Trump is at it again! Within the last week, a tape from 2005 was leaked in which Trump said disgusting things about women that I don’t really want to repeat here. Trump has defended himself by saying that his comments were just “locker room talk.” There has been a huge backlash against his use of the phrase “locker room talk” by many people, and rightly so. His aim with the phrase is not to point out the cultural nature of sexual violence, but to ask that people ignore the violence he perpetuated. And yet…I think he has a point when he calls it “locker room talk.” As many activists, academics, and survivors have already established, sexual violence is not an individual problem. It’s a cultural, institutional, and structural one. That means that sexual violence is not only perpetrated by actual rapists and abusers; it is also perpetrated when anyone uses or excuses sexually violent language, when an institution retraumatizes a survivor, when anyone touches someone without their consent (in a sexual way or not), when anyone makes the choice to ignore sexual violence happening around them.
Male camaraderie is often (but, of course, not always) built upon an ethic of violence. Men often use misogyny, homophobia, racism, classism, and other forms of violence to bond. That means that some men who have never raped and will never rape anyone might laugh with another man about rape. That means that some men will say things that objectify and degrade women, even if they never physically hurt a woman. We can’t act like Donald Trump is wrong when he implies that it’s normal for men to talk that way with each other. The whole problem of sexual violence in our culture is that sexual violence is normalized. If rape and sexual assault and harassment and intimate partner violence were seen as unacceptable, we wouldn’t be living in a rape culture.
We should not excuse Trump’s comments, but we also need to contextualize them. Trump is foul, but he’s not the only who is. Locker room talk is real, and as much as we need to hold Trump accountable for what he has said and done (at least 3 women have accused him of rape, including his ex-wife, a former business partner, and one who says he raped her when she was a young teenager), we also need to hold ourselves accountable for our own complicity in rape culture. When people find themselves furious at one person for saying something particularly sexually violent, but not at the laws, businesses, law enforcement agencies, advertisements, and individuals who also perpetuate rape culture, that is a problem and a part of enforcing a culture of domination and exploitation. We DEFINITELY need to hold those accountable who claim to be disgusted with Trump’s words, but who perpetuate gendered and sexual violence in other ways (looking at you, every prominent Republican who has decried his comments!). And we cannot treat this as an anomaly, because it isn’t. We live in a world where people say things like this every damn day, and until that doesn’t happen anymore, Trump is only a tiny part of the problem.