The Locker-Room Election

Donald Trump’s gross behavior towards women has been self-evident for years. Even The Donald himself, seen in this Howard Stern video from 2006, agrees that Donald Trump can be called a sexual predator. So how do we explain the shocked (shocked!) reaction to the non-revelation of the Billy Bush bus tape?

Perhaps an answer can be gleaned from an entirely separate incident. It’s October 1971 and William Friedkin’s The French Connection is playing to a packed, all African-American audience in a movie theater in Harlem. Up on the screen, Gene Hackman’s character, Popeye Doyle, turns to his partner and mutters, “Never trust a [N word].” The audience erupts — in cheers.

Why? Because finally, African-Americans were hearing the language they had always known was being said by NYC cops in real-life behind closed doors.


Jill Soloway, the creative force behind Transparent, writing in Time magazine this week describes a similar reaction to watching the bus video: “I was thrilled because it was finally out in public. What men say behind closed doors. Currently renamed as locker-room talk.”

One big takeaway: Language matters.

This week on Open Source we’re unpacking the gender politics operating behind the scenes in the Locker-Room Election.

Eileen Myles wants to take Trump’s defensive words at face value: let’s talk about what “locker room banter” actually is, another hidden domain for patriarchy.

And Felix Biederman, creator of the centrist pundit parody Carl Diggler and co-host of the brilliantly vulgar Chapo Trap House podcast, helps us turn the corner into a conversation about language and the fine line between what different generations find forgivable and unforgivable in speech. 

Plus, Labor of Love author Moira Weigel, political philosopher Rafia Zakaria, and Atlantic contributor Caitlin Flanagan join us live in studio to flesh out what we’re really talking about when we talk about Trump’s words.

Guest List
Eileen Myles
poet of I Must Be Living Twice and author of Chelsea Girls
Felix Biederman
co-host of Chapo Trap House and The DigCast.
Caitlin Flanagan
author and contributor to The Atlantic
Wendy Kaminer
lawyer, writer, and feminist who has written several books on contemporary social issues, including A Fearful Freedom: Women's Flight From Equality

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  • elle

    I’m as alarmed by Trump as anyone and not least by his bigotry toward Muslims, but it’s simply not accurate that there has been no outcry to his “ban” comments. Look at the newspapers–from Ryan to Kasich to Jeb Bush to of course Pres Obama he was criticized immediately. I am very concerned about the bigotry I see but I want to be very careful and precise.

  • Pete Crangle

    Let us take a brief tour d’horizon of two approaches to The Vagina Monologues … white man ‘splaining style.

    Frank T.J. Mackie. “Respect The Cock Tame The Cunt” Scene. From the Paul Thomas Anderson film: “Magnolia”

    Donald Trump on Access Hollywood

    Drumpf’s approach lacks the aplomb and the gravitas of Frank T.J. Mackie, but it demonstrates the essentials. Paul Thomas Anderson has certainly cataloged various forms of male dominance and flawed male behavior. “Seduce and Destroy” would be a nearly perfect campaign slogan for the Drumpf campaign. Drumpf’s words are about domination. Domination in this context is about control through intimidation and humiliation. Drumpf not only humiliates his overt targets, he humiliates his supporters: “I alone can fix it” is about as infantilizing as it gets — worship and obey me, and I will reward you, but fail to do so, and you will be punished (observe Drumpf and surrogates threatening GOP operatives who are scrambling to find a safe space in the current shit storm).

    What is an essential element, among many, about this type of predatory behavior is that it is not merely the behavior of a male who wishes to dominate women — or, at least make the bluff of domination. This is both obvious and completely unacceptable. What this behavior searches for, with an extremely brutal intention, is to also dominate men and children, as well. Drumpf finds no venue small enough to fly his wannabe alpha-male freak flag. I have cared for packs of dogs, at times with several males, and I have observed anal mounting as the canine pack equivalent of setting domination parameters. Drumpf’s Id and dominance bluffs, are attempts to mount the general population, so he may have complete and utter control. Sexual domination is the clearest and most complete signal one has to subjugate others. In western culture, bling and prestige, are the usual signals to assert this sort of domination. Wealth hording is not simply about having a bunch of stuff, it’s a means of asserting domination and signaling formidable sexuality and reproductive capacity. Thus, wealth hording is the means to assert dominance for not only survival, but reproductive and sexuality harems, among heterosexuals. Tyrants and monarchs have a history of concubines and harems. Pleasure rooms exists not merely for the pleasure their master. They assert and signal power.

