The Locker Room All Around Us
Let’s discuss “locker room talk” and how prevalent it is, because it isn’t limited to old white men nor is it limited to locker rooms, and we men know that, right? Sure, we might say that we don’t encounter it that often, but this kind of predatory behavior can be found just about anywhere we look. And women certainly know that.
But even knowing that it’s all around us, we’re still not sharing the complete picture, are we?
Here is what I see and hear:
I hear “locker room talk” from male colleagues with the kind of job title that gives them authority — for me, that’s quite often film people, like a number of directors, some of whom I used to work with: we’re at a client dinner and, after a few drinks, they’re boasting about their previous conquests, ticking off names of women in film who are on their “to-do” list.
I hear it from men in the tech and start-up world: at a conference, talking up their chances of getting laid that weekend, gaming who amongst the conference speakers or other attendees they might be able to score.
I hear it from “creatives” while celebrating winning a new account: after a night of karaoke, they’re off to a strip club without the women on their team, but they’ll speculate about the sexual preferences and availability of those same women, behind their backs, and devise a strategy for how to “bag them” (and who goes to strip clubs anymore?!?).
I hear it when I’m at a holiday office party: I’m in the bathroom where two male designers are evaluating the attractiveness of one of their coworkers.
I hear it from executive producers: in their office, talking about a woman in particular that they’ve seen that day, such as a colleague or someone who came in for a fitting or a casting audition.
Swap out the film studio for a photographer’s studio, I’ve heard it there too. And the same applies to fashion. It’s men who can’t stop talking about the women who work in their buildings, either in front of the camera or behind it.
I hear it from drivers, on my ride back home from the airport, and they think “small talk” means “locker room talk.”
I hear it from clients, former clients, that is: we’re on location, far from home, staying in a hotel and some of the men have sent out for prostitutes, justifying their actions through complaints that some of the female colleagues on the trip won’t provide them with the same services.
I hear it from guys on a stag night: there’s almost always one in the group who is a little bit too eager, too randy and too forward, who can’t stop himself from making a comment about the server (or she might be the bartender, the hostess or the proprietor). He will inevitably express himself directly to that person and everyone else will laugh along, while she has to fend off this unwanted, unsolicited attention, and we’re not helping her. We’re not allowing her to do her work. Instead, we’re allowing her to be degraded. We are participating in making her life more difficult.
I hear it at weddings. I’ve been to a lot of them. Doesn’t happen every time, but there’s generally someone in that mix who can’t stop themselves, their Tic-Tacs always ready. I wonder how many of them carry ruffies around instead of Tic-Tacs? I hope zero.
I hear it from married men.
I hear it from single men.
I hear it from men who have power and from men who wish they had power.
And, in just about every one of these circumstances, the words come out of the mouths of men who are educated, many of them exceptionally so, and privileged, almost all of them left-leaning in their politics, and certainly not old (compared to someone like Trump).
In terms of who indulges in “locker room talk” and who doesn’t, cultural background and ethnic identity seem to play no role. Skin color offers zero indication of how someone might express their predatory ambitions.
It runs the entire gamut.
This is a male thing. A male “privilege” and in my experience, mostly a hetero male privilege.
And this goes back to my teenage years too. For three decades, I’ve been hearing this. While in the States, while in Denmark, in Sweden, England, Spain, France, and also in many of the countries I’ve traveled, etc.
Actually, it goes even further back, to the men in my family from older generations, who routinely pat women on their behinds without their consent, ostensibly as a way of displaying approval or affection but, seeing it in hindsight, it really was the power move of a predator. The women who received these unsolicited advances put up with it and over time, I grew immune to it. For years, I never saw it for what it was, a form of assault, and I accepted it.
In many cases, as in the Trump Hot Mic Moment, men who get off on “locker room talk” are abetted by their “wing men” — the beta to the alpha. We all recognize these enablers. It’s further evidence of how deeply rooted and institutionalized these attitudes are, that men volunteer to help other men with their predatory ambitions, because they believe that the ‘success’ of the alpha might also benefit them.
Strange thing is, “locker room talk” rarely takes place in the locker room. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that kind of talk in a locker room. I don’t hear it anywhere near the places where I play sports. I hear it almost exclusively in professional settings, albeit behind closed doors.
And so it takes place with the expectation of privacy. The words are kept hidden. We keep their secrets, and in so doing, our silence provides shelter to the men who should know better while it exposes women who deserve to know better.
As an aside, one of my female friends wrote to me, “Most, if not all, women have had much worse things said to our faces.”
Let’s think about that for a moment.
Is this the world we want to live in? A world where women never feel safe or are truly equal?
I don’t know where to find positives when women report that they’ve had worse things said directly to them, but at least they’re able to process the threat as they stand before it, but that’s cold comfort.
Furthermore, with “locker room talk,” there’s no opportunity for that. A woman such as my friend has no idea that it’s happening, and, more often than not, our silence means that we’re not there to look out for her best interests. What kind of friends are we? Why are we letting the women in our lives fight this alone? And why are we not considering the consequences of how we’ve abandoned them?
As my friend explained, “We don’t hear the locker room talk, but we know it goes on. We don’t know which of our ‘friends’ are doing it (as the colleagues and other men who talk that way look just like the ones who don’t) but it’s part of the air we breathe. And it’s discouraging and exhausting.”
Women are subjected to invisible threats that might one day put them in actual harm’s way, and we, the men who don’t let on, we remain silent. Yet we know better too. That makes us complicit.
And that has to stop.
And here’s what I don’t hear. I don’t hear other men saying enough is enough. That includes me, coming forth to ask a likely predator, “Why do you feel comfortable saying that?”
Coming forth to explain, “What you are talking about is assault.”
Coming forth to say, “No, we don’t do that anymore.”
We won’t do that anymore. The women in our lives deserve better. We all deserve better.
And with this episode of Trump and his talk of grabbing pussies, this vulgar cultural car crash that tarnishes the highest institutions in the land, the error of his ways is so egregious and so apparent that it casts a light on how other men behave, including some of us. Trump isn’t an outlier, he’s simply a very visible embodiment of an attitude that for too long has been allowed to fester unchallenged.
“Grabbing pussies” shows us that Trump is not the only one who needs to change.
As a male friend of mine wrote, “After the Trump tape exploded, I plunged through my memories of growing up, playing sports and just getting drunk with guys and, though I didn’t recall personally hearing men talk in such abusive, criminal terms, it still made me think a lot about what is said and thought and accepted in those circles, and how I had excused or allowed much to be said that I don’t condone. I wonder how many millions of men are doing the same exact sort of soul searching.”
And I ask myself, what have I done about this? How am I holding myself accountable?
Yeah, I don’t talk this way and I don’t feel that way and thankfully, “locker room talk” is not something I hear from people I consider close friends, but what have I done about it? Not enough. I need to do more, and it needs to start now.
I’m with her.
What about you?
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