It’s up to other men to check ‘locker room ban­ter’

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Esther Cepeda is syn­di­cated by The Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group. Esther J. Cepeda Colum­nist

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.”

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