    The Turkish Bath, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1862-63

    I will not speak to the sexual power antics of various patriarchal cult-of-personalities, such as, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, Francisco Franco, Napoleon Bonaparte, Charlemagne, Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, Mao Zedong, Augusto Pinochet, Robert Mugabe, George W. Bush/Dick Cheney, et al. (There is a germane anecdote about George W. Bush: Ten years ago, at the 1988 Republican Convention, Hartford Courant associate editor David Fink struck up a conversation with George W. “When you’re not talking politics,” Fink asked the vice president’s son, “what do you and [your father] talk about?” “Pussy,” George W. replied … and let us never forget Abu Ghraib and the psycho-sexual domination in play there). These are all cult-of-personality leaders who asserted the strong man prerogative of control over a supine and willing population eager to please and do incredibly vile and brutal deeds. Where there is the lowest forms of patriarchal power and control, there is the appearance of various forms of virility in one form or another. A characteristic of this type of leadership is that it creates an arena for all forms of brutality run amok. This is part of the allure and repulsion of the demagogue.

    Death and the Maiden – Ending Confession. Written by Ariel Dorfman. Directed by Roman Polanski (irony?)

    Here is an excerpt from “Vermeer in Bosnia” by Lawrence Weschler. It speaks to the psycho-sexual behavior of men who dominate women, children, and other men through sexual deviance. The context is the 1990s Yugoslav War trials that were taking place in The Hague. Mr. Weschler covered these trials.

    “I happened to be in The Hague a while back, sitting in on the preliminary hearings of the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal-specifically, those related to the case of Dusko Tadic, the only one of more than forty accused war criminals whom the Tribunal has actually been able to get its hands on up to that point. While there, I had occasion to talk with some of the principal figures involved in this unprecedented judicial undertaking.

    At one point, for instance, I was having lunch with Antonio Cassese, a distinguished Italian jurist who has been serving for the past two years as the president of the court (the head of its international panel of eleven judges). He’d been rehearsing for me some of the more gruesome stories that have crossed his desk-maybe not the most gruesome but just the sort of thing he has to contend with every day and which perhaps accounts for the sense of urgency he brings to his mission. The story, for instance, of a soccer player. As Cassese recounted, “Famous guy, a Muslim. When he was captured, they said, ‘Aren’t you So-and-So?’ He admitted he was. So they broke both his legs, handcuffed him to a radiator, and forced him to watch as they repeatedly raped his wife and two daughters and then slit their throats. After that, he begged to be killed himself, but his tormentors must have realized that the cruelest thing they could possibly do to him now would simply be to set him free, which they did. Somehow, this man was able to make his way to some U.N. investigators, and told them about his ordeal-a few days after which, he committed suicide.” Or, for instance, as Cassese went on, “some of the tales about Tadic himself, how, in addition to the various rapes and murders he’s accused of, he is alleged to have supervised the torture and torments of a particular group of Muslim prisoners, at one point forcing one of his charges to emasculate another-with his teeth. The one fellow died, and the guy who bit him went mad.”

    Stories like that: one judge’s daily fare. And, at one point, I asked Judge Cassese how, regularly obliged to gaze into such an appalling abyss, he had kept from going mad himself. His face brightened. “Ah,” he said with a smile. “You see, as often as possible I make my way over to the Mauritshuis museum, in the center of town, so as to spend a little time with the Vermeers.

    Sitting there over lunch with Cassese, I’d been struck by the perfect aptness of his impulse. I, too, had been spending time with the Vermeers at the Mauritshuis, and at the Rijksmuseum, in Amsterdam, as well. For Vermeer’s paintings, almost uniquely in the history of art, radiate “a centeredness, a peacefulness, a serenity” (as Cassese put it), a sufficiency, a sense of perfectly equipoised grace. In his exquisite Study of Vermeer, Edward Snow has deployed as epigraph a line from Andrew Forge’s essay “Painting and the Struggle for the Whole Self,” which reads, “In ways that I do not pretend to understand fully, painting deals with the only issues that seem to me to count in our benighted time-freedom, autonomy, fairness, love.” And I’ve often found myself agreeing with Snow’s implication that somehow these issues may be more richly and fully addressed in Vermeer than anywhere else.

