I was sitting in a bar with a friend. Across the table, a guy was telling his friend about a failed conquest from the night before.
“I was moving in on her so hard and she just wasn’t going for it,” he said, his arms gesticulating wildly. “Literally all I wanted to do was get with her. So I-“
Looking up, he catches my eye. I raise my eyebrows at him and smile. What can I say? I’m a keen spectator. Honestly. I’m beyond curious to hear. What exactly was he going to say?
I would never know. He slinks off to the bar with his friend, potentially thwarted by the notion that a member of the opposite sex is privy to his anecdote.
Locker room talk. Defined as “Behaviour, especially humour, typical of that found in a male changing room; crude”, it’s a phrase we’re hearing more and more, recently. Such vulgar chit-chat has become the norm somehow and everyone from your boyfriend to the stranger on the subway could be at it.
Most men who partake – including Donald Trump whose infamous “grab her by the pussy” line got him in hot water so deep we almost lost sight of him – insist that it’s no big deal. Behind their big talk there is, apparently, no genuine intention to “smash her back doors in”, “plough through her” or whatever other crude phrase is chosen.
But the big question is, is locker room talk completely harmless? Or does its use slowly remould men’s view of women into sexual commodities – objects that can easily be given offensive labels, be pressured into sex and, in extreme circumstances, be touched against their will?
Statistics tell us that every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. While it’s true there’s a monumental difference between locker room talk and rape, you have to wonder if a binge on offensive banter is linked to the way men see the opposite sex and whether it influences their behaviour.
I spoke to guys to find out what they thought. And fascinatingly enough, most of them admitted that locker room talk had an indisputable impact on their gender’s attitude towards their female counterparts.
Richard, 25, admits that what was said in private had a massive influence, but claimed it could go either way. “It’s communication and it’s information about how your peers think of women. So that should influence you,” he says. “So if another guy in a locker room was like Trump and he talked about women, the other guys would think ‘well if he can do it, why can’t I do it?’ Or if the other guys were feeling very strongly about respect, that would influence a Trump character to suppress it and it would show him that it’s not OK.”
Amir, 36, agrees but stated that it was all about the type of man present: “It’s linked to calling girls sluts or pressuring them into sex, but I guess it’s linked more strongly with some guys than others. I think most guys if they say something that bad, they wouldn’t do it. But definitely those kind of talks are promoting disrespect of women, which is linked to rape.”
So what kind of man would you have to be to take locker room talk to extremes? Tom, 22, firmly believes that the man in question would have to possess a vicious streak to begin with: “I think locker room talk definitely does affect men’s view of women and probably not for the best as most of it objectifies women and reinforces the idea of a male-dominated society… But I think it doesn’t directly cause sexual assault. But if someone already has that violent disposition then it only encourages it and makes it seem acceptable.”
Henry, 23, insisted that such chat could be dangerous for many men, simply due to the process of normalisation. “When that kind of talk goes on in male circles, if you hear it often enough, it starts to bleed into your thinking whether you believe it or not,” he said. “If you’re hearing stories from peers talking about ‘grabbing her by the pussy’ or something like that, you’re more likely to normalise it in your mind even though you know objectively that it’s not the right thing to do.”
Chris, 29, asserted that locker room banter affected “Only the weak minded who can be easily lead. Man or woman, there is knowing right or wrong. Just because someone’s bragging about sex doesn’t mean the people listening are going to follow on it.”
Unsatisfied and fully aware that by asking men face-to-face, they were being laid out to burn in the harsh light of day, I turned to the internet, the one place in the world where people can say exactly what they’re thinking. Unremarkably Reddit was a safe haven for the good, the bad and the ugly.
In a complete desertion of previous answers, Reddit account BOLDTHUMB maintained that no woman was ever actually hurt by locker room talk: “Ultimately, who is actually hurt by this banter, ridiculous as it may be? If you say women are hurt by it, you have just infantilized women and made them out to be delicate snowflakes that can’t handle the testosterone driven ramblings of two guys talking in private… Do we want to constantly feel scrutinized and accountable for every little comment or joke we make?”
Other Reddit users were split on the topic, with many protesting that guys would never mistreat a woman as a direct consequence of locker room talk. Many stood their ground, insisting that locker room talk had never been a part of their lives. In fact, several older gentlemen congregated to declare that the most outrageous thing that went on in their locker rooms was a healthy debate about DIY and how to kill green algae when it grows on timber.
So what did I learn from this? Most men agreed that while you couldn’t directly link locker room talk to rape culture, it was undoubtedly connected to lesser forms of disrespect to women. A rapist locker room talk doth not make. But combine it with a complete lack of respect and an inflated sense of entitlement, there’s a strong chance it could lead to an unhealthy attitude towards women.
No one is saying every time a man objectifies a woman in private, a sexual assault is born. Far from it. But still, based on men’s responses there needs to be a crystal-clear line between displaying your amor for a lady and believing that it’s okay to call her a name, coerce her into sex or grab her where she may not want to be touched.
This distinction needs to be made fast. Because, speaking for a lot of women, locker room talk makes me want to climb into said locker – equipped with the sweaty trackies and stinking gym socks – and never come out again.