Conversation that took place this week between pretty much every straight couple in America:
Wife: So, do men really talk like that?
Husband: (Warily) Like what?
W: You know — locker room talk.
H: (A little indignant) Well, they don’t talk like that.
W: (With avid curiosity) What, then? What do they say?
H: (Like a person who just recalled an urgent appointment or possibly has just noticed the house is on fire) Just stuff. It’s stupid. But not that.
It’s reminiscent of a scene in an old novel when a respectable matron eagerly asks her husband what the inside of a whorehouse looked like. I forget what his answer was — something along the lines of, “My dear, you are not yourself. I fear you must take a tonic and rest in a darkened room.”
I don’t want to go all gender warrior on y'all, but this may have been a pivotal point.
It’s probably not the watershed-moment-we-keep-experiencing in this presidential election, which has experienced so many “pivotal points” now that our noggins are spinning like that child’s in “The Exorcist.”
Rather, it was a kind of cultural barometer reading, a moment when we all wondered: How ugly are we, really? Is this how most people would behave if they were assured they could get away with it (or that they’d never run for president)?
It’s an awkward question. Nobody wants to be asked outright: What is the crudest, most embarrassing thing you ever said in private? Or worse: Would you grope, kiss and paw people you found attractive — people who did not want such attention — if you were confident there would be no repercussions?
A lot of us — women in particular — may be fishing for some kind of reassurance that GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s abusive, objectifying behavior and language are an aberration. We want to believe that they are not — as the candidate himself apparently believes — a benchmark for how all men would behave if only they were rich enough, powerful enough, sufficiently (in their minds) bulletproof.
Well, people are different. The rock-bottom basement level might be lower for my elevator than for yours. But I strongly believe that Trump’s grotesque, predatory behavior and attitudes toward women represent a small, socially stunted minority and not, as some would have it, a jocular guys’-club norm.
I threw the question out, like hopeful chum upon the waters, to more than 2,000 Facebook friends.
There were dozens of answers from a range of people, including bikers, lawyers, baseball moms, former football pros, self-styled feminists, conservative-leaning men, and women who have had roughly the same conversation cited above this week.
Their answers were interesting and varied, but the common threads were these: People (particularly younger males) talk big, and not always in terms they’d want their grandmas to hear. They taunt one another (what many Texans call “woofin”).
But almost no one had ever even heard a locker-room-type discussion about sexual assault, or even uninvited sexual boorishness — not just because it’s “off limits,” but because it’s repulsive and doesn’t come to mind.
A few comments:
“No one ever bragged about forcing sexual advances on anyone,” one man wrote. “If anyone did, you walked away from him.”
“Young boys have always talked about sex and such in locker rooms. Sexual assault — no.”
“14 years in NFL locker rooms … NEVER anything like DT said.”
“It would have been considered unmanly.”
“50 years or more in men’s locker rooms, gyms, biker bars, construction sites. Guys can be crude, but I have never heard those words spoken that way from anyone.”
“You can tell a guy’s character by how he talks around the guys.’”
One woman told me she has worked for three decades around music tour roadies — a notoriously rowdy crowd: “Talking about a woman’s looks was fairly routine. Talking about assaulting them was never part of the conversation. Never.”
It’s interesting to note that while news coverage of the reaction to reports of Trump’s questionable behavior has generally skewed toward the response among women, plenty of men seem to be genuinely insulted by the candidate’s increasingly frantic efforts to brush all this off as just dudes being dudes.
“THAT locker room is a figment of (Trump’s) imagination.”
This guy sounded angry: “It’s a lie,” he said. “Real men do not assault women or talk about it.”
Here’s what actor Tom Hanks — a wealthy celebrity who might reasonably be expected to enjoy more privilege and entitlement than the average Joe — had to say:
“Look, I’m offended as a man. I’m not offended as a husband or a father,” he said in an interview with Time. “I’m offended as a guy. That’s just not right. It’s not right at work, it’s not right in the locker room. That’s all.”
He’s appalled, as we all should be — as women, as men, as Americans, as people. That’s all.
Jacquielynn Floyd is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.