It’s over. And it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
I’m not talking about Hurricane Matthew. I’m talking about the second presidential debate.
The lead up to this contest was so loaded with offensive content that one felt the networks ought to have used those “voluntary mandatory” ratings to warn off underage viewers. When the debate opened with the topic, I cringed.
And then it passed. Charges and countercharges were leveled, but then the debate moved on to other topics, to other charges and countercharges.
For the record, having a presidential election dragged into the depths of offensive sexual habits is not an historic first, nor is it an exclusively modern phenomenon. Andrew Jackson’s entire public career was tainted with the “scandalous” nature of his marriage. A massively-publicized scandal about an alleged illicit affair involving Grover Cleveland threatened his bid for the Presidency.
Still, there remains something disturbing about where we sit, barely a month from determining who our next president will be.
For me, it is well-represented by a phrase we heard a couple of times in the debate: “Locker room talk”.
I have spent time in men’s locker rooms. On rare occasions, I’ve heard some ugly things there. A few times, I’ve heard men brag about how far they were able to go with a woman on the dance floor. A couple of other times, I’ve heard others recounting the intimate details of the previous night’s encounters with women, including discussions of the degree of sobriety and of consent.
Contemporary entertainment is, of course, full of potent sexual content. Setting aside what is recognized universally as pornography, much of contemporary video entertainment uses both auditory and visual vocabulary that was once considered stunningly offensive. That my mother was incensed by a 1960s TV ad for a horror film called Children of the Damned now seems almost quaint.
As for what is printed . . . any browsing of a pulp fiction book section (or, worse, a so-called “fan fiction” site online) will reveal quickly that there are many more than fifty shades of gray.
There’s a part of this that isn’t gray at all, at least to me.
To speak of women in general as though they simply are objects for male gratification is wrong. To brag, especially – but not exclusively – as a married man, about attempting to have sex with a married woman is wrong. To brag about grabbing and fondling and kissing women without an invitation is wrong.
This kind of talk is never appropriate. There isn’t a context in which such talk should be considered “normal.”
The “locker room talk” defense suggests that we were privy to a conversation we weren’t supposed to hear, because we weren’t in the “locker room” with the speaker and his audience. And it implies that the talk is perfectly okay . . . as long as it takes place in a male locker room-like setting.
As many have said in the last few days, all it takes is to look at a woman you care about and imagine that Donald Trump is talking about her (or, as a woman, talking about you) and it’s clearly not okay. Or for that matter, to look at one’s sons or grandsons and imagine them speaking Mr. Trump’s words. To support that would be, as Florida Representative Tom Rooney concluded, to “have failed as a dad.”
This isn’t a women’s issue and it isn’t about being politically correct.
It’s about the core value of respect. Mr. Trump himself knows it, and said as much during the debate.
But saying “nobody has more respect for women than I do” while maintaining that the vulgarities caught on the hot mic tape are simply normal “locker room talk” is either duplicitous or a condemnation of all of us who, by implication, have no more respect for women than such “locker room talk” implies.
This isn’t an endorsement of Hillary Clinton or an anti-endorsement of Donald Trump. (As an aside, don’t get me started on Bill Clinton. A quarter century ago, I was blessed with an instinctive read on what has proven to be one of his greatest failings. I wasn’t wrong, and he’s no model, either.)
This is a challenge to all of us who at some point have simply waved off these sorts of words and behaviors as “boys being boys” or “frat behavior” or “firehouse BS” or, yes, “locker room talk.”
Seriously? This is okay?
Not in my house. And my sons know it . . . as well as my daughters.