It’s up to other men to check ‘locker room banter’
Donald Trump attempted to dismiss his comments about grabbing women by the genitals and kissing or groping them as mere “locker room banter.” He implied that boys will be boys behind closed doors and we shouldn’t get so worked up about it.
Thankfully, a raft of men took to social media and the opinion sections of online publications to point out two things: Not all men talk this way about women when they are among other guys; and when some really do act like this, it’s up to other men to check such behavior.
Hallelujah for those male declarations because, as the woman in a house where I am outnumbered by a husband and two sons, ensuring that our two boys go out into the world and treat others with respect and compassion is no easy task. Countless times I have had to be the stick in the mud when, during the course of conversations in which events of a standard teen’s day are relayed, I have to step in and point out how certain slang is perceived by women and girls and how it can impact others’ views of the boy saying them.
Believe me, it is an awkward and thankless task to explain to young men how to respectfully talk to and about women. And it’s no fun to be the one who stops a conversation in its tracks when a male family member says something a little off-color about women. Perhaps even worse than that is when I make it clear that certain phrases are not how I want my sons to talk and it’s passed off with an “Oh, don’t be so uptight, we’re just kidding.”
So, thank you, Shaun R. Harper, for your Washington Post blog declaring, “Many men talk like Donald Trump in private. Only other men can stop them.”
Harper, a University of Pennsylvania professor and executive director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, wrote: “Truth is, many men objectify women and say outrageously offensive things about their breasts, butts and other body parts in spaces we occupy with each other. ... And such talk is not confined to gyms and country club showers, but occurs too often in other spaces where men are among other men — in fraternity houses, on golf courses, in barbershops, at bars.”
Here is the part that made me cheer in vindication: “I have even seen men stand aside and engage in this kind of talk about moms at kids’ birthday parties.” Me, too. In fact, the most maddening thing about the “locker room banter” defense is that it denies that such objectifying talk does stream straight out from behind closed doors and into public spaces.
I have overheard disgusting, explicit and degrading sexual remarks about women from men at public gatherings like music and food festivals, at community and professional sporting events, in family restaurants and at fast-food places with play areas.
The morning before the Trump tape was released, I heard two high school students yelling about how they each performed intercourse with the other’s mother in an expletive-laced tirade that would have made the crew of a merchant marine vessel blush — and it all happened in the hallway at a school where female students (and at least one infuriated female teacher) stood in plain view.
There’s no question that the online ubiquity of pornography, video games that glorify violence against women and the rise of the “bro” culture have fueled this sort of talk in boys and men.
What are we supposed to do about all this?
Bipartisan expressions of outrage by political leaders of both sexes like those we’ve heard so far are a great start. Being a parent who talks openly and seriously with your children about the impact of such demeaning language is a necessary next step.
But ultimately, men must keep other men from objectifying “banter” in and outside of male sanctuaries because, as USA Today sportswriter Erik Brady noted: “When [Trump] passes it off as mere locker room banter, he demeans men, too.”