“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women was a wake-up call to women across the globe. Not only the criminal content of his remarks but the public reaction to them; they were excused as ‘mere locker talk’ and ‘alpha male boasting’ (Nigel Farage.) Devastatingly this brought to the fore quite how far we are from equality and why violence against women and sexual exploitation of women affects at least 45% of women in the UK.
The comments made by Trump have highlighted the existence of this deep societal ill that is the uncontested existence of dehumanising discourse surrounding women. Dehumanisation can lead, ultimately, to violence and abuse but it can also materialise in the kind of intimidation we, as women, face on a near daily basis. The graph below provides a very useful illustration of this systematic attitudinal problem that is creating an environment conducive to abuse, assault and ultimately violence and rape.
By objectifying women you dehumanise them. When a group is dehumanised, the environment becomes conducive to violence towards that group. In fact, the infamous Zimbardo prison experiment is a fine example in which the dehumanisation of a group leads to violence. In Zimbardo’s experiment subjects were randomly assigned to play the role of “prisoner” or “guard”. Those assigned to play the role of guard were given sticks and sunglasses; those assigned to play the prisoner role were arrested by the Palo Alto police department, deloused, forced to wear chains and prison garments, and transported to the basement of the Stanford psychology department. Several of the guards became progressively more sadistic and the experiment very quickly got out of hand. The experiment was shut down for fear that one of the prisoners would be seriously hurt. The experiment showed, therefore, how an environment of dehumanisation of another group, coupled with control and authority (which I would argue is the combination present in the case of most sexual assaults and cases of violence against women), lends itself to violence. I am not saying that all those that engage in the objectification of women then go on to engage in violent attacks but that by allowing an environment where objectification and dehumanisation is celebrated increases the likelihood of violence towards women.
Recently I suffered the second tier; degradation in the form of group cat calling and intimidating behaviour. As I walked down the pavement, five young men came up from behind me and alongside me. One man loudly jested, “She has ginger hair, I love gingers”, and the others laughed and joined in with “what about her red coat? I love a red coat!”, “Hey, love, you’re fit!” More laughing ensued, “God I have got such a thing for red hair and red coats”. They were getting louder and closer. I pulled out my phone and tried to call my boyfriend: no answer, I pretend anyway; “Hi, yes, just heading to the tube now.” Something in that short pretend conversation caused the men to drop back; I assume it was either the fear that someone else had been brought into the scene or it was that in speaking I had somewhat reminded them of my humanity and awakened, in them, some sort of shame.
When I did get through to my boyfriend he asked me, “Where were the public?” – a poignant question. Where were the public? Well, a few members of the public were lone males who had already stared at me as I had walked past. Apart from that, the incident that lasted at least a block and a half passing around seven members of the public was completely ignored. Sadly the intimidation and fear I felt is laughed off both by victims and perpetrators, it is part of the accepted ‘lad culture’, and I would argue a direct result of ‘locker room chat’.
What then can be done? First of all, what needs not to be done is for the behaviour to be legitimised through referring to it as ‘Locker room talk’, and, moreover. ‘locker room talk’ needs an overhaul in itself. Upon asking a few of my male friends what they think of this ‘locker room’ excuse, I have had mixed responses. I have had some react with outrage and defend their ‘locker room’ as never entertaining such disgusting chat. However, a few have chuckled and agreed that they have experienced this kind of chat, assumed women do it too and quite frankly do not see the problem. Just to be clear, no women I know, or have ever met, discuss how we can do anything to a man without their consent. I am not claiming there is not chat about what a man may look like, of course appearances are ‘bantered’ with, but there is a difference between ‘sexy’ talk and ‘sexual assault talk.’ Moreover, I would say there is a difference between the odd cheeky comment and objectification being the overriding dominant discourse. Where objectification becomes the predominant conversation behind closed doors it evidences the lack of respect towards the group being objectified and raises the risk of dehumanisation towards that group. Ashamedly I recently witnessed this taking place and stood-by and did nothing. It was not until the next day that I drew up the courage to confront the perpetrator, and he turned to me and told me the problem was not in what he was saying but in my tendency to be easily wound up; it was just male teasing and I should not have risen to it. Sadly this is the opinion you are met with as someone standing for women as a woman; “stop being a silly nag”, “stop whining”, “stop ranting and raving”. Therefore, this fight can only be won through men and women fighting together for a healthier discourse behind closed doors that can then lead to a safer world for women to live in.
I would refer to myself as a sleeping feminist, by this I mean that I obviously agree with the premise of feminism; that men and women are completely equal, but I rarely rally behind new feminist movements (third wave feminism) as I see them pushing down men to achieve their goal and I simply can not support a movement that uses inequality as a means to achieve equality. Just take the examples of ‘man hating’ and intersectionality displayed at the recent women’s march in the US. By no means is equality going to be achieved through approaches that push certain groups in society down in order to bring others up. History has shown us, the Civil rights movement being a strong example, that when groups come together and work together as equals so progress in equality between those groups can be achieved. It took the horrific murder of Emmit Till and the coming together of races in shared outrage to really progress the movement not the method of ‘white hating’ initially employed by Malcolm X.
I therefore call on men to clear out their ‘locker rooms’. If someone is saying they can do anything to a woman, even grab at them if they wanted to, then shut that conversation down – name and shame them. If you find the conversation constantly revolves around viewing women as nothing more than the body they inhabit, then speak out, or at the very least change the topic. For those who inhabit cleaner ‘Locker rooms’, stand up for your ‘locker room’ and defend the women who are speaking out.
Feminists, I call on you to work alongside the men who share this vision and work together to change the social norms and culture of objectification.
We have an opportunity here to change the landscape and make a stand for equality and ultimately the safety of women. It is not an opportunity to be missed and it certainly is not an occasion where the ‘locker room’ narrative can win. It is time to move forward and make a change to those horrific statistics that show one in three women across the globe have suffered a violent and or sexual attack in their lives