I’ve never written anything political here and I’m not starting now. At the same time, the political is personal, and a lot of personal thoughts and feelings have risen up in the last 24-48 hours.
After Republican nominee Donald Trump was caught on a 2005 recording, while speaking to entertainment host Billy Bush about how he views and treats women, people reacted with outrage and disgust. Trump’s first reaction was to excuse his language by categorizing it as “locker room banter.” His “banter” included saying he just starts “kissing women” without their consent, because he can’t help it. “It’s like a magnet,” he said. He also points out that when you’re a “star” you can get away with treating women however you want because, as he explains, “They let you do it.” There’s talk about women’s breasts and how he approached a woman he wanted sexually (reporter Nancy O’Dell), but it’s the bit about forcing himself on women that created a firestorm. He later videotaped an apology that addressed only that he was sorry he’d said those things, not that he views women as property for the taking.
There’s nothing I can say that millions (and millions) of other men and women aren’t saying, but every voice counts and that we’re talking about this is important. Our particular experiences, perhaps triggered by his comments, are important to tell, and many have been discussing those experiences. I’m a domestic violence advocate and a survivor of relationship violence, and write extensively about domestic violence and sexual assault in baseball (and had many conversations on social media about dv and other forms of assault in other sports), and because I work in sports being in locker rooms is part of the job. What I kept circling back to is Trump’s characterization of his comments about sexually attacking women as “locker room banter.”
Many people in sports took to Twitter to address that statement, including reporter Molly Knight, who tweeted with acidy humor that in her professional life, she’d never heard men in locker rooms give “specific sexual assault advice!” Boston Red Sox minor league player Cody Decker also took issue with Trump’s wording.
“I’ve been in quite a few locker rooms. The sexual assault banter has remarkably been at a minimum …Do you know why?...
A moment later, he continued.
“BECAUSE THAT’S NOT LOCKER ROOM BANTER! That is “sociopathic misogynistic sex offender banter!””
For anyone who hasn’t been in a locker room around athletes, it’s true that it’s an interesting place where you hear all sorts of things printable and unprintable. For women, the experience is unique. We’re usually outnumbered. We often get a few double-takes from players perhaps surprised by our presence. In the minor leagues, unique isn’t quite the right word, because it’s honestly extraordinary to see another woman in the press box or clubhouse (locker room, if you will).
I’ve often been alone, with no other reporter male or female, in minor league clubhouses. In the major leagues, there are usually other women around, and there’s always a beat writer or four. My experiences have run the gamut. There have been players that have asked me what I’m doing in there. Players have ridiculed me. There was a player in the major leagues that dropped his towel when I turned and he laughed in my face. The one and only time a team’s reaction (they screamed and yelled catcalls) sent me out of the clubhouse, a player followed me into the hall and in a creepy voice asked, “Oh, that’s not what you want to see? Us naked?” He cackled, and then went back in with his teammates. There are other incidents, some minor or silly, but there are many, many other moments in which I was treated with respect and professionalism. I don’t hear any sort of “locker room banter” toward me on a regular basis, though, clearly, Trump was referring more to what (I assume) he says to the boys, when the girls aren’t around. I also assume he was talking about a gym locker room, since there’s little evidence he played much sports in his youth. But the point is, he’s classified a certain kind of talk about women’s bodies as just boys being boys. It’s a typical response, even today, to have women and girls talked about as deserving of all sorts of abuse. We’ve not yet gotten past that and in many ways, due to social media, those voices have gotten louder; but so too have the voices of women who’ve been victimized, and men who find abuse of women and specifically Trump’s treatment of women, well, deplorable.
One thing that all of this triggered was the sort of flip side of my experiences, and it came to mind when Knight said she’s never heard “specific” sexual assault chatter. Truthfully, I have. To be really specific, what I heard was in the dugout. Two players were grabbing bats to go on the field for BP, and I sat on the bench quietly observing my notes. One player loudly turned to his teammate and talked about another teammate who wanted to “Fu** her up the ass. Wasn’t he talking about that?” His teammate’s reaction was one of shock and disapproval, and he wanted no part of the conversation. He told him he was effing weird and walked away. One can only assume the guy the player was referencing was himself, but who knows? He felt it necessary to humiliate me and inform me that a player, whoever he might’ve been, wanted to sodomize me. Locker room banter? No. Specific sexual details of what another person wanted to do to me.
What men and boys talk about when they talk about women surely is sexual at times, whether in locker rooms or not. But Trump, and anyone in his corner, is throwing all men under the bus. They’re dismissing men and saying that hey, they all just hang around and engage in talk about doing things to women without their consent, because they have every right to, particularly if rich and famous. In defense of men, this is utter fiery garbage. All men, all guys in a locker room, do not speak about women this way and they don’t treat women that way. There are many other moments both good and bad I could point to in the locker room, but, outside of that one moment in the dugout, I have never heard men speaking about assaulting women like it was a fun game. I know too many men that are better than this and so do we all. And telling your sons, younger brothers, and friends that this is just boys stuff and what goes on in the locker room is degrading to men, and it’s normalizing and accepting of abuse of women and rape culture.
This has been a rough week. We’re hearing some horrific words used for and about women, and we’re facing a reality we can’t deny. We should be outraged and we should speak out. Women aren’t sport. And to react to this casually would be a mistake. No matter what your politics or affiliation, and I won’t discuss mine, we can’t accept this as normal.
Looking beyond an actual locker room, and just observing the idea that this is how men talk about women, we have an opportunity. Athletes, like Decker, have a tremendous opportunity and are proudly taking a stand. I’ve written about this before and I’ll say again that those in sports have incredible power to send a SPECIFIC message about women and abuse. They can take an important stand on abuse. Let’s do our best to assure that when we hear the words “locker room banter,” we’re not associating it with sexually assaulting women.