Men, Locker Rooms Are No Excuse -- The Words We Use Always Matter

Private conversations and "jokes" do not make our words mean less.
Private conversations and "jokes" do not make our words mean less.

It was a weekday and I had met Claire at a Starbucks. It probably was not awkward for her, but it was for me. We were really close friends and, though she didn't know, I felt like I violated her trust. While she smiled and laughed and talked about classes or what music she was listening to, I could not look her in the eyes.

A few weeks before, I had met her and her sister in town to try a new church. When a friend -- an adult friend -- found out the next day, his face lit up with a smirk.

"All right!" he exclaimed. "I know what you're up to. You're gonna try to run sisters, aren't you?"

(I am sorry to be the one to explain, but – if you do not know -- "to run sisters" means to have sex with sisters at the same time or back-to-back.)

Just his words made me feel guilty. Claire, sitting across the table, was enjoying our rare chance to catch up. She had no idea what this man thought about her, she had no idea she'd been portrayed in a disgusting fantasy.

I was a junior in high school when that happened. That an adult would say something like that that was disgusting to me even then. That an adult would say that about two teenagers changed how I see the conversation on sexual assault. The confusion and hurt I experienced helped me to see – in a very, very small way – how malicious comments like this are to women.

A few months went by. I was at dinner with another friend, Rachel. We were seniors in high school. A guy friend saw us and later paid for our meal. He came over – fairly drunk – and said to my friend at the table, "I paid for your meal tonight so you wouldn't feel guilty. I paid so you wouldn't have to f--- him out of obligation."

He laughed. We sat there uncomfortably. He laughed some more and walked away. I was not sure how to respond. This time it was overt. This time I could how the words hurt and confused my friend. Looking back, I should have spoken up.

A few years later, I was standing in Claire's kitchen. It was late at night and we were talking about trust. I told her a lie. I told her that in high school, I heard some friends planning a "panty raid." I told her they tried to get me involved. I told her how uncomfortable it had made me – just to be asked to join in on something like that.

"That is such a huge invasion of privacy!" she blurted out, dumbfounded by their perverted scheme.

The truth: That didn't happen in high school. It had happened a few months before. A guy friend had asked if I ever went through Claire's dirty clothes when she was not looking. He wanted to know if she was "slutty."

A friend, someone I trusted, asked me to defile the trust of another friend. A friend, someone I trusted, demeaned someone I care for. Now, how am I supposed to look at Claire the same? How am I supposed to trust that friend around her or other women?

There's tears streaming as I write this. My fist keeps needing to pound the desk.

Because I know these men.

If I brought these conversations up, they would argue: "Oh come on! I was just kidding." Or, "That was a private conversation. I'd never say that in public."Or, "It was just locker room talk with the guys." They would think they were justified in what they said. They would think what they said was harmless.

These scenes are not "locker room talk."

I have been in a few locker rooms. Maybe you have too. They are not filled with men spinning tales of sexual conquest, right? We are not there to chat because, really, we are all just uncomfortably avoiding eye contact. It is being naked in a public bathroom. That is not a place anyone wants to hang out.

These men's words are disgusting. They're demeaning. They treat another person as if she is not a human. These words paint her as a toy, a play thing, a spectacle made to be fantasized and fetishized.

In the recent debate between vice presidential candidates Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Indiana governor Mike Pence, Mr. Kaine quoted Matthew 15:18 from the Bible. I think it is even more relevant today.

In the New International Version, that verse reads, "But the things that come out of a person's mouth come from the heart, and these defile them."

When we say things – in jest, in private, just between the guys – we're changing how we will treat the object of our conversation. A guy degrades enough women and it will affect how he treats women. Disrespect enough Republicans and it will affect how you interact with your Republican friends.

Perhaps you are wondering why I have avoided bringing up Donald Trump's recently uncovered words about women – words he said in private, words he might think were just jokes. It is because the conversation of how we treat women – of how we treat each other – is not about Mr. Trump.

This is not a conversation that needs to determine who you will vote for in November. This is not a conversation about whether Mr. Trump is qualified for the presidency. His reprehensible comments are bigger than this election because this is not an isolated incident. Comments like the ones Mr. Trump made happen every day.

We let them happen. It is time that stopped. It is time we stood up.

Note: Names and details have been changed or omitted in hopes of protecting these women from anymore harm.

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