Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Word About Locker-Room Talk

Regular programming will resume tomorrow.

This post has been brewing in various forms for several years, but the latest advertisement for America's rape culture, courtesy of a presidential candidate, has pushed me over the top. Those who deny or encourage rape culture get to say whatever they like and brush it off when called on it, while those of us who have dealt with the results of that culture remain silent because we make others uncomfortable when we talk about it.

Make no mistake - kissing a woman without waiting for consent and "grabbing her in the p***y" because she won't stop the offender...this is sexual assault. Using one's power, position, or ability to intimidate in order to do sexual things to a person is sexual coercion. The fact that she didn't say "no" because she didn't want to lose her job or hurt the man's feelings does not equate to consent.

I recently had the misfortune to read an accusation on social media that 95% of all of us (not just men) have made similar comments, and anyone who is "still offended" by those comments should consider what kids hear on TV shows, in rap music and movies, and in school. While I have to disagree that so many women banter and brag about committing sexual assault, perhaps I've just been hanging out in the wrong right locker rooms. The same person implied that women who are offended by what was said in the van video feel that way because the media and Clinton supporters are telling us we should.

Contrary to what some believe, most of us women are able to think for ourselves and form opinions on our own. We don't need the media or anyone else to tell us how to feel. I am not offended because someone told me to be.

I do agree, though, that children hear rotten things, and that they are listening and learning. The creep that lured me into that locker room our presidential candidate brushed off probably heard remarks like that during his youth: "You can just grab a woman [young girl, in my case] in the p***y and she won't even stop you. It's lots of fun."

This is not locker-room banter. This is our rape culture.

Dismissing it passes it on to our children, particularly our sons.

The candidate's comments have been a trigger for me. I wasn't in the least surprised that he was caught bragging about doing something so vulgar, and I am not more disgusted by him now than I was before. I am more offended by the rape culture in our society than I am by the comments of someone I had no respect for even before he bragged about committing sexual assault.

In the middle of writing this I read that thousands of women have been sharing their sexual assault stories since the release of that van video, and I guess I'm adding my voice to theirs. I don't need to describe what happened because our Republican candidate already did exactly that in such pithy and presidential terms. I don't remember how old I was (8 or 10?), but I remember what I was wearing and that it took place in a racquet club in Mequon, Wisconsin. My parents were there for a tennis tournament, but I got bored and wandered away. I told them about it during my freshman year in college. I didn't tell them right away because

   a. I didn't actually understand what on earth had just happened, and
   b. I assumed I would get in trouble (I knew the rules - you do not wander off by yourself!).

That person (an employee - who later grinned and waved at me as my parents and I left) might have heard about this idea from someone in a locker room who talked like those cretins in the van. This was in the 70s before song lyrics and TV show scripts started to get really offensive, so perhaps his plan came from a movie, his friends, his family, or his own sick head.

The rape culture, though.  Some people scoff and say it's just a feminist theory. Some people dismiss it as locker-room talk. Some people say everyone talks like that. Therein lies the problem. Refusing to acknowledge the effects of sexual comments, objectifying women, and sexual assault is one key part of the rape culture. Blaming the victim ("If you don't want to be raped, then don't dress like that"), trivializing what happened ("What's the big deal, he only grabbed your p***y; it's not like you got raped"), and justifying one's actions ("You never said 'no', so I didn't rape you.") are all pieces of rape culture.

Have you ever heard older men (say over 50) make lewd comments about high school cheerleaders or flirt with young waitresses? I have, and I should have said something. Why didn't I? Because I wasn't strong enough to deal with "Oh, lighten up, it was a compliment!" No, a nice tip is a compliment; a comment about the length of her skirt or the shape of her legs is not. And nothing other than "She's talented" is a compliment about a 16-year-old cheerleader when it's said by a man over fifty eighteen.

In case this post has reached any men who occasionally make lewd remarks (probably thinking of them as compliments) about a woman's body - and I'm going to use a waitress as an example - I would like to ask them to consider the following.

  1. If the waitress is wearing a short skirt or a low-cut top, remember that's her uniform. She doesn't have a choice. She might have been wearing that same uniform that permits you to gawk at her thighs when she was sexually assaulted last Tuesday on her way home. (Remember that 1 in 4 American women has been sexually assaulted by the time she reaches her 20th birthday, and 1 in 6 women has been a victim survivor of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.)

  2. Imagine you are that young woman's father sitting at the next table, and you overheard the "harmless" comment you just made or thought. Would you, her father, beam with pride that a stranger gawked and leered at your daughter and made a comment about her breasts, legs, or ass, or would you want to punch him in the face?

  3. That "harmless" comment you're thinking as the waitress is trying to do her job so she can provide for herself or her family...does it really need to be said out loud? Would silence be the higher ground? What are you hoping to gain by making the comment? If there are women in your group or near enough to overhear...really??

  4. The waitress who is pretending to enjoy your flirting is doing so because behaving otherwise will jeopardize her tip. I promise you, no matter how much you tell yourself otherwise, she is tolerating it, not enjoying it. I waitressed for one agonizing summer, and I assure you I never once felt pleased about or flattered by leering looks and suggestive remarks. I found it creepy and pathetic, but I responded pleasantly enough to keep my job and hopefully earn a tip.

  5. If you are in the presence of other men who make lewd remarks, please stand up for your daughters, granddaughters, wives, sisters, nieces, and neighbors. Perhaps all you are capable of is remaining stonily silent and not laughing along - that is at least a start.

Do I really want men to remember those thoughts before they make a comment in public about a woman's body? Why, yes, I do, just like every time I hear a comment like that, I wonder what the sicko in the tennis club heard during his life to lead him to believe what he did to me was acceptable.

I don't feel sorry for myself and I don't see myself as a victim. But sexual assault is not something a person just gets over, nor is it something to be taken lightly or dismissed. Boys aren't born with the burning desire to grab someone's p***y or make public comments about a woman's body; they learn these behaviors from others.

It starts somewhere, and most often it starts with thoughts that become comments that become ideas that become actions.

It's time for us to start talking about this, and by the looks of social media today, the discussion is underway.


  1. Thanks for writing this. I have already gone on a rampage about this topic while talking with some of my friends, so I'll avoid ranting on your blog. I will say that I am disheartened by the dismissive attitudes that some people are making with regards to Trump's comments. Rape culture needs to end, and denying that it exists doesn't make it go away.

    1. I just saw another gem. Some conservative celeb said or tweeted that because 80 million copies of "Shades of Grey" were sold, we should grow up and not be offended. So because people choose to read a book (in which the sex is surely twisted, but consensual) that means it's ok for others to promote sexual assault, he thinks.