I have a hard time believing the men who are coming forward now and saying that they have never heard guys talk like Donald Trump in their locker rooms. Why? Because when I interviewed high school students for a documentary about the pressure to conform to gender norms, Straightlaced—How Gender's Got Us All Tied Up, I heard that kind of talk all the time—in every type of school, all over the country.
In fact, most of the male students I interviewed confided to me about the pressure they face to prove their masculinity by bragging about sexual conquests, fabricating the number of female students they slept with, and making demeaning comments about young women's bodies.
I sent my (male) camera crew into one high school locker room to see what happened, and it didn't take long for the basketball players to start naming the females on the cheerleading squad that they were going to "get" any day now.
“It’s hard for me to act in a different way,” one high school senior told me, “when all I know is the way I’ve been taught....I’ll go back to school and grab a girl’s ass and say, ‘you look really nice in those jeans. And not in a flattering way...in a fully sexual way.”
The pressure on boys to talk trash about girls and to view female bodies as theirs to grab whenever they feel the urge starts early on. It's sewn into the fabric of our culture's messaging about what you need to do to be a real man, to not be perceived as gay, to be the king of the crowd.
It’s so insidious that now the man who is one step away from the presidency thinks he can brush away his behavior by labeling it “locker room talk” as if that chatter has no impact on women’s lives, or men’s values.
There will always be #lockerroom talk, but how about we change what that banter is all about? Boys can grow up to see women as peers instead of animals at their disposal to be stalked and conquered. Men can find healthy ways to feel powerful that don’t require a sexual scorecard.
We’ve seen an explosion of rage about the impact on women of Trump’s sexual assault bravado. But let’s also look at where this behavior starts, and what it will take to really move the dial on the pressure men feel to act like Donald Trump and Billy Bush on the bus. It certainly isn’t going to change with Trump as role-model-in-chief.