When Trump Says “Locker Room Talk” and I’m Afraid I Know What He Means

What This Has To Do With Me

I feel like I’m about to do something wrong: talking about rape among men. And I think it’s that feeling that’s driving me forward. The feeling of trading one club for the other. One such club is illustrated below:

My friends and I binged the first-person shooter, Halo 2, and talked shit into the wee hours. A classic teenage fantasy: order pizza and get jacked up on Mountain Dew Code Red. We’d heard it had more caffeine. And that was a good thing. We wouldn’t really talk about women. We wouldn’t really even talk about sex. But we’d use the word “rape” causally. i.e. Red Team beats Blue Team 50 to 12 resulting in We raped you guys! Or if one happen to nail a precise sniper rifle head-shot from across the map one might hear, Raaaappppeddd!!! [more on conflicting thoughts on video game violence coming in the future] To break it down even further, “rape” was a hollow word of victory and dominance. To rape meant that you were doing something right. Excelling.

But why use “we” and not “I?” My gut reaction is not to generalize. Why lump all of my friends, or guys in general, into the same actions? Is my memory strong enough to know that all of what I’m writing is true? Ultimately, I believe this is about silence and complicity. And if you’re a guy and don’t know what I’m talking about, then maybe this post isn’t for you.

But I’m willing to gamble you do know what I’m talking about. And there’s a pretty good reason why I think some people might find this truth shocking. If there were girls or women around, we would act better. We weren’t cool. But, damn, would we try to be. Even back then we had enough sense to be embarrassed by using the word “rape” in a casual way. But if any larger conversation is going to take place about rape and sexual assault, one of the places it needs to start is with men and boys. Even when it appears to be causal or generalized. Even with our friends and even with our president elect.

What This Has To Do With Trump

To me, this is a form of “locker room talk” Trump has referenced. It’s not necessarily about sports or about locker rooms at all. But more about boys becoming men and the intimate spaces we hold together. It’s about the way we speak to each other when no one else is around. You may be saying to yourself at this point: Trump’s comment from 2005 wasn’t about generalized rape or even that he later apologized for it. And I even contemplated leaving Trump out of this article entirely, but since it was his comment that seemed to get this issue into the broader discussion, certain credits are necessary.

And I know I’m throwing myself under the bus here for not necessarily saying these things, but for letting them be said. This is a difficult post for me to write, not only because it demonizes my past friendships and myself, but also because writing about it takes it out of abstract memory and makes it real. And as I mentioned above, I’m apprehensive about fueling Trump by writing another article about him. But if our president elect is found to be normalizing misogyny, then I fear this cycle will only perpetuate. This is where we all need to step in.

What This Has To Do With Men and Teenage Boys

A question I’m still asking myself is why did we think that was a cool thing to say, or an appropriate word to use casually at all. Maybe because it’s single-handedly one of the worst things you could possibly say or do. Maybe by using the word casually, it still felt foreign and we could dissociate from the act attached to it. Casual use of words related to sexual assault leads to complacency regarding the act they’re describing. Even if this language is not directed solely at women or is referencing direct sexual assault, we can’t allow ourselves to become desensitized. This job should not be left to victims. The real work needs to be done on the inside. If we’re going to talk about rape, we should be talking about ways to stop it. Teenage boys talking to teenage boys. Men talking to men. And everything in between.

The thing is, if you know a guy, any guy, whether you want to believe it or not, he has probably witnessed this sort of language and done nothing at all about it. And who knows. Maybe it really was just me bearing witness. Maybe it really was just my friends. But I have an intuitive feeling it’s not. I have a feeling this is something happening across the country, if not the world.

So what’s the purpose of this post? To shame my past selves or those I surrounded myself with? While I don’t want that to be the case, I think if you’re a person who identifies with the above scenarios, I think there’s something to be embarrassed about. But that doesn’t mean future generations need to grow up normalizing the language of sexual assault. On the one hand, you have passive and oppressive misogyny. On the other, you have an open discourse about how this language became acceptable to some guys, and what we can all do to shut it down. And instead of using the word “rape” in it’s hollow form or in reference to dominance and victory, we can convert the discussion into a insightful and demonstrative one.

We can use what power we have create a shift in language. A shift in meaning. And become more conscious way of we talk about violence and sexual assault and more critical about the way we treat each other.

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