Those who participate in this “banter” are rewarded

Shaun Harper at the Washington Post says what we all know: that a lot of men do talk the way Trump talked on that tape.

At several moments throughout the campaign, I have felt that something about Trump was disturbingly familiar, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint it. After seeing the video of this presidential candidate and married man talking about kissing women, grabbing their vaginas and using his celebrity to get them to do whatever he wants, I now fully recognize the guy I have known since I was a teenage boy. The Trump on that video is a sexist, misogynistic, womanizing cheater who degrades and sometimes sexually assaults women. I know this man and so many like him. I wish I didn’t, yet I do, and I have for a long time.

Truth is, many men objectify women and say outrageously offensive things about their breasts, butts and other body parts in spaces we occupy with each other.

Of course they do. We know this. If we hadn’t  known it before we would know it now thanks to Reddit and Twitter and 4chan and all the rest of the shitbrew.

In his response to the video’s release, Trump explained that his comments were “locker room banter.”

Which we already knew. We know it’s a thing; the point is that it’s a bad thing. Racist banter around the ol’ burning cross is a bad thing, and sexist banter in the locker room is also a bad thing. “Banter” isn’t a certification of non-toxicity.

And such talk is not confined to gyms and country club showers, but occurs too often in other spaces where men are among other men — in fraternity houses, on golf courses, in barbershops, at bars. I have even seen men stand aside and engage in this kind of talk about moms at kids’ birthday parties. Unfortunately, the kinds of words we heard from Trump are commonly spoken when men are with other men. Those who participate in this “banter” are rewarded. Those who choose not to engage, and especially guys who critique such statements, have their masculinities questioned and risk being placed on the outskirts of social acceptance.

And there’s no magic mechanism that makes that harmless or benign. If men have a lot of practice talking that way about women, they don’t stay magically untouched by it when they’ve left the locker room. Contempt for women is pervasive, and lately we’ve been making negative progress – it’s been getting worse instead of better. This is a bad thing.

I have spent much of my career studying men and their masculinities. My research has put me in conversation with thousands of young men, mostly high school and college students. Many have told me that they learned to be Trumps in middle school, sometimes earlier. Media, parents, family members and peers shape how boys are taught to think and talk about women from a young age. While I am quite [a lot] older than they are, I still understand and relate to what my research participants tell me. The horrifying things Trump said in that video are comments I’ve heard from male friends of mine since I was a teenager. As a young boy, I witnessed older men appraise women’s bodies and heard them say what they would do sexually (for example, “Look at the ass on that one” and “I would bang her all night long”). Truth is, I have known Trumps most of my life.

It’s common, he says. Men encourage it, he says. Men rarely challenge it, he says.

And because bragging of this kind is common, men in my research confess that they don’t always recognize that they and their peers talk about women in deplorable ways. Hiding it behind the guise of “banter” or jokes only makes the problem worse by making it seemingly acceptable. It is unacceptable.

Note the way Trump attempted to do exactly that when Anderson Cooper asked him about it last night – he said no it was just locker room banter. That “no” is meaningless. “Locker room banter” is not a magic passport. We already know it was “banter”‘; we heard the laughter. We heard the loud, knowing, sniggering laughter, and we saw the men get out of the bus seconds later and greet the woman they’d been sniggering about as if she were pretty much human. We saw the transition between dudeworld and the real world, where it wouldn’t quite do for Trump to grab a woman between the legs when she said hello to him. We know what “banter” excuses: not one god damn thing.

Now Harper gets to the difficult part.

When men fail to challenge other men on troubling things they say about and do to women, we contribute to cultures that excuse sexual harassment, assault and other forms of gender violence. I know from my research that confronting male peers is difficult for a 14-year-old high school student-athlete who desperately wants his teammates to like and accept him. He needs his coach to step up and disrupt locker room banter.

But what if the coach is just another Trump, or Billy Bush? And what are the chances that he isn’t?

But too many adult men fall short of this ourselves, especially when we are in “men’s only” spaces with guys whom we need to affirm our masculinities.

I am fairly certain that hearing the vulgar words Trump spoke over a decade ago will compel many more women to vote against him next month. Electing the first female president will not end sexism, though, any more than electing Barack Obama ended racism. To make progress, men need to do more than vote against Trump. We must stand up to him and call out others who say things similar to what we heard him say on the video. We have to stop excusing the disgusting degradation of girls and women as “locker room banter.” Feminists and courageous others have done much to contest exchanges like the one between Trump and Bush. But it takes men like me to hold our friends accountable for things they say and do to objectify women. We must challenge their values, language and actions.

It takes men to do it not because men are better at it or because women are too weak to do it, but because men are the people allowed into men-only spaces.

I have known Trumps far too long — they are my friends, my fraternity brothers and so many other men with whom I routinely interact. I understand now, more than ever before, that letting them talk this way about women makes me just as sexist. By excusing their words and actions, I share some responsibility for rape, marital infidelity and other awful things that men do. I want other men to recognize this, too — not only because they have mothers, wives, sisters, aunts or daughters – but because sexism hurts all women and men in our society.

It’s poisonous. We need it to stop.

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