Locker Room Talk & Silence

Locker Room

The news broke Friday that a recording had been found from nearly ten years ago with a presidential candidate saying coarse things about women, basically admitting to sexual assault in the crudest of ways, and the journalist he was talking to (who was, absurdly, the nephew of the then sitting president) laughing and echoing the sentiments. It’s hard stuff to defend, but to the extent anyone tried to deflect it, it was dismissed as mere “guy talk,” the kind of banter you hear in locker rooms.

It’s not rare. I go to a gym, and encounter a lot of these older guys (heck, I’m practically one of them). The talk is more often veiled (or unveiled) racism than sexism, which probably has to do with my age group. But whether it is misogynistic or racist, locker rooms are apparently a “safe place” for men to be “themselves” and therefore not held accountable for anything they say.

The question is, when you’re in such a place, what is your responsibility? I rarely speak up. I listen uncomfortably, give milquetoast responses, and ease out of the situation as quickly as possible. My instincts are for “flight,” not for “fight.” I rationalize that anything I say will lead to defensive hostility rather than changing anyone’s mind. I can’t say I’m concerned about my physical safety, exactly, but I know I’ll be yelled at and called names, and that’s enough to dissuade me. Memories are triggered of middle school and high school and even college, when because of my size and frailty I wasn’t really one of the guys. I walk away with sickness in my stomach.

But is it OK to remain silent? I think without social proximity, it is unlikely to be an effective ally. At the same time, I know how weasly that sounds. As a person of privilege who is quickly taken into the confidence of other people of privilege, I have a power to speak up.

At the same time I think “calling out” strangers in this way simply sets rules of discourse: don’t talk like that. But social proximity gives someone the ability to address a friend’s inner toxicity: here’s why you shouldn’t think like that. That takes work, empathic listening, and thoughtful responses. So while there’s an importance to speaking up and even calling out, the real work is in having a conversation.

So I realize the real responsibility here is to actually get to know these guys and talk to them. I’ll try harder.

3 thoughts on “Locker Room Talk & Silence

  1. One of the ten commandments has to do with the way we SPEAK of and about others. It’s one few folks put on the same plane as stealing (do not) and murder (do not) and oh, coveting.
    But modernists have a different notion: free speech. You can not restrict what someone says, as long as they are just saying. Y’know what I’m sayin’?
    Hence we got ourselves into a bind and a pickle as to what to do or think about locker-room talk. No question it makes many queasy, but what to DO?
    I like your solution. Get to know them, and talk to them.

  2. My temptation (and that clever retort I would only come up with three hours later) would be to say “I used to agree with what you’re saying, but then I moved up to high school from middle school and learned to think more critically. Have a great day.”

  3. I’m hoping the offensive words of a presidential candidate will help future listeners recognize
    descriptions of abusive behavior. That should make it easier to cut short such a conversation.
    How about this for a comment: “Whoa! Hope you aren’t running for office!”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s