Feminism 101: The problem with Trump’s “locker room” talk

12 feminists on what's wrong with dismissing sexual assault talk with "boys will be boys"
By Avital Norman Nathman  Published on 10/14/2016 at 8:07 AM EDT

Welcome back to Feminism 101, where a handful of fabulous feminists answer all your pressing questions. This week, 12 feminists take a look at the sexist, appalling things Donald Trump has been caught on tape saying, and beyond that, to the larger issue at play here.

In the aftermath of (more of) Trump’s sexist comments coming to light, many have excused him, saying it was simply “locker room talk” and “boys being boys.” How do we combat this dangerous idea?

Jen Selk:I have a real problem with people pretending that this ISN’T locker room talk. It is. That is not a dismissal, because I take this very seriously, but pretending that this kind of talk is unusual is, in my opinion, the real danger. Men talk this way, particularly in spaces like so-called ‘locker rooms.’ Let’s not pretend they don’t. Toxic masculinity is everywhere. Rape culture is real. And pretending that Trump’s disgusting comments are anything other than the norm in certain environments just allows this kind of garbage to continue.”

Rebecca Hains: Trump’s 2005 comments are not mere ‘locker room banter.’ His words describe acts of sexual assault, and his efforts to explain them away as “how men talk” reveal that he doesn’t really understand the issue at hand. The problem is not with, as some commentators have argued, the ‘bad words’ he used. The problem is that he was describing criminally predatory behavior. There is no easy way to address this disconnect, but one tactic we can consider is demanding change from within our media culture. The media relentlessly market the idea that men are sexual subjects and women are sexual objects, desensitizing audience members to what constitutes sexually predatory behavior in real life. We are all too willing to wave it away as ‘boys being boys.’ We can call out and boycott media that treat sexual predation as normal male behavior, and we can insist that journalists covering incidents like this choose their words responsibly. They should characterize his words not as ‘lewd,’ but rather, as ‘describing sexual assault.’ If they and we do not describe it accurately, the real nature of the problem is rendered invisible. It becomes all too easy for people to buy into the narrative that the problem wasn’t with what Trump said, but rather, just how lewdly he said it–as though we are all clutching our pearls over a bit of bad language. Gasp.”

Marissa Korbel:We keep reminding everyone that these comments were made in a workplace. This is sexual harassment, plain and simple.”

Amanda Adams:Honestly, I think men own this one. Many men in my life and around me have said, ‘No, that is not how my friends and I talk about women.’ It is time for men to differentiate themselves from ‘boys will be boys’ and say no real man is so insecure that he must debase women to feel he belongs. The correct response to ‘Yes, all women!’ is not ‘Boys will be boys,’ or even, ‘Not all men.’ The correct and responsible response is, ‘Not on my watch.’  Women are not there for these conversations between 59- and 31-year-old ‘boys’ so real men have to take up the slack and shut down the bullshit before it spreads and make sure the boys know they are behaving like rapists — not children.”

Awanthi Vardaraj:I’m incredibly tired of Donald Trump; I’m sick of him and of the nonsense that he spouts, and I’m especially sick of the excuses that are made for him. Boys will be boys? Please! Let’s stop excusing the things that men say and do with those four little misogynistic words that normalize violence, sexual abuse, and predatory behaviour towards women. Let’s not just hold Hillary Clinton up to a higher standard, okay? Let’s hold EVERYONE up to a higher standard. Let’s hold EVERYONE accountable for the things that they say and do, and that includes the so-called ‘locker room’ chatter that apparently trivializes and tokenizes women’s bodies, and, disturbingly, describes sexual assault. When you touch someone without their consent and permission, it’s sexual assault, and I can’t believe we’re having to teach a 70-year-old man that. I can’t believe we’re listening to all of his fans excuse his vileness as normalcy. I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.”

