There has been a lot of discussion lately in the news and on social media about "locker room talk". In case you don't know, "locker room talk" is a euphemism for terrible things that some men say about women while in the presence of other men. It's hardly a new concept, but it has experienced a recent rise to fame after a US presidential candidate "explained away" some truly horrific comments as locker room talk.
Watching the news and hearing people defend the concept makes me sad and angry. Part of me can't believe that we're having this discussion. The other part is unsurprised.
By dismissing sexist, harmful and derogatory language as "locker room talk", we are saying that women are worth less than men. That it is okay to objectify them, to laugh at them, to demean them and to brag about sexually assaulting them when they aren't around. That when women are not physically present in a space, men can "let their guard down" and speak freely. Boys will be boys after all (*gags*).
But the truth of the matter is that "locker room talk" is unacceptable. It is not normal to speak about anyone in a harmful, disrespectful or violent manner. And dismissing abusive language as "locker room talk" or "boys will be boys" makes two fundamentally damaging assumptions. Firstly, it assumes that women are not worthy of respect and, secondly, it assumes that men inherently disrespect women. Most women have (regretfully) been battling sexist rhetoric their entire lives, but men should be outraged as well. When some men dismiss sexist language as "locker room talk", it normalizes the behaviour as if it is accepted by all men; it calls into question the humanity and decency of an entire gender. In a recent rally in Manchester, Michelle Obama said it perfectly: "To dismiss this as everyday locker room talk is an insult to decent men everywhere."
A lot of the recent media focus has been about why (or if) locker room talk matters. Many people are dismissive of it. It was "just" locker room talk. Locker room talk matters. Locker room talk matters because it reveals a fundamental disrespect for women when they aren't present. It shows that some men are unwilling to hold themselves accountable when women aren't physically present to hold them accountable. And this lack of responsibility, accountability and fundamental respect for women is the root of the modern sexism that seeps outside of the locker room and into the boardroom. If locker room talk never left the locker room it would be bad enough. But it pervades the world that we live and work in and has a very real effect on women every day.
So, no. We cannot dismiss sexist, disrespectful and derogatory language as locker room talk. It's harmful. It's unacceptable. And it's been around for way too long (it's 2016 FFS). Let's all hold ourselves to a higher standard, inside and outside the locker room. It's not always about what you stand for, but rather what you stand up for.