Locker Room Talk
By Lois Rubin Gross
When we were raising my daughter in a working class Colorado neighborhood, she frequently heard mean words. She was frequently the target of mean words from male classmates because of her height and personality. The young men may have been vying for her attention but went about it the wrong way. The boys, all 6 ft. or more, devised a game where she was the ball, tossed from one to the other. It had a name: Daynaball. She said no, but the game continued long after it should have – long after I raised objections.
In eighth grade, she and other bright, verbal girls in her class were “pulled out” into a class to reinforce their right to speak up above the din of boys monopolizing classroom conversations. The school recognized that these young women, many who have gone on to solid careers and also are wives and mothers, were hiding their light under a barrel rather than make themselves the “nerd” or “the smart girl” who wouldn’t get asked to prom or homecoming. The trade-off was a difficult one but it was easier than raising their voices loud enough to be heard.
It struck me then that I had imparted to her the lessons that I had learned growing up and they were not the right ones. As a smart girl, I learned to be stupid when challenged by a male. As a short girl, I didn’t object when male college classmates dumped me, butt first, in a tall trash can in the college radio station. I also absorbed my parents’ lessons to me; it was good that I was smart, but not to be too smart. After all, as my father once said, “Who wants an over-educated woman?” My value, my true value, was not as anything more than a husband magnet. Who needed a PhD? I needed an MRS. These are lessons I am still trying to unlearn at 66.
Therefore, throughout Dayna’s young life, I recited my mantra to my daughter, “You do not need to get married to be complete. Learn who you are before you become part of a ‘we’.” I tried to teach her to be smart, strong, and independent. My son-in-law is a wonderful young man who is an equal partner in their marriage, I think, so perhaps I succeeded.
Then, after the Democratic National Convention, she posted a rant about why she was happy a woman might be president because it proved a point. She was tired of letting men talk over her. She was tired of making jokes about being Type A when what she really is, is smart and task oriented. She should not have settled for being Drama Club Secretary when she should have been president.
The world goes round but apparently, not enough to make a significant difference in how women are treated.
I can make lists of accomplished women, binders of accomplished women, who have changed the world and led the parade. Still it comes down to one thing: locker room talk. Boyish banter. The diminishment of women’s accomplishments. Competent, talented women are regarded as anomalies. “Oh, isn’t that special,” men cry, “She did something of consequence. She led or she invented. She can be our mascot” I always remember that Marie Curie did the work and Pierre got the credit. Edith Wilson ran the country, but kept her mouth shut about it. Eleanor was the heart and soul of the Roosevelt administration, but Franklin is held in esteem. Elsa Einstein, wife of Albert, may have inspired much of his work but the tee shirts bear Albert’s picture.
Most female accomplishments are too often shaded by men’s perceptions that we are nothing but our mammary glands and genitals. “She’s really smart, but how is she in bed?”
So, now you know what I am really writing about. It is not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue. It is a HUMAN issue that women are held in such low regard, so objectified by powerful men, that some men feel it is their right to grab, push, insert, pin, and brag about their conquests. Then, when women cry foul, they are not believed because women lie, you know. Girls lie when they say they said “No” and a frat boy raped them anyway. What’s more, the boys are disciplined with a tap on the wrist while girls are told, “You asked for it,” through provocative clothes or come hither looks. That is the lie. No woman “asks for it.” Unwanted male attention is thrust upon her.
Perhaps we have been imparting the wrong lessons to our daughter. They should not be kind or smart. They should be forceful and prepared to fight back. Above all, they should be important enough to be taken seriously. Not the way Martha Mitchell was persecuted. Not the way Anita Hill was called “liar” by a committee of powerful men. Not even the way Ivana Trump was not believed when she told friends about her spousal rape.
No is no. It isn’t just locker room talk. It isn’t just bus talk. It is unacceptable talk. It doesn’t matter if the female is a college student or a beauty queen. It doesn’t matter if a woman is a secretary, a lawyer, or a Supreme Court justice.
Respect is a human right, a women’s right, an inalienable right and it is about time that men, both socially privileged or not, watch their language and their actions in the presence of women.
It is no longer okay or a laughing matter. It is something that must be confronted and the perpetrators made an example. It is also something that should never be condoned by women about other women, or accepted as a “joke” like me being “thrown away” in a trashcan or my daughter being tossed about like a volleyball.
Malala Yousafzai, a young woman of incredible intellect and strength said, “We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.” Women need to shout out as once voice that what is happening in 2016 – 2016, not 1916– is not okay. Women are strong, smart, capable, and not just objectifications of some man’s self-important fantasy.
As for our capability to serve as CEO or head of the House (or the Senate), or President of the United States, former Ottawa mayor Charlotte Whitton said it best, “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”
Lois Rubin Gross is a librarian, storyteller and book reviewer.