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Activist Men React To 'Locker Room Talk'

10/14/2016 04:34 pm ET
Sara D. Davis via Getty Images

In a recent tape leaked by Access Hollywood and obtained by The Washington Post, presidential candidate Donald Trump is heard talking about how he would force himself on women, bragging in lewd terms about kissing and groping women, even "grabbing them by the pussy." He boasted, "And when you are a star, they let you do it." Like Michelle Obama expressed in her powerful and moving speech yesterday, I too, along with many other women and men, can admit to feeling "shaken to my core" by these developments. In a statement Trump released after the video went public, and again, in comments made at last week's debate, he downplayed his comments as just "locker room talk," as if these vulgar comments -- and sexually predatory behavior that amount to sexual assault -- is something all men do and believe is acceptable.

Having worked in alliance with many men and men's organizations over the years, I know that not to be the case with most men, so I reached out to several leading men who are working to promote gender equality for their thoughts. One of these advocates is Tony Porter, CEO of A CALL TO MEN, an organization that promotes healthy, respectful manhood to prevent violence and discrimination against all women and girls.

"You are seeing the harmful outcome of aspects of what men and boys are taught about manhood," Porter said. "That collective socialization creates unwritten rules that allow us to dismiss comments, jokes or behaviors that devalue women and girls, and through our silence, create the fertile ground where violence and discrimination against women can take root and flourish."

Through this collective socialization, Porter says, men and boys are taught to define themselves by devaluing women and girls, often through phrases so ingrained in our culture we don't give them a second thought: "You throw like a girl," "Man up," and explicit sayings that use gender-based attributes to bully and discriminate like, "Don't be a p----."

Porter believes Trump is using those very constructs as his defense. By saying his comments are "locker room talk," he is challenging the man card of all men -- rebuff me and your manhood is in question. Porter offers an example: "Three young men are watching girls walk down the hallway at school. The first young man comments on a girl's body. The second echoes the first. The third stands quietly until his friends rebuke him, 'what's wrong with you -- you don't like girls?'" Boys learn their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors from a society of men.

Unfortunately, conversations that devalue women do happen in locker rooms, as well as board rooms, the barber shop, the golf course, and other places where men gather. But there are also many men who are rallying, saying, "Not in my locker room, not in my household, not in my office, and not in my community." There is ongoing, innovative work advancing gender equality and preventing violence and discrimination.

I reached out to some of these men for their thoughts and insights which you will find below. They represent a growing movement and community, as well as further resources for those looking to be a part of positive change.

Marianne Schnall: In his "apology," Trump excused his comments as "locker room banter," How do you feel about that and about what Trump said?

"It's totally ridiculous and he clearly is facing backlash about it. There have been even a number of athletes who have taken offense about this comment. Usually, he simply denies outrageous things he's said, but this time around, he had to utilize minimization and justification. Interestingly, all of these are tactics that abusive partners use in their relationships." --Juan Carlos Areán

"The locker room banter excuse might work for a 13-year-old boy who is trying to figure out his way in the challenges of being pressured to show a certain kind of manhood - the toxic kind that says women and girls are prey and that no means yes. It doesn't hold up for a man who was 59 at the time. It's a defense of the indefensible. Any decent human being in this moment apologizes for the harm he caused, would acknowledge that his words represent the worst of toxic masculinities and would affirm the ways in which he has changed. Alas, there is no evidence that Donald Trump has changed. He continues to represent and embody American misogyny at its worst. Period." --Gary Barker

"It's notable that this is no different from what you'd hear in army barracks or frat houses, or among athletes who feel so entitled to do anything they want: 'And they let you do it!' But you also expect most men to outgrow this when they actually have to interact with real women as human beings--like wives and daughters and colleagues and friends. That is, by age 30. Okay, push it to 45. But 60? Sorry, but the guy is old enough to be a grandfather, old enough to be considered a 'dirty old man' for acting like that.

It also shows how so much of this 'banter' is homosocial posturing. He says it not to 'get' women but to get the guys to think 'Oh wow, this guy is awesome.'" --Michael Kimmel

"It's the same old tired refrain, about men having a private world where anything goes, and boys can be boys, and all bets are off." --Mark Matousek

"Put Trump's words in the mouth of a college football player and you get right to the heart of work to end sexual violence on college campuses. The lack of response to such language, attitudes and behavior of men's entitlement to women's bodies is at the center of hundreds of investigations by the Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights, of how colleges respond to sexual assault complaints and the culture that is silent about it.

Put those words in the mouth of a college football player and its supports the narrative that conflates entitled athletes as sexual predators emboldened by the culture of misogyny and sexism that festers in the "locker room." It assumes the locker room to be devoid of mature, respectful men and wrought with braggadocios misogyny that is celebrated and permissible because women or men of integrity are absent." --Don McPherson

MS: What needs to change in our society and culture to address these types of actions and behavior?

