The morning after the US election, on an early bird flight, I chanced upon an acquaintance, a prominent Canadian businessman. He was singing the praises of Donald Trump while I was still smarting at the lost opportunity of having a woman leader of the free world.
When I told him that I couldn’t abide a president that denigrated women he replied, “It was just locker room talk. You have to accept that. Every man on this plane will have talked that way at one time or another”.
“You mean to say that if I were to give a major presentation to a bunch of men and leave the meeting room, that is what they will say about me?” I responded incredulously.
“Absolutely, guaranteed”, he said as I sunk still deeper into a funk.
Although we are all aware that men, come together and talk about women sexually, almost as a rite of passage, the practice is not okay. It is disappointing and depressing that such glaring objectification exists. The expectation that we should excuse this behavior and accept it as the natural right of men, is even worse. Once you have obscenely torn a woman apart with bro-talk, an insidious web of disrespect is woven. It becomes difficult to promote her and even more difficult to work for her. In short, it limits her opportunities.
From the time we enter high school we are told that this type of talk is harmless, good-natured joking and if we react negatively, we must lack a sense of humour. What we fail to mention is that locker room talk leads to groping and unwanted sexual advances because when you dehumanize people in conversation their needs no longer count. If we want to challenge rape and partner violence, not to mention provide women with equal pay and chances for advancement, men must stop degrading women.
The recent situation that unfolded at Harvard is proof that locker room talk is alive and well on college campuses. The men’s soccer team was found speculating and rating the preferred sexual positions of the women’s soccer team. Graphic terms such as ‘The Triple Lindy’ and ‘Doggy Style’ were bandied about. After an investigation, the university courageously ended the men’s season, in spite of the fact that homecoming weekend was imminent and the team was poised for a conference win.
Harvard deserves credit for their decisive action and zero-tolerance position, yet it is a small step. This talk is pervasive. As a female student told the NYTIMES, “They are not bad people, they’re young men and they’re hyping themselves up. They don’t show their vulnerabilities to each other. And when they are together, they’re trying to be tough and show how strong they are, and part of that is still tied to ideas – that are troubling to me at least – about men and sexual dominance over women”.
In his book The Future of Men, author Jack Myers cites research that men define sexual behavior as central to their identity, yet, their objectification of women results in personal dissociation and emotional detachment. Thus we have a “confused male gender struggling to understand and adapt to a world in which they can no longer rely on tacit and passive acceptance of their sexual addictions”, he states.
Clearly, sexual bro-talk does not serve either gender. It locks men in a prison of repressed emotion and limits their ability to enjoy satisfying relationships while increasingly subjecting women to sexual abuse. It is to the benefit of both genders to put a stop to it.
I am heartened as I speak to female friends who are asking for support from the men in their lives. Grown daughters are imploring their fathers to stop assuming that Donald Trump is the exception, and to realize that he represents what is wrong with the relationship between men and women in our society.
It will not be easy for men to take a stand when the boys are sharing bawdy banter; everyone wants to be part of the group and fit in, yet the benefits will be worth it. Recent research from Oxford https://osf.io/ytj5s/ demonstrates the value of interconnectedness and how doing something positive for others enhances our own happiness. In much the same way that locker room talk leads to disassociation, standing up for women will increase connectedness.
We need men who understand the pressure and fear of women who enter a parking garage with keys clutched between their fingers, men who will commit to stopping the locker room talk that perpetuates this environment. It is important that men don’t let it slide if a friend makes degrading comments about women. We need them instead to push back and say, “I can’t participate in these conversations as I need to protect my daughter from being considered a sex object and I don’t want to limit her opportunities” or simply, “Come on, you’re better than that”.
That is a man that we can look up to. I wish that it had been such a man who defeated our first real opportunity for a female POTUS but sadly, that is not the case. Such a man will not only enjoy better relationships himself, he may be able to prevent a sexual predator from groping a woman at the office party or worse, assaulting her in a darkened alley. Furthermore, his daughter just might become president one day.