Seoul, South Korea, October 11, 2016
Last week, you heard the term "locker room talk," perhaps for the first time. It is a term being used right now to describe how Mr. Donald Trump, who is nominated by the Republican Party to become the next president of the United States, speaks about women. You see, audio recordings of Mr. Trump from eleven years ago have emerged and in those tapes, he describes how he likes to grab women between their legs, by their vaginas. He uses a crude term to describe that body part. Mr. Trump said that he doesn't bother to wait or ask if a woman wants to be treated like this. He simply does it.
Mr. Trump also says he likes to kiss women and you should know that nothing is wrong with kissing. It is a form of human affection. But there is also a problem. Mr. Trump says that he doesn't ask a woman if she wants to be kissed or touched in that way, he simply puts his mouth on them. Your parents have taught you that it's wrong to bite people, lick people, and spit on them. Well, it's wrong to put your spit, tongue, or anything else in someone's mouth without their permission. And even if it's just your lips being placed on someone who doesn't want that, it's wrong.
Mr. Trump says that when you are popular, "you can do anything." I'm writing to you from South Korea to tell you that it's wrong and inappropriate to do those things. Even though I am many miles away from you this week, I want you to know that it is unacceptable to make excuses, saying that it's just "guy talk," "boys being boys," or "locker room talk," to demean women and girls. Some politicians, including Mr. Trump and Mr. Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York who wanted to be president, think this is ok; it is not. Even some women have defended Mr. Trump like Ms. Kellyane Conway, who works for him. Her job is to try to get Mr. Trump elected. But, even in that job--and no matter what job you ever have--you can always step away. You never have to do something that goes against your moral compass.
I'm writing to you because I love you and have high expectations for you. To be a man means your dignity should matter to you. Your accountability matters. You must have a sense of something deep within you that is called integrity, which lets you know that when someone is being bullied--you should not contribute to their pain by laughing. These are called values. Just like honesty and empathy, these values are ones that you do not have to compromise ever, no matter if you become famous one day or not. These values should follow you through school, in the cafeteria, onto the playground, while you are playing sports, when you go to church, and even in the boy's locker room.
You see, you can be a bus driver, dig ditches, work in coal mines--which are all hard jobs--and yet be full with a sense of something powerful in you that no one can ever take away. For example, your integrity should never be traded away for a laugh or to become popular--to me, letting that happen is being weak. It actually takes strength and courage to stand for something important, like these girls did: Joan of Arc, who led an army and fought for her country at 17; Sophie Scholl, a student in Germany who had the courage to speak out against Hitler long before many others did; and Malala Yousafzai, an incredible human rights activist (she's only 19 years old!)--and this is only to name a few. And yes, girls can be your heroes!
I share all of this with you because there is another side to the locker room. It's one where people put on their uniforms, talk about strategies to win the game, lament their losses, celebrate victories, dress their wounds, seek advice from coaches and each other, chat about life and relationships, shower, and go home. The locker room does not have to be a place where your integrity is sacrificed or compromised for a laugh.
My point is, being a man does not mean that you have to hurt people or put them down to lift yourself up. Being a man does not mean forcing a woman to kiss or hug you, even if you put breath mints in your mouth or cologne on your body. Being a man means having the courage to stand up for someone else who is vulnerable.
When you grow up and go to college, if you hear people say, "it's just locker room talk," know that they are making a really poor excuse for unacceptable behavior--even if it's the coach, professor, or president of the university or our country.