It is locker room talk
This week has not been a great week to be a woman.
Donald Trump defended sexually harassing women; the Labour leader attended an SWP event; and Ched Evans’ accuser has received a barrage of misogynistic abuse after his ruling.
Powerful men do bad things. And it has a ripple effect on the rest of society.
The revelations that Trump is a misogynist is not a surprise. The most damaging part of the revelation was his justification. A man vying for the presidency of the United States. With 300 million people watching. Men, boys, women, and girls. Every legitimisation of sexual abuse and harassment contributes to a rape culture that permeates every section of our society. The product is every comment under a news story of Ched Evans. And when Trump does it, it send a message to every one of those commenters that they, at the very least, are in agreement with 45% of their country. That’s why this matters.
But one of the other distressing parts of it all has been the reaction online from progressives of surprise and Not-Anyone-I-Know Syndrome, which is just a little bit less bad than the I-Have-A-Wife Syndrome that most Republicans opted for. It is one thing to be besides yourself over a candidate for the highest office in the most powerful country on Earth legitimising sexual harassment, it is another to be surprised that men do it, and to spend time making sure it is not done in your name.
It is done in your name.
Common memes, as it were, were the “real men don’t do this” and “this isn’t locker room talk”. But that’s wrong. The only thing that isn’t wrong with it is that it isn’t just exclusive to a ‘locker room’. It’s nightclub talk, and street talk, and campus talk. Men do this all the time.
Every woman has a story about groping and ‘casual’ sexual harassment. Mine started when I was a young girl. Wolfwhistles on the street coming back from a swimming lesson aged 11. Being stroked on my lap by a man on the bus, unable to protest for fear of backlash or embarrassment. All the way to campus: herded, like a sheep, into a corner of a nightclub by a man who then wrapped his arms around me so I couldn’t escape. Being followed to the bathroom and hiding in the cubicle. Even being ‘jokingly’ threatened with rape in my own flat kitchen.
When I told the kitchen story on Twitter after the Trump revelation, I got a lot of responses from men astonished, horrified and shocked. It’s not shocking. It’s a normal experience.
Women are objects, everywhere, to some man. All women experience this. And all women are taught to expect this and to prepare for it, or face accusations that they were the ones at fault for being complacent. Perhaps, then, it is because we are taught to suffer in silence that so few men know how widespread it is. Perhaps that’s why there is such surprise surrounding Trump’s behaviour. But that’s wrong. And men should know it’s wrong.
It is because this is locker room talk that Trump could use that excuse. You can get angry at it being normalised, but to some men it was normal before Trump did it.
There is a lot of harm in people reacting to this with ‘real men don’t do this’ and ‘this isn’t locker room talk’. It gets you off scots-free. It gets men off scots-free. If you are not one of the men that talks like this to women, you can sure as hell bet you will know someone that does. And it’s your duty to be aware of it. It’s your duty to put effort not in exempting yourself from this behaviour, but teach young men and boys why Trump is wrong, and why it is wrong this was normal before him.