Bex vanKoot:Just because something is ‘normal’ doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. Men who say that this kind of talk is typical are the type of guys who brag about sexually assaulting women, or they need to convince themselves it’s okay to say because they don’t want to take responsibility for stopping it. When it’s their friends and brothers and fathers and sons who are doing it, when they think this is the type of thing ‘Good Men’ might talk about but would never do, it becomes totally normal and easy to ignore. If you have caught yourself nodding in agreement to the ‘locker room talk’ excuse, I want to know: why do you think talking about women like that is okay?”

Ki Russell:I made a public post detailing the overlaps between Trump’s rhetoric and behavior and that of the man who molested me during childhood to try to show the connections between these statements and mindsets. I have also asked other men who definitely do not consider assault bragging normal locker room banter to weigh in vocally and often on this issue.”

Shaindel Beers: I think the BEST thing we can do toward achieving true equality is ‘humanizing’ girls and women as early in life as possible. Studies show that at as early as six months of age, parents start treating babies differently — being more verbal with baby girls and playing more physically with baby boys. My son is five, and already he’ll say things like, ‘That’s a girl movie,’ or ‘That’s a girl toy,’ and he did not get it from me. I’ll try to tell him, ‘Anyone can watch that movie,’ or ‘Boys and girls can play with any toys they want to,’ but society is already influencing him to think that girls are different and that different equals less than. We all need to be conscious of this to make a change. I’d like to point out these magazine covers of Girls’ Life and Boys’ Life to prove my point. Change can start with small things, and it needs to start with each of us in our own homes.”

Katherine Heller: “I know most of my male friends are fantastic, caring people. I know why they laugh awkwardly when their buddy makes a ‘joke’ about ‘banging’ a ‘crazy’ chick. I know that their buddy doesn’t know why this language is harmful. But words do matter, and I really, really would like to have my male friends start saying something when they hear this in the locker room. Also, if your buddy keeps ‘banging’ these ‘crazy’ ‘chicks’ who are ‘fucked up,’ AND BY THAT I MEAN HE IS LITERALLY MEETING A TON OF MENTALLY ILL WOMEN AND HAVING SEX WITH THEM KNOWING THEY NEED PROFESSIONAL HELP*, your friend is a sexual predator. Either way, please try.

*He’s not, he’s just having sex with lovely women and then degrades them the next day to you while you nod uncomfortably.”

Debra A. Klein:Does ‘locker room talk’ mean there’s some kind of magic sex-crime-absolving Jock Itch powder that exists at gyms that erases anything said within the walls of a place where men change into their street clothes? Does it mean that men are inherently incapable of repressing their desires to sexually assault women and therefore it’s okay for them to speak among themselves this way? It’s clear from the dozens of men who tweeted and spoke about this from professional athletes to former frat boys, that this sort of ‘locker room’ is a mythical corner of the minds of misogynistic Neanderthals and will hopefully shrink and die in coming generations, like other vestigial limbs/organs have with evolution.

If there’s any bright side in all of this, it’s that issues women have been grappling with our entire lives are now out in the open. Everyone’s discussing the difference between dangerous language and assault and many more men are opening their eyes to the concept of women’s bodies being our own.”

Meredith Counts: Some of us (not just men) objectify women and discount women’s issues out of viciousness, but I think most of us do it out of ignorance or out of habit, and habits can be changed, ignorance can be enlightened. Keep talking about unfairness, oppose public figures who get away with sexism (or any ism!) and bring up kids who’ll do better than we do.”

Krista Benson:I’ve always been appalled when people say that feminists hate men because of stuff like this. Feminists don’t hate men – we aren’t the ones saying that all men talk casually about how they’d like to sexually assault women. That’s Trump and people like him. We actually think that the men that do these things should be held accountable and that Trump’s dismissal of this as ‘locker room banter’ is a sign of how dangerous he really is. Groping and kissing a person without their consent is sexual assault. Children are taught this. Adults who don’t know better are perps.”

Do YOU have a question for our cabal of fierce feminists? Email it to Avital Norman Nathman at

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