Leg­is­la­tor’s re­marks pro­vide boys a les­son

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FAMILY - Heidi Stevens

Michi­gan Ad­vance re­porter Al­li­son Don­ahue launched an im­por­tant di­a­logue re­cently when she wrote a first-per­son ar­ti­cle about state Sen. Peter Lu­cido telling a room full of high school boys they “could have a lot of fun” with her.

Now it’s on the rest of us to keep the di­a­logue go­ing.

Don­ahue, 22, wrote that she was wait­ing out­side the Michi­gan Se­nate cham­ber to in­ter­view Lu­cido, a Repub­li­can from Shelby Town­ship, when the Se­nate ses­sion ended Jan 14. Lu­cido told her he would catch up with her when he fin­ished talk­ing to a group of stu­dents from his alma mater, De La Salle Col­le­giate, an all-boys Catholic high school.

“As I turned to walk away, he asked, ‘You’ve heard of De La Salle, right?’ ” she wrote. “I told him I hadn’t. ‘It’s an all boys’ school,’ he told me. ‘You should hang around! You could have a lot of fun with these boys, or they could have a lot of fun with you.’ ”

The boys laughed. “I walked away know­ing that I had been the punch­line of their ‘locker room’ talk,” she wrote. “Ex­cept it wasn’t the locker room; it was the Se­nate cham­ber. And this isn’t high school. It’s my ca­reer.”

A week af­ter that in­ci­dent, state Sen. Mal­lory McMor­row, a Demo­crat, filed a sex­ual ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tion against Lu­cido. Lu­cido de­nies the al­le­ga­tion.

But let’s stay on Don­ahue’s story for a bit.

Peggy Oren­stein’s fan­tas­tic new book, “Boys and Sex: Young Men on Hookups,

Love, Porn, Con­sent, and Nav­i­gat­ing the New Mas­culin­ity,” il­lu­mi­nates the ex­pec­ta­tions, fears and feel­ings that 16- to 22-yearold males have about sex and in­ti­macy.

Oren­stein sounded an alarm — in the form of a tweet — when she read Don­ahue’s ac­count.

“Great op­por­tu­nity (as if there isn’t al­ways one) to have a lit­tle talk with boys in your life about the na­ture of ‘locker room talk’ and — even if they would NEVER — how they might stand up to it in their own lives,” Oren­stein tweeted.

I love that idea. I called her to hear more.

“(Don­ahue) did such a fan­tas­tic job of ar­tic­u­lat­ing how those sorts of com­ments af­fect women and how cor­ro­sive they are,” Oren­stein said.

In­deed.

“The sit­u­a­tion made me em­bar­rassed,” Don­ahue wrote. “It made me feel small and it made me want to walk away from the Capi­tol and tell my ed­i­tor that Lu­cido wasn’t avail­able to com­ment.

“But I’ve stayed quiet be­fore,” she con­tin­ued.

“I’ve been the sub­ject of locker room talk be­fore, and laughed it off with all the boys in the room. I’ve been con­vinced not to report an in­stance of sex­ual as­sault be­cause of the trou­ble the man would get into, and I never said any­thing. There have been too many mo­ments, big and small, that I wish I would have told some­one or spo­ken up about. I’m not say­ing this is the same sit­u­a­tion and I’m not say­ing I’m a vic­tim in this. But the 15-year-old girl in me, who didn’t know how to ad­vo­cate for her­self then, was telling me to do it now.”

Brave, im­por­tant words. “What I’m hear­ing less of,” Oren­stein said, “is what hap­pens when you are the boy stand­ing there when another guy — an au­thor­ity fig­ure, a peer — says some­thing like that. I think it’s a real op­por­tu­nity to have a con­ver­sa­tion with boys about what your role is, or what your role could be, when you’re hear­ing that kind of locker room talk.”

Sev­eral young men con­fided in Oren­stein, dur­ing the 100-plus in­ter­views she com­pleted for her book, that they feel un­com­fort­able and em­bar­rassed when they hear their friends or peers de­grad­ing girls and women. She said a stu­dent- ath­lete ap­proached her dur­ing her book sign­ing at New Trier High School re­cently and asked her ad­vice on speak­ing up when his team­mates — with whom he needs to main­tain a tight, co­he­sive, co­op­er­a­tive unit — say things that make his stom­ach churn.

Of­ten, she said, boys feel ut­terly alone — in be­ing both­ered by de­grad­ing com­ments and in fig­ur­ing out what to say in the mo­ment. Par­ents, coaches and other grown-ups can help them feel less so.

“They need, of course, to un­der­stand the im­pact of those state­ments,” Oren­stein said. “That it’s not just talk. That talk has an im­pact. But they also need to un­der­stand how the cul­ture of si­lence that boys find them­selves in sup­ports and per­pet­u­ates the en­vi­ron­ment in which men make those com­ments. And you can help them think about ways they can in­ter­rupt those com­ments.”

Ask the boys in your life if they hear com­ments about girls and women that feel de­grad­ing and dis­re­spect­ful. Ask them whether they want to brain­storm some re­sponses to have handy if and when those com­ments do come up. Ask them if they worry about be­ing stig­ma­tized or tar­geted if they speak up.

“It gives them a sense of sup­port,” Oren­stein said, “and it also might open up a con­ver­sa­tion where they say, ‘This has been hap­pen­ing and my coach does it too.’ Or, ‘We’ve been work­ing on this on my team and it’s re­ally help­ing.’ ”

You don’t know where they stand un­less you ask. And they don’t know where you stand un­less you tell.

I hate that Don­ahue was treated like a punch­line and a play­thing. I love that she found the courage to write about it. And now the rest of us get to make sure her story doesn’t just sit there in vain.

It’s on all of us to cre­ate a cul­ture where a com­ment like Lu­cido’s would be met with stunned si­lence — or de­ri­sion — not laugh­ter. That’s the only way that sort of di­nosaur think­ing be­comes ex­tinct.

“(Don­ahue) did such a fan­tas­tic job of ar­tic­u­lat­ing how those sorts of com­ments af­fect women and how cor­ro­sive they are.” — Peggy Oren­stein

[email protected] tri­bune.com Twit­ter @hei­dis­tevens13

AL­LI­SON DON­AHUE

Al­li­son Don­ahue, a re­porter for Michi­gan Ad­vance, stepped up af­ter a state sen­a­tor’s com­ments about her.

MICHI­GAN HOUSE REPUB­LI­CANS

State Sen. Peter Lu­cido told a room full of high school boys they “could have a lot of fun” with re­porter Al­li­son Don­ahue.

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