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Locker-room talk

Last week, video and audio was released of Donald Trump talking in 2005 about how being famous means you can treat women how you like, including kissing them without their consent or "grabbing them by the pussy", with impunity. There have been several cycles of outrage and apology since then, but Trump's first defence - and one he doubled down on a couple of days later in a presidential debate - was that this was just "locker-room talk", the kind of banter all men have when there aren't women around.

There's been a lot of outrage about this. There's no way this way of speaking about women is defensible, and it reflects a deeply ingrained attitude of objectification towards women in Trump himself and in the society that made him. 'Locker-room talk' is no defence because there is no defence. More than that, after a week of new revelations, we can be pretty sure that for Donald Trump this was not just locker room banter, because he appears to have a history of total disregard for women's consent, which has displayed itself in various ways. (Even before this week, for example, we knew that Trump's then-wife Ivana accused him of rape in 1989, and that his lawyer claimed last year that "you can't rape your spouse".)

Another strain of the response to Trump, however, has been the cry that "this is not locker-room talk", that most men don't talk like this. This is letting locker-room talk off way too easily. It might be unusual to have this kind of language tied to a track record of abuse: probably most men who talk in demeaning and violent ways about women don't go on to actually commit rape or assault. But. I've been on sports teams of high school students who took the opportunity to rate the appearances of basically every woman they saw, whether walking past the training ground or appearing on a TV in the changerooms. (Rating women, by the way, is not aesthetic. When someone says a certain number, they're saying - always implicitly, and pretty frequently out loud - "I would", or "I wouldn't" - because that's the thing that matters.) I've been on cricket teams - of adults - who'd blame an attractive woman walking past when they dropped a catch, and talk in high spirits about the holidays where they were planning to sleep with as many women as they could. All, I don't need to say, in incredibly objectifying language. In genteel Oxford, the words aren't as graphic, but I've heard men practically spit the word 'feminist', and tell the sagas of nights out that don't end in sex as if they'd been robbed, denied something they were entitled to.

Donald Trump is an unusually awful man, even if you forget about everything other than this. But this is not a time to fall into the trap of thinking that rape culture and a society-wide denigration of women and their consent is a problem of unusually awful famous people and a handful of raging misogynists, while our locker-rooms are full of kind and respectful men. Locker-rooms suck. Don't let them off the hook.

Addendum: this is the tweet that made me think to write this post, and in its spirit I should be clear. I wasn't sitting there rating women along with them, and I felt anywhere between uncomfortable and outraged by it, internally. But I didn't say anything. That's the real problem.