In the Locker Room: Talk Matters

Our attitudes can be shaped or at least influenced by these forces, whether or not we realize it. Based on the housewives’ reactions and gratitude, I concluded from “Queen for a Day” that household appliances were extremely valuable and expensive, and that my family must be extraordinarily privileged to have so many of them. This was an important truth, seen through the eyes of a child who did not have much of a window into others’ lives.

Today’s “Real Housewives” have multiple programs, but gratitude is not the focus—on the contrary. The aim of these shows, whether in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, etc., is to have a chance to see bad behavior. “How low will they go?” is the question behind most reality shows. Their popularity as entertainment is partly explained by the excitement of witnessing people act like naughty children, and the sense of superiority we gain as we watch them humiliate themselves . . .  or be judged and humiliated by others, as in “The Apprentice,” where Donald Trump’s catchphrase was “You’re fired!”

There was a palpable sense of excitement in the air last weekend as reporters weighed in on the story of Trump’s comments to the tittering Billy Bush, a fellow TV show host (and, ironically, Jeb and George Bush’s cousin). Bored after months of following polls and rallies, journalists said now here is something that might be a real game changer. But there was also the schadenfreude of witnessing something that we could all shake our heads at and cluck over: “Trump felled by Bush!” Had Trump actually sexually assaulted women, or was this “just” locker-room talk, as he claimed? What does it mean that he even said these things? Would the debate with Hillary Clinton sink to new lows as these revelations were discussed in front of the nation?

Author Kelly Oxford decided to go deeper and to use Trump’s comments as a starting place to tweet about sexual assault. “Women: tweet me your first assaults,” she wrote on Twitter at 7:48 p.m. ‘They aren’t just stats. I’ll go first: Old man on city bus grabs my ‘pussy’ and smiles at me, I’m 12.’” She says she was expecting some responses but was astonished by what happened. The Times reports:

“By Saturday morning, she was getting as many as 50 responses per minute: often-explicit, first-person accounts of molestation. A hashtag had materialized: “#notokay.” The Twitter posts continued to pour in through the weekend. And by Monday afternoon, nearly 27 million people had responded or visited Ms. Oxford’s Twitter page.”

Many women wrote of first assaults as very young teenagers as Ms. Oxford had. “‘Locker room talk’ normalizes this behavior — what we say matters,” wrote one woman. Another referred to the many “trigger alerts” that she has experienced as repeated events demeaning females have been revealed throughout this election season.

Unfortunately for us, this is not a reality show, but reality. The stakes could hardly be higher. We have ourselves to blame, in part, for our eager consumption of media that celebrates the lowest common denominator. We have chosen a reality TV star to be a nominee for president of the United States. He has delivered, as he usually does, a good performance, at least by the standards of the world that made him.

But The Times also reported Tuesday that while many women have consistently been bothered by some of the derogatory comments they have heard during the past year, more men are beginning to take notice too, and the events of last week are causing a shift. Columnist Frank Bruni writes

“As the father of no daughters, I’m appalled by Donald Trump’s comments about groping women.

As the husband of no wife, I’m offended.” Politicians have expressed outrage about his TV tape, referring to their families, but you don’t have to be related to a victim to know that no one should be used as a target for abuse.

Samantha Bee, a master of political satire, said it best: “The number of American voters related to a woman: 100%.” Lets hope that one result of “tapegate” is to open up a dialogue about why it is “#not okay” to trash talk and assault women and increase our awareness of the ubiquity of sexual assault. By putting its shameful prevalence in the spotlight, it offers the millions of women who are targeted every day some hope. And perhaps men will be more aware that what they say really matters.

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. October 13, 2016 at 7:47 pm

    This is an insightful article on such a timely subject that has affected many Americans deeply. Thank you for your thoughtful discussion of the psychological issues that could underlie the behavior that we witnessed this weekend from the Access Hollywood “hot mic” audio and video tapes. And your observation about the change in ‘reality television” from the 60’s and 70’s Queen for a Day to programs such as the “Housewives” series was sobering. Queen for a Day acknowledged that there were so many women who were struggling financially with no hope of reaching the middle class. It is time for all Americans to think about those who are without education, technical training, job opportunity, and health care. It is time to bring back Queen for a Day in all those communities where there is no hope and award the winner job training, jobs, social connections and support.