When you hear the names Donald Trump, David Becker, Brock Turner, Derrick Rose, ‘Big Ben’ Roethlisberger and Darren Sharper, what comes to mind? They are all world renowned athletes and politicians, but behind the scenes all these men have one thing in common: rape culture, influenced by locker room talk.
According to Urban Dictionary, locker room talk is defined as “any manner of conversation that society dictates be held privately—with small groups of like-minded, similarly gendered peers—due to its sexually charged language, situations or innuendos.” As we enter the 2017-2018 school year, it is always important to ask the question: does locker room talk influence rape culture?
Donald Trump introduced the phrase "locker room talk" to the mainstream media during the 2016 presidential campaign. Locker room talk can often perpetuate rape culture, which is “the society or environment where prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse,” according to the Oxford Dictionary.
The American Psychological Association has claimed that last year's elections were one of the most stressful in electoral history. In 2016, The Washington Post released a recording of Trump saying “When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything...Grab them by the [explicit]. You can do anything."
When the 2005 recording was leaked, it sparked mass controversy for Trump’s campaign. Trump deflected criticism of his statement by saying that his words were only locker room talk. Trump claimed to be “very embarrassed” by the comment, but dismissed it as “locker room talk, and it's one of those things.”
Although this statement caused a mass outrage from the public, it started to raise questions about what locker room culture was.
When Brock Turner was convicted of raping an unconscious woman in early 2015, many thought justice would prevail and the minimum sentence of 15 years would be met. Turner got three months instead, and the leniency of his sentence sparked mass controversy. The judge reasoned that any longer would have a “severe impact” on Turner mentally and emotionally. Outcry over the decision was heard over all platforms. Some claimed white male privilege influenced the ruling, while others alleged the judge did not take the case seriously. All true, but one overlooked fact about the case is the impact of rape culture on the decision. Turner, once a prospect for the Olympics, has been barred from ever competing in a swimming event again. As word spread about him being an athlete, many began to speculate about what locker rooms may have had to do with the heinous action committed.
A Danvers student who wished to remain anonymous says he has often heard “slut shaming” and other derogatory comments in locker rooms. “While in the locker room you don't have to hold back on what you say,” he said. “Like you can just do a bunch of stuff that you can't do outside in the locker room.”
Another student, recalling an incident where a classmate’s sexually explicit video was shared in the locker room, described the attention she got as “her wanting it” and that she “provoked the rape culture.”
“She was asking for it,” he said.
Marblehead High School Varsity wrestling and football player Armani Dotson’s personal experience varies slightly when it came to locker room talk. “Being in a locker room, due to the closeness, people say things they normally wouldn't say out loud,” Dotson said. “I think it’s a lot less filtered in the locker room, and no one thinks about it because again we're in a locker room so no one is ever gonna figure it out.”
“More than 55 percent of our locker room conversations are about women and they can often become derogatory,” added Dotson. “In the end, high school teenagers are high school teenagers. We’re all just dumb and trying to figure ourselves out.”
Dr. Jonathan Jenkins, a Psychiatry Outpatient Psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, instructor at Harvard Medical School and athlete, believes locker room talk is “a precursor to rape culture.” The ideologies we talk about in the presence of others can become our own, Jenkins said. If you dehumanize someone with your words, it's more likely you’re going to dehumanize someone with your actions.
“So if you speak about women in a possessive—the girl is mine, I’m getting her, I hit that, all that type of talk—the likelihood is you're going to then pursue women from a dehumanized standpoint,” Jenkins said. “And you're assuming you're going to get the backing of your boys who are involved in the locker room conversation.”
Dan Lebowitz, Executive Director of a social justice organization called Northeastern Sports in Society, hopes to fight hypermasculinity in locker rooms and provide new definitions of manhood and masculinity. Lebowitz believes that we as a society must stop tacitly approving the continuation of the male dominating power dynamic.
“Manhood doesn't have to be defined as ‘I can beat you down,’” said Lebowitz. “Manhood should be defined by kindness, respect for woman, [and] respect for each other.”
Lebowitz states that his program “asks people to unpack their bias and rethink through a lense of empathy.” As we start to attack our personal bias, we will stop unknowingly approving locker room talk—and more importantly, rape culture.