As a 40-year-old man, I’ve been in my share of locker rooms.
In those rare instances when I’m not minding my own business and/or shielding my eyes from the sight of the old men who inexplicably enjoy hanging around buck naked in the middle of midtown Manhattan gyms, I’ve had plenty of conversations with other men, both friends and strangers.
I’ve never discussed, let alone bragged about, a history and/or any methods of sexual assault. Not in a locker room, not anywhere.
(Not to state the obvious, but the proverbial “locker room” needn’t be in the vicinity of any actual lockers. The term is merely shorthand for the kind of conversations guys have when we’re alone — in our man caves, at our poker tables, in the back corner of a dive bar, basically any place where it’s just a bunch of guys.)
Guys can be gross. To be a guy among other guys is to engage in a constant, childish game of one-upmanship: who can say the funniest thing, the meanest thing, the craziest thing; who makes the most money, can bench the most, has the hottest girlfriend. It’s juvenile posturing, a kind of pathetic and superficial “survival of the fittest,” and it’s nothing to be particularly proud of. A group of us in an adrenalized atmosphere, with none of that dreaded “mixed company” around, can say things that we probably wouldn’t say anywhere else, even things that aren’t true and that we don’t actually believe. It’s mostly just blowing off steam.
But I’ve never been in a locker room and listened to a man brazenly, matter-of-factly speak like Trump did on that Access Hollywood bus, boasting to the pathetic Billy Bush about his favorite style of sexual assault and “trying to fuck” a married woman. Especially not a man with a well-established track record of actually doing those very things!
The grown men I know don’t talk like that, because they don’t live like that. They aren’t sexual predators, rapists, or adulterers.
I’m not foolish enough to think that there aren’t other men who think and behave the way Trump does — many of them seem to be voting for him — but most of us don’t. Most of us wouldn’t even pretend to, because — and call me crazy! — sexual assault and infidelity aren’t particularly fun subjects, regardless of whether there are women in your family. You don’t have to be related to a woman to respect her! (Just like you don’t need to personally know a gay or black or transgender or Muslim person to have empathy for them.)
You would hope that someone the American people have nominated for President — a father to both daughters and sons, and someone attempting to position himself as the leader of the free world — would have outgrown that kind of thing too. Apparently not.
Of course, at this point the fact that Donald Trump has the personality of an insecure high-schooler is irrelevant, because if all Donald Trump and Bully Bush had engaged in was the type of chatter that could be euphemistically categorized as “locker room talk,” it would be distasteful and unpleasant, but it wouldn’t be the firestorm it’s become. Because make no mistake about it, Donald Trump wasn’t simply objectifying women, he was detailing his methods for assaulting them. And Billy Bush was laughing his weaselly, sycophantic little laugh the whole time.
If I’d ever heard someone talk about kissing a woman unprovoked or forcibly grabbing her by the genitals, in an actual locker room or not, I would not have laughed. At the very least, I would have left. And I definitely would not vote that person into the oval office.
Trump: You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
Bush: Whatever you want.
Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.
I know locker room talk. Locker room talk is a friend of mine. What Donald Trump and Billy Bush enjoyed (and boy, did Billy enjoy it!) during their chat on set of that soap opera was not locker room talk. It was the casual banter of someone who routinely and nonchalantly speaks this way about women — to strangers, in public, to TV personalities, on debate stages — because he feels that way about women. It was the verbal manifestation of his misogyny and his privilege.
Of the many, many lies Donald Trump spewed at the second presidential debate Sunday night, dismissing this conversation as “locker room talk” wasn’t even the worst. We all have favorites, but mine was probably when he tried to pretend that he respects women — “I have great respect for women. Nobody has more respect for women than I do.” — and is a gentleman. His attempt to act as if this were an outlier, in the face of decades of evidence to the contrary, was nothing short of outrageous.
You don’t openly discuss things like that on the spur of the moment. You don’t lay out your disgusting, entitled treatment of women as objects to be fondled and violated without a lifetime of practice. And you certainly don’t do it on a bus full of strangers and TV personalities, not if this kind of talk doesn’t come naturally to you, because it’s how you’ve always lived your life. He doesn’t realize it’s not normal, that it’s not harmless “locker room talk” because he’s never been held accountable for it.
That’s not “locker room talk.” Trump wasn’t boasting getting to second base with a pretty cheerleader, or even about sleeping with supermodels. He was flat out explaining that when he sees a woman he finds attractive, he doesn’t bother asking before he “move[s] on her like a bitch.” I’m sorry, but that’s not how all guys talk. That’s how criminals talk. That’s Brock Turner, that’s Roger Ailes, that’s Bill Cosby. That’s rape culture.
Donald Trump refers to his comments as “locker room talk” because to someone as white, rich, and privileged as he the entire world is and always has been one big locker room. Thankfully, at long last, he is slowly being dragged out of it. One hot mic at a time.