“This was locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago. Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course — not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended.”
— Donald Trump, apologizing(?) for leaked footage of him talking to Billy Bush in 2005, saying that, among other things, “when you’re a star they let you do it,” Trump says. “You can do anything… Grab them by the p—y,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”
Ah, yes, just locker room banter. As far as I can tell, the conversations in men’s locker rooms all must go something like this.
First man: Phew! Thank goodness. It was exhausting to have to walk through the world talking to all those women as though they were just people, like us. Clearly, they are not. They are women. Their bodies exist for us to look at and do sex to.
Second Man: I do sex constantly! I obtained a great deal of sex today from the many walking sex dispensers that are to be found drifting through the world! I must obtain as much as possible from the best-looking dispensers so that I can win respect from fellow men like you!
First Man: Ha, ha, champ!
Second Man: Give me a promotion!
First Man: I will, if you will promise not to take paternity leave!
Second Man: I promise! Boy, I am exhausted! I saw a woman at work today in clothes, and I thought about sex. I wish that she had worn different clothes so that this would not happen. Sex is my right as a human being, and I do not understand why it would be withheld ever, under any circumstances.
First Man: I am a true lady killer.
Third Man: That is a violent term.
Second Man: I bet you slay a lot of women.
First Man: (winking) At least 30. (winking more) I left their remains along the highway. (winking more) Their families will not find them.
Third Man: This is kind of violent, and I am not sure it is just a double entendre any more.
Second Man: Trevor, please. What are you, a GIRL? This is more of that political correctness that is ruining everything.
(Third Man leaves)
First Man: Thank you for saying something. We need to preserve places like this. Every time women come into male spaces, they are ruined.
Second Man: I agree. It is too bad that my exes are crazy.
First Man: All of them?
Second Man: Yes, 100 percent. It is amazing how every woman I date turns out to have severe mental problems the moment she ceases to date me.
First Man: Those bitches.
It must be nice to have a magical room where you can go, drop your pants and pretend for a few glorious hours that women are not people.
A repellent, but remarkably unexamined, idea that we carry around in society with us is the notion that somehow this is okay. That this is just boys being boys. That we must give boys a safe, unpolluted, secret space where they can stop the exhausting charade of acting as though women contain the same internal worlds that they do themselves.
This is what it gets back to: the idea that men are people, and women are just women.
Of course what Donald Trump said is awful. But, as Kelly Oxford noted on Twitter, it’s the fact that Billy Bush just nodded along that gives us rape culture.
It’s the idea that boys will be boys, and it does not matter what you leave in your wake, because you are the protagonist of this story, and the girl is just … an appealing body, to be discussed and dissected at leisure when you are back in one of the myriad locker rooms of daily life. If that.
This is egregious, but it is not isolated. It’s every time the Serious Concern is that a young man’s life might theoretically be ruined — by the act of punishing him for what he did to ruin someone else’s life. It’s every time someone talks about how awful something would be if it happened to your wife or your daughter or your mother — instead of just to you, to a person. Every time women’s existence is limited to their relationship to men. Every time women are treated merely as gatekeepers of sex, a resource that is somehow obtainable without the enthusiastic participation of another person who might have opinions on the matter. Every time men don’t read books by women, every time boys can’t find it in themselves to identify with a female protagonist. Every time people look at a movie with one woman in it and nine men and say “yes, this seems fine.” Every time we say to little girls in countless ways that what matters is how you look, not what you think.
Some of these things seem smaller than others, but every tiny detail adds up to a terrifying denial of the idea that women have the same kind of internal reality that men do. And that gets us to conversations like this and thoughts like this.
That’s the world where Donald Trump lives: a world where men are people, and women are women. Not quite people. Something different. That’s why Trump was always famously telling female employees that a man was better than a woman, but that a good woman is better than 10 good men.
Would you say this about any other category of person and treat it like a compliment? No, of course you would not.
He lives in a world where the highest compliment you can give a woman — even your own daughter — is that you would sleep with her. And it’s not creepy, because — well, what else might a woman possibly want?
That is the awful thing about this conversation. It is not that it is especially lewd, although it is. It is not that it is violent and awful and wrong, although it is. It is the fact that it is, within certain circles, still quite normal. It’s the fact that Donald Trump used, as a defense, the idea that he’d said much worse.
It’s the fact that when Billy Bush heard him, Bush did not stop the bus they were riding on and say, “MY GOD, MAN, YOU ARE SICK! THIS IS SICK! THIS IS AWFUL!” He nodded. He laughed. You had the sense that Donald Trump could have escalated still further — past non-consensually grabbing people by the p—y (that’s sexual assault, by the way) — and into building himself a coat from female skin before Bush would have begun pushing back.
And even then, he might just have giggled.