    But that afternoon with Cassese I had a sudden further intuition as to the true extent of Vermeer’s achievement-something I hadn’t fully grasped before. For, of course, when Vermeer was painting those images, which for us have become the very emblem of peacefulness and serenity, all Europe was Bosnia (or had only just recently ceased to be): awash in incredibly vicious wars of religious persecution and proto-nationalist formation, wars of an at-that-time unprecedented violence and cruelty, replete with sieges and famines and massacres and mass rapes, unspeakable tortures and wholesale devastation. To be sure, the sense of Holland during Vermeer’s lifetime which we are usually given-that of the country’s so-called Golden Age-is one of becalmed, burgherlike efficiency; but that Holland, to the extent that it ever existed, was of relatively recent provenance, and even then under a continual threat of being overwhelmed once again.” — “Vermeer in Bosnia”

    It is my hope that we will hold fast to our core humanity and honor our better angels. The physical and moral energy being unleashed at this moment is extremely dangerous. A violent rage is being cultivated. Corporate media is either slow on the uptake, or completely beyond repair. And that does not bode well for a soft landing. The United States is neither unique nor exceptional. Like many human cultures that have emerged based upon conquest and the subjugation of life and nature, it carries its Vesuvius in its belly.

  • Eileen Myles POV reminded me of the parable: Blind Men and An Elephant.

    Locker-room talk is not patriarchy (a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.) There are no women in the locker room – they have already been excluded.

    Locker-room talk is homocentric. In this case, it is Trump establishing
    dominance over Bush. Trump is telling Billy I am more of a man than you are. Notice Trump says he tried and failed – he didn’t achieve power over that woman. He is telling Billy that, to see yourself in the act of dominating, is what matters. To
    which, Billy is uncomfortable and squealing fay submissive comments.

    Locker-room talk is the domain of the sexually immature, the sexually insecure.
    Locker-room talk is the way men share their insecurities – framed in
    the guise of dominance.

    If you want to experience what femocentric dominance sounds like, read Jill
    Soloway’s Courteney Cox’s Asshole.

    That for which we find words is something already dead in our hearts.
    There is always a kind of contempt in the act of speaking.

    – Friedrich Nietzsche

    • Potter

      I heard it analyzed as ( also) a way of male bonding, not to excuse it. There was a lot going on in that amazing tape. Of course other males came forward to say this is not them. For sure. As well other females came forward having been triggered by their experiences. But you also had Arianne Zucker, the actress walking between the guys playing their game! She later expressed shame and awareness of what she was partaking in.

  • Potter

    I have a lot of problems with Hillary but I won’t hold my nose as I thought I might. (I was just listening to a speech she gave in Florida, with Al Gore, on climate change). Perhaps she needs the dogs nipping at her heels. So be it. There is a fire in the house and it has to be put out. Trump. That it will be perhaps doused at least somewhat more if not a lot more by this long standing battle about the objectification of women by certain men and sexual dominance in our culture, good. This is as we ironically elect our first woman president- so much the better. We are shining sunlight on a lot of problems in the country during this very treacherous election period.

  • Michael Difani

    At over 74 and an army vet who recalls some GIs in the barracks where I was in W. Germany talking about girlfriends or German women they met was not what one hears today. I left active duty and became a college student in San Diego starting in the summer of ’65. Late 60’s–hippies, the counter culture, anti-‘Nam war protests, the works. I remember seeing teen girls hitchhiking, sometimes alone. How often are hitchhikers seen today. Never.

  • Potter

    Here is a short piece that belongs in this discussion: Manifest Misogeny

  • Michael Fairbank

    I have been in locker rooms since I was going to the public swimming pool in the 5th grade and I have never heard anyone bragging about assaulting women as Trump was doing. Not even among 11 to 14 year old boys who are just discovering sexuality.

  • plaintext

    It’s all about the language, the posturing, the allusion; as though self-disclosure calculated to jibe with the mutually naked mindset of your companion might forge a bond worthy of the time and effort expended to mouth the words.

  • Floyd C. Wilkes

    Mark up one Trump victory for the superdelegates and DNC . Nice body slam on Bernie . Boy this neoliberal poliscape sure has narrow roads.