Monday, October 10, 2016

Locker Room Talk

Donald Trump was caught saying some really outrageous, disgusting things ten years ago. Most telling, though, is his response. Time and again, even when given 48 hours to prepare to comment on them at the debate, he answered with "it was locker room talk." Essentially, he's saying "this kind of things is, of course, embarrassing and unseemly in public, but it's how people talk in private."

There are a lot of people who would never dream of saying something like that, and I think those people are justifiably expressing outrage. Let's be honest, though, a lot of people do talk, or at least passively participate in such talk. Maybe it doesn't rise to the graphic (and potentially criminal) level we heard in that video, but the objectification and sexualization of women is far too common in regular conversation. I have personally heard things from the mouths of people (people who were openly and vociferously opposed to Trump on social media this weekend) that troubled me in similar ways. I've usually said nothing, although I know my inconspicuously uncomfortable looks have betrayed my feelings more than a few times.

I certainly have plenty to apologize for. I can't say I've ever said something so crass as Trump did and, even wracking my brain, I can't remember any conversation I've ever heard where anyone said anything so shockingly vile in vocabulary, but I've certainly viewed people as objects. I don't know if I'm normal or profoundly sociopathic, but one of my greatest struggles is to value people as people and not as tools to be leveraged for my own selfish ends.

We live in a society that tells us to value people, especially women, but demonstrates the exact opposite. We teach our children not to judge on appearance and then spend the rest of our lives doing just that. There is a real disconnect between what we believe and what we'd like to believe. There is objective truth and there is painful reality.

One thing I haven't heard in all the clamor and denouncement is a collective mourning about just how correct Trump's statement was. "When you're a star, they let you do it." Shoot, they got off the bus and the first thing Billy Bush does is pressure that poor woman into hugging this creepy old guy - why? Because he's famous and she's supposed to be ok with it.

Now, I know many athletes have come out to refute that this kind of thing is even really "locker room talk," but this whole Derek Rose lawsuit proves that even if the rich and famous keep it out of their place of business (which I'm skeptical of to begin with); it is certainly a part of their lives.

I'm even willing to go so far as to believe that Trump was lying; that despite his colorful language, he hasn't actually done any of the things he says. Well, I don't believe it, but it's certainly possible - the guy has proven, over the course of a lifetime, that he's willing to say literally anything that will make himself look better in the moment. There's no reason to think he wouldn't lie so outrageously and offensively if he thought it might make him look cool.

The issue really isn't what he said or did; it's Trump's firm position that there is a place for this kind of talk. Man, even if he said it and was embarrassed about it, I might have some small measure of sympathy - but he's doubled down. He only feels bad that people found out, something he's admitted over and over again. "This is how people talk."

Enough has been said about all of this already, so I don't need to go into more detail. Excusing this behavior is worse than committing it. I firmly believe that. Even worse, that so many Christians were willing to put up with it just to win a political war. The very worst parts of Christianity are those birthed from an "ends justifies the means" mentality. It's so pervasive in US evangelicalism it might as well be synonymous.

As a Christian, I'm not even sure what those ends are anymore! Is it the belief that through enforcing a specific moral code, some internal switch will be triggered in people that will automatically make them intellectually assent to the basic tenets of Christ worship? That sentence doesn't even make sense to me... and I wrote it! Is there some placation of guilt if one can criminalize sin? Even if the Supreme Court were made up of James Dobson, Jerry Fallwell Jr, and Franklin Graham, what end, exactly, would that accomplish and how would it remotely relate to scripture?

I must admit, I am thoroughly confused.

But perhaps most difficult for me, is how we, as a country, respond to ideas we dislike. Be they racist or sexist, objectifying or consumeristic - we tend to make anathema the holding of an unpopular opinion. This is all fine and good until we are the ones with the unpopular opinion; then it suddenly seems tragic. The world has turned upside down and no longer makes sense.


Because we all hold the positions we hold because we think their right - or at least, as right as we can get at the moment. A person does not contend that black people are mentally inferior by virtue of their DNA simply to get a rise out of you. Well, I suppose some people do, but they are few and far between and almost always obvious. For the most part, people make statements like that because they really believe them. When we create a climate where saying that sort of thing gets one shouted down, at best, and physically threatened or assaulted, at worst, we do everyone a disservice.

When someone is smacked down for expressing an unpopular opinion it does not change their opinion, it simply tells them they shouldn't talk about it. Yes, I know there's an election involved here - and it's fine for us to reject a candidate for the positions they take, appropriate, even. And yes, people should express counter arguments and contrary opinions freely and with vigor.

At the same time, we have to be careful to do so with grace and humility. The purpose of challenging someone's opinion or idea should be to create dialogue, not shut it down. I know, most people don't change. That's very true. Unpopular opinions usually die out because the people who hold them die out. I get it.

That doesn't help the people who are still forming opinions, though. The kid who apes his father's objectification of women doesn't see rebuke as a reason to doubt his father, he sees it as evidence people don't want to hear the truth. It's an issue of authority. "My pastor said it," or "My political party said it," or "I read it in this book by an author I really like." We form our opinions in all sorts of ways, but it all comes down to those influences to which we ascribe authority in our lives.

Yes, Trump's kind of language may be popular in the locker room or the board room or the country club, but we must willing to have enough conversation to ask deeper questions. Why is this the language of those circles? Why are the customs and expressions of these people important to you? What might cause someone to be offended by that opinion? This is the kind of conversation that actually moves people to change.

If we don't, we're just ourselves engaging in this "means to and end" business. If my end is proving myself right and him wrong, then, yes, let's just shout down Trump, thrown him on the trash heap and be done. In that, though, we're objectifying him as the enemy. He's just an opponent to be consumed and discarded. We're defeating ourselves. There's no care or concern for my opponent as a human being.

Yeah, you might say, "that guy just isn't worth it," and I'd respond, "what influences have lead you to that opinion," and maybe, just maybe, we might have an enlightening, productive, and world-changing conversation.

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