What Locker Room Talk Reveals About Masculinity in America

In the last presidential debate, Donald Trump weakly apologized for obscene remarks he made in 2005. Referencing his celebrity, Trump told a younger man, Billy Bush, that he, Trump, can just grab a woman in her most intimate region. “When you’re a star,” Trump said, “they let you do it.” During the debate, Trump brushed these comments aside as “locker room talk.” That was, in no uncertain terms, a veiled attempt to normalize his vulgar words by implying that all men do it.

No, all men don’t do it.

But, unfortunately, many men do talk crudely about sex. Vile speech of this nature is a product of the toxic hyper-masculinity that defines manhood in America. And locker room talk reveals the danger of this perversion of masculinity.

Locker room talk reveals the deep desire men have for the good ‘ol days when men had their space and women had theirs. The clubhouse after a round of golf. Donald Draper’s workplace. A neighbor’s garage. These were places where a man could feel comfortable being a man; a place where boy’s could be boys. In these sanctuaries a man could drink, smoke, cuss, and, of course, put his sexual exploits on full display in order to win the affirmation of his comrades. But the ‘boys will be boys’ attitude does little more than reveal the juvenile nature of manhood in America. American men feel most like men when they are acting most like boys.

There, in the company of other men, the assumption is that it’s safe to reduce women to objects existing for the sole purpose of sexual gratification. It’s understood that women serve as objects to procure one’s standing as a man among his peers. There is no need to offer dignity and respect in these fantastical locker rooms, because women are not thought of as people. Only as body parts for the taking.

Locker room talk reveals men’s preference for the pornographic: sex without relationship. Being weak in America is not allowed. Vulnerability is a liability, making any kind of intimate relationship a risk. Within relationship, rejection becomes a possibility. Relationships amplify insecurities, fears, and emotions. Therefore sex, within a mutual, consenting relationship, is problematic. What is sex if not an act full of emotions, closeness, and vulnerability? Pornography is safer. The locker room is sanctuary; a place to feign confidence and boast about conquests without vulnerability.

This isn’t about women misunderstanding that locker room talk is just what men do. This is about men failing to understand what locker room talk actually is.  Locker room talk is pornographic because it assumes women are consenting participants welcoming the lewd, aggressive advances of men. Pornography has taught us that with a little persuasion, even if it is forceful, a woman’s “no” can become a “yes.” Make no mistake about it: locker room talk of this kind is abuse. Nothing else. For too long men have been able to ignore the damage and violence our words incite on those around us. In a patriarchal society that idolizes the self-made man who gets what he wants out of life, men have enjoyed unusual freedom. We’ve been taught that the world is ours for the taking, so grab whatever you want.

Locker room talk is speech that paves the path for sexual assault on college campuses. If you cannot see the correlation between talking about grabbing what you desire and young men forcibly having sex with passed out women, you are purposefully being ignorant.

What breaks my heart is the number of evangelical Christians willfully turning away from such immoral and debasing talk to support the one who speaks it. Christians – who believe that words created the world and thus create reality – are dismissing these words from having real meaning. Jesus told us that evil words come from an evil heart, yet so many who claim to promote family values in the name of Jesus willfully ignore the obvious violence of locker room talk.

Men, whether you’re a Christian or not, this is on us. Women have been raising this issue for years, and it’s safe to say we’ve turned a blind eye. We’ve ignored and written off the obvious epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. We’ve bought into the lie that ‘boys will be boys’ and that men are for sex. We’ve talked out of one corner of our mouth about the need for self-control and discipline, and then out of the other corner bemoaned the idea that once a man’s libido gets going you can’t stop the train. We’ve blamed women for dressing too provocatively, while shaming them for being prudes. We’ve celebrated the “liberated” Playboy model who chooses to play according to the rules of a man’s world, and demonized the feminist who fights for a woman’s right to choose not to follow men’s rules. We’ve participated in creating a cultural standard for masculinity requiring men to reject and distance themselves from anything deemed feminine to prove their manhood – which even includes distancing from actual relationships with women. We’ve chosen pornography over intimacy. And then, when we get called out for our violent speech, we’ve whined like children about a newly feminized culture that won’t let men be men.

Society isn’t marginalizing men. Society doesn’t hate men. What society is doing is asking men to be better men. Yes, a different kind of man than we’ve known in the past. One who is emotionally available instead of a male automaton. One who shares in raising children so that children know it is safe and preferable for a man to be relationally connected and available. One who doesn’t walk through life with a destructive sense of entitlement, but takes responsibility for his actions, listens to the voices of others, and treats all people – regardless of gender, race, and religion – with respect.

In other words, society is asking men to be human.