gender, language, politics

Locker Room Banter 101



Last week, for reasons that remain unclear to me, Charlie Rose celebrated a Bannonfest: the Steve-‘n’-Charlie show ran from a brief teaser on his previous Friday show, to two segments of “60 Minutes” on Sunday, to the full hour of his Monday interview, to 15-20 minute segments over the remainder of that week. Though my appetite for Bannonalia barely achieves anorexia, I did catch the teaser, the “60 Minutes” gig, and a bit of the Monday interview, at which point nausea forced me into reruns of “Ancient Aliens” on the History Channel.


To be truthful, I don’t recall very much of the Bannonade (senescence has its rewards). Rose, and many of the media savants (along with Steve himself) apparently consider Bannon the Trump Administration’s ranking intellectual (not too much competition).


But one brief moment, I think from the Monday segment, sticks in my mind, not to say craw. Rose was questioning Bannon about Trump’s misogyny, and brought up the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape. Bannon smirked that it was “only locker-room banter.” “Locker-room banter?” said Charlie, and Bannon reiterated it. Rose thereupon dropped the topic, no doubt with a sigh of relief: His job was done, his duty to the ladies completed.


In other words, to Bannon, Rose, et al., once you identify even a particularly vile piece of misogyny as “locker-room banter,” it is beyond critique. If you take issue, you just don’t get it. I have heard this argument frequently from Trump’s supporters, male and female, since the tape surfaced last October, with very little pushback.


Well, here’s some.


I have three major points of disagreement. First, the actual utterance did not take place in a locker room, but out of doors in a place accessible to the public. So at the very least, we would have to understand “locker room” as somehow metaphorical or, to use Trump’s own favorite weasel word, “sarcastic.”


It can’t be “sarcastic” in any normal sense of the term. Trump meant and intended exactly what he said. But could “locker room banter” be legitimately construed as a metaphor? Not really.


To work metaphorically, the place where the tape was made would have to be understandable as “like” a locker room — a space consecrated to the male body. But it’s public space, open to all. So if Trump’s remarks are appropriate only in a “locker room,” as Bannon and others suggest, it was inappropriate for the context in which it took place. And, need I remind you, context counts.


So a discourse either takes place in an actual locker room, or in a place that could metaphorically represent a locker room, or somewhere completely different. In the last case, “locker room” talk is not justifiable, and the excuse that the “Access Hollywood” conversation is venial or harmless because it constitutes “locker room banter” fails.


But wait: it gets worse! Suppose, for argument’s sake, the conversation between Trump and Bush had in fact taken place in an actual literal locker room – naked men, steamy atmosphere, lockers. I don’t think that makes such “banter” legitimate – particularly from someone who aspires to be president of all the people of the United States. Women are more than half of those people.


It isn’t so much what Trump says per se that makes it vile – it’s that his saying it shows how he feels about half of this country’s population: that they are infra-human creatures who exist purely for Trump’s personal gratification and/or denigration. The fact that so many of us – male and female – could dismiss Trump’s insults as normal and harmless “banter” indicates that that Trump’s view is widely shared – as was made perfectly clear last November 8. There is a direct logical line between the “Access Hollywood” tape, its acceptance, and the election results. Creatures that can be libeled and vilified as women were on the tape cannot rationally or acceptably play the role of President. Wherever it occurs, “locker room banter” communicates that one half of America’s population is inferior to the other.


Until “locker room banter” is understood as the noxious effluvium that it is, and Americans reject it unequivocally, the situation will not change and we cannot have a woman president. Consider the Pew Foundation survey from 2014: Asked if they “hoped to see” a woman president in their lifetimes, 69 per cent of Democratic women and 46 per cent of Democratic men answered in the positive. Yes, I said Democratic. Democratic. Among Republicans, the figure was lower by two thirds. This explains a lot – the party’s treatment of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, seen as a Clinton-enabler, and Donna Brazile, for starters. This attitude translates directly into open tolerance of, and secret approval of, Trump’s “Access Hollywood” remarks. And the Pew survey was taken in 2014, when the idea of a woman president was less of a threat than it was in October 2016. As the reality of a woman POTUS became palpable, Americans’ loathing for powerful women could only have gotten worse.


Imagine, by contrast, Trump’s remarks as being racially, rather than sexually, intended. Suppose he’d said that he loves to burn crosses, because black men have such big penises. (I know, this sounds totally ridiculous and unimaginable, which by itself should tell you something.) Would that be dismissed as mere, harmless, locker room banter? Of course not (nor should it be). But while most of us properly find racism vile and unthinkable in a potential president, misogyny is just fine – business as usual.


As long as misogyny is business as usual, a woman cannot be elected president.