"In my opinion, more men have to step up and confront other men who use abusive and threatening language. The good news is that an increasing number of men are speaking out against this kind of misogynist, abusive language. I believe there is a higher level of awareness than even 10 years ago." --Juan Carlos Areán

"Every coach, or father, every mother for that matter, who gives echo to this view that "boys will be boys", who supports the notion of male entitlement to sex and to controlling others, needs to be called out. Every leader, every presidential candidate, who does so, also needs to be called out. These norms continue to exist because we encourage them or turn a blind eye to them. They are not just harmless banter. These words encourage the young men who would have sex with a drunk girl, who would join up with their male peers to take inappropriate pictures of a girl, and to the young man who would bully a gay youth. All of us who raise boys have a duty to teach, to live and breathe equality and to question these harmful ideas about manhood that are alive and well in the U.S. and much of the world." --Gary Barker

"As long as testosterone is treated as an insanity defense, and 'that's just how men are' is used as a public mantra, nothing will change. The meme, 'When the penis gets hard, the brain goes soft,' is obsolete and frankly stupid." --Mark Matousek

"Those who excuse the language as 'locker room' talk not only support the need for the examination of such language and its role in the milieu that forms rape culture. It also suggests a need to expand of the Department of Justice's investigations beyond college campuses to all places where euphemism like 'locker room' talk are used to excuse the language of sexual assault." --Don McPherson

MS: Our daughters and sons are listening. How can we turn this into a teachable moment?

"The Trump tape provides a perfect opportunity for parents to talk to children and explain why it is wrong. I think it is particularly critical that fathers talk to their sons and, from an early age, teach them respect for women and girls. In fact, I believe this is the only way we will solve this problem." --Juan Carlos Areán

The question is if our sons and daughters are listening to those of us who believe in gender equality, or are they listening to the toxic side of social media. The other issue is if parents in the U.S. are brave enough to actually talk about sex and consent with their children. Too many aren't. And if we don't talk to them, we know what they can access with just 2 strokes on the internet - everything from the insipid banger of Billy and Donald to erotic media that objectifies women and men. We need to be brave enough to offer the alternative - to ask our daughters and sons in caring and open ways about their fears, and desires and doubts and be willing to answer and listen to help them learn about sexuality in caring, respectful ways. --Gary Barker

"I think this is already happening. Sane men are sharing their outrage along with their wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters. We know that this has got to change." --Mark Matousek

"The teachable moment is for men to talk to boys about the impact of their silence in moments like this. Silence supports the bully and allows sexism and misogyny to be the accepted norm." --Don McPherson


MS: What message would you most want to get out to the men of the world?

"In this particular case, I think it is important to emphasize that this is not a political issue. I am as outraged (or more) when politicians I support act in abusive and misogynistic ways. I think every man has the responsibility to denounce this kind of misbehavior. I don't believe anyone can be neutral; we are either part of the solution or part of the problem." -- Juan Carlos Areán

"I think that most men in the world know that Trump's statements and actions toward women are reprehensible. There is an anger and polarization in US politics (and maybe in much of the world) that has driven us backwards in terms of gender equality and women's rights, to make it possible for Trump to have gotten where he is. But even so I think even most of Trump's supporters know that he is a misogynist but they tolerate it because they support his other ideas. I'd tell men: listen to your gut. You know that only yes means yes, that unwanted touch is harassment, that every woman and girl (and man and boy) deserves to control their own body. You know that. Speak up about it. Be the decent men you want to be and are and don't be taken in by the bully." --Gary Barker

"When you stop hating your masculinity, you can act like men. When you reject the culture's cartoonish definition of masculinity--which is understandably onerous--the urge to take your aggression out on women will also shift. --Mark Matousek

MS: What message would you most want to get out to the women of the world?

"Shortly after the Trump tape was released, author Kelly Oxford asked women to tweet a description of their first sexual assault. She received 50 responses per minute. Reading the stories was heartbreaking. Not because it was new, but because it was so real and huge. What I would like to tell those women is 'I'm sorry this happened to you and please forgive me for anything I've done in my life to contribute to rape culture.' Pretty much the opposite of what Trump said." --Juan Carlos Areán

Do women need a message about this? You know misogynists. You've lived with them, you've been assaulted by them. You know the harm they cause. It is small consolation that some - many - men are speaking out against Trump. We should be beyond this. It's a national shame that a presidential candidate is taking us back or giving voice to the worst of men's behaviors. All I can say that as a man, as a human being, I share the repudiation and the disgust toward "locker room banter." --Gary Barker

"Keep expressing your outrage. Keep holding these rapists' feet to the fire. Keep refusing to be intimidated. And don't give up on men. Please. We really are redeemable." --Mark Matousek

Juan Carlos Areán is a long-time activist working to end violence against women.

Gary Barker, PhD works to engage men and boys in achieving gender equality and ending violence against women and is the International Director and founder of Promundo an international NGO that works to promote gender justice.

Michael Kimmel is an author, Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at SUNY; Executive Director, Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities.

Mark Matousek is an author and teacher and creative director of V-Men, an organization for ending violence against women and girls.

Don McPherson is an activist, educator, feminist, entrepreneur and college football Hall of Famer.

Tony Porter will be in Los Angeles on November 7 hosting the fifth and final stop of the A CALL TO COACHES tour, where he educates coaches, teachers, mentors, fathers and other men on how reach boys with a message of respect and nonviolence. Healthy manhood--not locker room talk--is on the agenda. A CALL TO COACHES is free and open to men in the Los Angeles community.

Marianne Schnall is executive director of Feminist.com, which has partnered with Michael Kimmel and the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities around an initiative called Women & Men as Allies, which offers an online platform and a series of events that explores what it means for men and women to collaborate in pursuit of gender equality, to positively redefine masculinity and to work towards creating cultures free of violence.

***

Marianne Schnall is a widely published writer and interviewer whose writings and interviews have appeared in a variety of media outlets including O, The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, CNN.com, AOL Build, the Women's Media Center and The Huffington Post. She is also the co-founder and executive director of the women's website and non-profit organization Feminist.com, as well as the co-founder of the environmental site EcoMall.com. She is the author of Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice and What Will it Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations About Women, Leadership, and Power. You can visit her website at www.marianneschnall.com.

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