“Locker Room Talk,” Donald Trump, and Jameis Winston — How Rape Culture Graduates from Boys to Men

Content Warning: Violent language

In 2014, then Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston, now the starting QB for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, stood on a table in the middle of campus and yelled out:

Fuck her right in the pussy!

It was a popular stunt among men at the time. But this outburst was just months after he had been accused of sexual assault.

It seemed a minor affair at the time. Winston was suspended for a game — admittedly, longer than any punishment he would receive for the rape accusation. He offered an extraordinarily brief apology to his teammates and coaches — apparently only for distracting them from important football to be played. But the Heisman Trophy winner certainly didn’t receive the end-to-end, Manti-Teo-catfish-style ESPN coverage one might expect if Winston had truly touched a national nerve, especially in light of the ongoing rape investigation. Instead, the nation moved on, chalking it up to a “boys will be boys” moment. And today, he is just as likely to be known for having stolen crab legs as he is for that lewd stunt or the accusations of sexual assault.

So today it feels just the tiniest bit overdue to watch the nation explode in righteous indignation in response to GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump’s vulgar and rapey comments to Billy Bush on Access Hollywood over a decade ago. The GOP, which stood with Trump through multiple acts of race-baiting, seemingly endless misogyny, and, you know, general obvious unfitness for the most challenging job on earth, suddenly can countenance no more.

The harsh truth is that we’ve long acquiesced to language like Jameis Winston’s “joke” and Trump’s “locker room talk” except for when that language escapes the confines of male-only spaces.

Many emphasize that we should hold Trump, as a major party nominee for President of the United States, to a higher standard. But the choice to do so only serves to emphasize just how low the standard has been for everyone else and ignores the painfully obvious reality: we shouldn’t be surprised when rape culture graduates from boys to men.

I’ve seen more than a few progressive men rush to declare that Trump’s language isn’t actually locker room talk, that “real” men don’t actually talk like this, even that only rapists, criminals, or sociopaths talk this. Respectfully, I disagree. Nearly all of us certainly know guys who talk like that. And more to the point, statistically nearly all of us know guys who have committed acts of sexual violence. The acts of objectifying women and expressing entitlement to their bodies are too commonplace; the words and subsequent hands of men visit too much violence upon the bodies of women to deny.

Perhaps some of these men have been jarred by the explicit nature of Trump’s language. “Grab ’em by the pussy” is indeed a paragon of vulgarity in which not everyone traffics. I understand the sentiment to otherize this language. It’s beneath the Presidency.

But don’t be fooled. The danger in Trump’s locker room talk isn’t its vulgarity. Whether or not men speak about women in such crude terms as a matter of course, one thing is certain. The real danger is in his entitlement and his utter disregard for the desire of women, and these are the traits that are the most commonplace among men. This is the rape culture to which we’ve been referring, and Winston and Trump are not bad eggs; they’re its poster boys. They reflect deeply rooted problems in the education we give to our boys as they come of age that we never seem to correct: the graduation of rape culture from boys to men.

I just start kissing them…I don’t even wait…And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em…you can do anything.

She’s down to fuck.

You hit that last night?

She wants the D.

Fuck her right in the pussy!

We even insist upon navigating sexual relationships with a series of winks and nods rather than verbal, affirmative expressions of desire. We’re taught to push until she makes you stop. And if she does make you stop — well — there are entire Instagram accounts dedicated to documenting the fury of “scorned” men who couldn’t get past no. We need no more than to listen to the millions of women who have been telling us for years that being harassed, groped, assaulted, and raped is typical of the female experience.

For years, we’ve tolerated locker room talk as “just talk.” But it doesn’t just stay in the locker room. Ask Billy Bush, who, after leering at Arianne Zucker with Trump privately, can’t help but exhort her to give Trump “a little hug.” That chill you just felt in the air from women everywhere who have gotten that hug that lasted just a bit too long from a man who felt entitled to use their bodies for a bit of self-satisfaction.

And ask Erica Kinsman, the woman who has accused Jameis Winston of rape, whether Winston’s “lewd stunt” carried some extra meaning. Ask the 1 in 5 women in the United States who have been raped.

Trump’s language can be, and indeed is, both far too common and grossly repugnant. Let’s rid the presidential campaign of such language. But let’s get to work ridding the rest of our society of it as well.

Tahir Duckett is the Founder of ReThink, an organization that works with adolescent boys to challenge the norms that give rise to sexual violence. He’s on Twitter at @TahirDuckett and you can find ReThink on Facebook.