Taking the Talk out of the Locker Room: The Dangers of Oppressive Words in American Society
Caroline Winther | 11/8/16 3:00pm
| Updated 11/8/16 3:02pm
Matilda Kitabwalla / American Word Magazine
In early October, America was shocked to hear a 2005 clip of presidential nominee Donald Trump describing a deplorable treatment of women. In the tape, Trump bragged about what he would do to women and what he has done to women.
It was controversial for many reasons and may have turned the tides in this grueling election. But it was his defense of those 2005 remarks that left so many people outraged.
Trump dismissed his comments and called them “locker-room talk.” This prompted a nationwide discussion, leading AUSG Women’s Initiative to hold a discussion that took a critical standpoint on so-called locker room talk and how it relates to a larger issue of rape culture in America.
The purpose of the event was not to debate whether Donald Trump was wrong. Instead, the purpose was to understand that his words were part of a much larger and wide-spread issue plaguing American women and femmes.
What is actually happening in locker rooms?
In the wake of the video, many male advocates quickly stepped up and denounced Trump’s words in saying that they did not represent what occurs in a locker room.
But does it matter what actually happens in locker rooms? Historically, any grouping of men in one area for an extended period tends to lead to misogynist discussion. The issue with Trump’s comments were not that they were locker-room based, which they may have been. The issue was the words that were said.
Male advocates cannot ignore that there is a problem in predominantly-male spaces. In attempting to separate themselves from the actions of Trump and others, they ignore their own accountability.
This issue starts to become more complex; it’s no longer only about remarks made by a presidential candidate, it’s about the tendency of the majority to refuse to take accountability.
The Bigger Picture
Women’s Initiative sought to also remind us of the long-term damage of remarks like Trump’s.
Several larger concepts were discussed, including objectification and invalidation. Experiences of objectification vary from woman to woman and from femme to femme, but it was invalidation that struck a chord in many members of the audience.
Is it more harmful to invalidate the voice of an oppressed individual than to objectify them? A member of the audience answered this question with the idea of power.
Invalidation and the Power Struggle
Most people at the discussion agreed that invalidation is harmful because it takes away power from the oppressed victim.
Many would argue that Donald Trump views women as sex objects, but the discussion further decided that it’s not as much about sex as we think. Donald Trump thinks of women as objects because rape culture isn’t a question of sexual desire. It’s about power. Trump is unpopular for many voters because of his ego, rudeness, and because he seems like nothing more than a power-hungry businessman.
In a world where women and femmes have fought for the opportunity to display their strength, it’s especially demeaning to see that strength taken from them without their consent.
Per a 2010 study, only 15.8 to 35 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to the police. A member of the discussion suggested that this was because many women (and survivors of all genders alike) are embarrassed and ashamed in the wake of such a traumatic event.
Another member of the audience also reminded us that power isn’t something that’s just prevalent in sexism, but in racial issues as well.
Women of Color and the Layers of American Sexism
The issue of casual oppression and imbedded rape culture in American society becomes more complex when the specific struggles of racial minorities are factored in.
One of the common differentiations made by the speakers was between mainstream or “white” feminism, and intersectional feminism. Some people mentioned that strength is conveyed very differently for women of different races.
Where it may be liberating for a white woman to seem strong and masculine, the same could be demeaning for a black woman who has lived her life characterized as tough and angry. Many black feminist circles discuss the infantilization of women from other races, while black women suffer an opposite sort of sexism.
We often hear the saying “history was written by the victor”. Considering this, it’s important to consider that feminism, like every other struggle in human existence, is something that is more complex than testaments written by wealthy white men.
The Impact on Sexual Assault Survivors
Lena Dunham, an American actress and feminist activist, made headlines again this year when she went for Halloween dressed as a parody of Trump’s comments made in the 2005 recording.
Her costume caused a great deal of controversy because it was seen as making light of rape culture at the expensive of survivors.
Reacting to this and similar events, the discussion moved toward a consideration of those triggered by sexual assault and sexual assault survivors. Is it effective to make fun of oppression, or is it harmful?
When you joke about serious issues, especially those that actively harm women and femmes around you, the discussion of invalidation rises again. By poking fun at oppression, even if for your own benefit, the speakers argued that you are invalidating oppression and taking strength from the victim.
Immediately after the release of the 2005 recording, many advocates on social media pushed for humorous campaigns against Trump. The directors of Women’s Initiative implored the audience to consider why this was problematic.
We cannot forget that rape culture affects everyone differently. While its consequences may be invisible, they are powerful to those oppressed by it. What may be offensive to one person may be downright triggering to the next.
This election has been difficult for many Americans, and while it may be over in a matter of hours, its ramifications may never truly fade.