with each other in any kind of talk, locker rooms or otherwise.
In college, I experienced this new culture of locker room talk first hand. The first time, I was being openly mocked in graphic detail at a very large party of people I didn’t know. I had thought what we did was special and private. I really liked him. But now he’s laughing publicly at my expense. Everyone is. The girls are laughing too. And so even though I feel exploited and humiliated, I’d rather laugh it off and act totally cool with all of it. Because I should be, right? This is just part of being a girl? I can be the cool chick who can hang with the boys. And this is just “Boys being Boys” I tell myself. You know, “Locker Room Talk.” So I laugh too, even though it feels like I just got punched in the stomach and might cry. I tell myself I am totally fine with it. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t respect me. It doesn’t mean I’m not respecting me. I feel a little piece of my soul go dark, but At least I’m laughing. That means I’m strong right?
This is about our bodies. This is about who we are. This is important.
A Little More Talk & A Lot More Action
Talk turned into action pretty quickly after that. Real, actual behaviors. Maybe it created more exciting locker room talk. Perhaps it made them “more of a man” in these corrupted terms. I don’t really know. What I do know is Guys thought it was funny, harmless, and “no big deal” to touch, grab, caress, rub up against, expect access to, and refuse to accept denial to, a woman’s body. They believed they could try whatever, however, to whomever,, whenever they want. Because…. well… “boys will be boys.”
And when women objected? Rejected? Took offense? Or god forbid brought emotions into it? At BEST we’d be proclaimed crazy, immature, sluts, annoying, whores, bitch, tease, dirty, boring, lame, uncool, rejected….unwanted. At WORST, a story would be made up or changed at our expense to cover for the guys hurt ego. And all of this could be done openly of course because… well…locker room talk.
This is about our bodies. This is about who we are. This is important.
The Every Day Sexual Assault
A good man I know recently said to me about Trump’s comments, “I mean, I get it. The words aren’t cool. But you can’t say its as bad as acting on it, right? People say things all the time they aren’t really going to do. They’re just being idiots.”
My response: “Of course its not as bad, but it starts with the talk. It’s normalized by men who are leaders, role models, positions of influence. It becomes accepted and lines blur between talk and action. You’re a good guy, so maybe you truly believe that it stops there….at talk. Let me ask this: Do you know that guys really do what Trump talked about doing all the time? Like not just in celebrity world, but in the real normal world?”
He responded genuinely, “No way. People don’t actually do that and get away with it.”
I laughed. Not in spite. But because the truth is so unbelievably disheartening. Because good, honest, women-respecting men are hurt by this too.
I tell him the truth. I don’t know if he actually wants to know it but I tell him. “It happens all the time. To women everywhere , everyday. I’ve been grabbed, groped, rubbed on, felt up, not listened to when I said no or stop, more times than I could count over the years. Some more serious than others, but none of it welcomed.”
I tell him about how it made me feel unsafe, angry, nauseaus, disgusted, dirty, guilty, worthless, and ashamed.Sometimes I protected myself physically, verbally, emotionally. But often protecting myself meant not saying anything. I start thinking about all the times I chose not to say anything….
I was in a crowd and no one else noticed so I wont be believed. I was in a group and it was a big event and I didn’t want to ruin the night. I had a short skirt on so what did I expect? He said it was an accident. I wanted to keep my job. I didn’t want to bring it up at work because I’m trying to be seen for my worth, not my gender. I’d been drinking and no one believes a drunk girl. I had talked to him earlier and he probably thought I was leading him on. I let him buy me a drink and I should’ve known that was leading him on. I smiled/laughed at his jokes. I touched his arm. I didn’t want to be the “crazy” girl who makes a big deal out of it. My rejection of him probably turned him on because he thought I was playing hard to get. I walked onto a dance floor so I should expect to have genitals rubbed all over me. Or I made the absolute worst kind of mistake I could ever make: I flirted. I showed actual interest and invited him to the after party at my house. Now he has an impression of how this is going to go. Who do I think am to change my mind now? I would be a tease. A total bitch. Plus…. he would feel rejected, upset. Last time I tried to change my mind and a guy felt rejected it didn’t go so well. And if this gets out of hand, its MY fault. No one else can protect me.
Saying something could lead to more violent sexual assault, rape, or even life threatening situations. It could be psychological and social suicide. You end up the fool because – cmon, really? It’s not a big deal, it happens all the time. “Boys will be Boys.” Lighten up. He’s a good guy. The girls will chime in too because they are playing by rules we all play by to survive and try to stay sane. And the words will come out again – crazy, immature, slut, annoying, immature, whore, bitch, tease, dirty, boring, lame, uncool, rejected…unwanted.
I didn’t say anything because I had learned its safer not to. I had learned to do a better job avoiding it, escaping it, taking control of it, and not letting it bother me. Men are expected to act this way. Women are expected to deal with it. And if we find ourselves in a situation that we feel unsafe? Humor him, stroke his ego, don’t piss him off and for the love of god don’t embarrass or outwardly reject him. That would be dangerous.
“It’s Just Locker Room Talk” – Donald Trump, Presidential Candidate, USA
So forgive me Mr. Trump, media, and rest of the world, for not being sure what the heck you are all talking about! Why are we arguing about whether Trump’s definition of locker room talk is accurate? Of course its accurate! No, we are not just talking about actual locker rooms. And, no not to every single guy out there participates in this because there are plenty of good men in the world.
Clearly, Trump is not MORALLY right about this, or LEGALLY right about this, but he is definitely right about it this in REALITY. The truth is that the actions Trump describes on that video have been covered under the term “Boys will Be Boys” for a long time. And using the term “Locker Room Talk” to discredit the damage of the words and/or cover up the actions that occurred has also been done for a long time. The words and the actions feed each other.
I am totally on board with the outrage, but are we really shocked? This shit is everywhere. And Yes, it is sad to admit that these once cherished and innocent terms aren’t being used the way we want them to be. We ALL we have fond memories of them. But let’s face it, they have been taken and exploited.
Whether we like it or not, whether we clarify that Trump’s words “aren’t REALLY Locker Room Talk” or not, these terms are out there right now being used to make light of objectifiying women and of sexually assaultive behaviors. These terms were expoited by the Donald Trump’s of the world long before he brought it to the presidential stage.
All the Good Men
I know a lot of good men. Some of them get uncomfortable when I talk about this. Probably because somewhere along the way they fell guilty to the culture they were immersed in. It’s hard to imagine how they couldn’t have, at least once. They probably participated in some “locker room talk.” Or they didn’t stop it. Or a man they respect still does it. Or maybe they even enjoyed it before they realized how wrong it was.
And then here I come saying it may have contributed to how women they love and respect, have been subjected to and expected to accept sexual assault. No good man wants to be in that category. This does not match how they view themselves, the men they look up to and love, or what it means to be a man.
The difference is they can see it now. They choose not be a part of the powerful forces and corrupt messages of the world that perpetuate it. They help stop it.
Together we might make a difference.
This is about our bodies. This is about who we are. THIS IS IMPORTANT.
A Call to Action
So what are we going to do about it? Let the media handle it? Let this circus of a presidential campaign handle it? Nah. I say we take it back ourselves.
Let’s take notice and start standing up to the problem instead of perpetuating it.
Let’s take back “Locker Room Talk” from the Trumps of the world who have exploited it.
Let’s take it back for ourselves, for each other, for our sons and daughters, for our future.
Let’s STOP letting “Locker Room Talk” or “Boys will be Boys” be the cover or gateway to every day sexual assault.