October 15, 2016

Locker Room Banter Does Not Involve Bragging About Groping Women

Locker RoomSocial media has been in full outrage mode ever since the Access Hollywood tape showing comments Donald Trump made in 2005 was released. The comments were outrageous, so this is an understandable reaction. Some insist that Trump's comments are irrelevant in terms of his suitability for office, but I must disagree.

Given that Trump was very much an adult in 2005, I think it is fair to assume that these statements were at least a somewhat accurate reflection of his thinking at the time. The question of whether they accurately reflect his current thinking is open for debate, and I'd like to think that reasonable people could probably reach different conclusions.

I happened to be on Twitter shortly after news of Trump's comments reached critical mass, and there was one widely repeated meme I found interesting. This will not be an exact quote because there were several different versions of it, but the just of it was this:
I've been in many locker rooms and attended many frat parties, and I have to tell you men do not talk like this.
I found this claim to be an interesting one. In some ways, it does not fit my experience particularly well. But in another very important way, it contains a critical truth that deserves to be emphasized. I'd like to address both here since both are relevant to Trump's defense that this was just "locker room banter."

By way of context, I need to point out two things. First, I have never been in a locker room populated with billionaires. I suppose it is possible that the locker rooms they frequent are vastly different from any I've ever seen. Second, most of my locker room experience comes from the 1980s and 1990s. Times may have indeed changed. Maybe boys and young men talked very differently during these periods of time than they did whenever Trump was in locker rooms or than they do now.

Setting that aside, I'll start with the part of the above claim that deviates from my experience a bit. With one important exception that I will address below, I heard comments similar to Trump's frequently throughout junior high, high school, and college. I heard them in locker rooms, parties, dorm rooms, basketball courts, and practically every other setting I can think of where young men gathered. Bragging about one's sexual conquests and making lewd statements about what one would like to do with various young women was quite common. Thus, I'm willing to say that some of Trump's comments seem at least somewhat consistent with "locker room banter," baring the big exception described below.

During my youth, the manner in which young men talked about young women in was frequently sexist, almost always crude, and sometimes misogynistic. As common as this sort of language was, we knew it was socially unacceptable. No young man would have talked like this in front of adults he didn't know (e.g., a friend's parents), and most had the sense not to talk this way when women were present. And yet, talking like this was often part of what it meant to hang out with other young men in locker rooms and many other settings.

As for the part that deviates wildly from anything I ever heard in any locker room or any other setting, it centers around consent and specifically on groping women without their consent. This is what must be emphasized because this is not part of normal "locker room banter" at all. This was not something any normal young man would have bragged about. Why? It was socially unacceptable and would have branded him as inadequate. Much of the bragging was designed to inflate one's reputation as far as sexual prowess among the other men. Admitting that you had groped a woman against her will would have amounted to announcing to anyone within earshot that you were a loser and unappealing to women. It was not the sort of thing anyone would have bragged about doing.

I hope times have changed and that young men who are in junior high, high school, or college today will find it incomprehensible that some men used to talk like this at all. That would be evidence of real progress, and I think it would be fantastic. But I am skeptical. I suspect that one might not have to look too hard to find young men today who still talk this way even though they know they shouldn't do so.

As far as I'm concerned, the most objectionable part of the comments Trump made on the Access Hollywood tape center around his sense of entitlement. Because he is rich and famous, he can treat people - especially women - horribly and get away with it. He can just walk up and grope non-consenting women and expect to face no consequences for doing so. I believe that this provides some important insight into his character, mindset, or whatever else one wishes to call it. This is the face of pathological narcissism, and it is ugly.

To be clear, nothing I have written here is aimed at excusing any of Trump's comments. Even though it was not uncommon to hear young men saying some of what he said in my youth, he made these comments as an adult. As an adult myself, I do not find it even remotely difficult to refrain from talking like this today. In fact, I can't say I am even aware of any temptation to do so. Moreover, Trump bragged about doing things normal men would not brag about doing (i.e., groping women).