Friends, this post is my humble honor to share. My dear friend, Ashley-Ann, approached me about a guest post regarding recent “locker room” talk. I was all HELL YES girl and expected to read something witty, cool, and unique cause those three words about sum her up. We know each other from the local theater world and she is a firecracker. She is also a woman who has spent a lot of time in football locker rooms as an official and therefore I knew her perspective would not disappoint. I did not, however, expect to sit in front of my laptop frozen in place, chills down my spine, bearing witness to her incredible story. Please join me in creating a safe place for Ashley-Ann’s story to land. I am a firm believer in truth telling and the power of putting words around your experience, sharing it on your terms– when you give it to the world on YOUR TERMS you own it. YOU. Note the unwavering power she exudes in this post.
Thank you Ashley-Ann for your perspective, for trusting me to gently place this here, and for being a truly badass warrior in so many ways.
There’s been quite a surplus of talk about what happens in locker rooms lately: what sort of discussions occur, behaviors exposed and what sort of dynamic the “locker room” encourages. I have lost count of the times the phrase “boys will be boys” has been turned loose in dialogues. If you haven’t read Chris Kluwe’s epic response from the point of view of an NFL player, I highly suggest that as a first-hand account of locker room talk.
So how would I, a middle class, female college professor in my early 30s have any idea or any reason to care what goes on in the boys’ locker room? Simple. Because I’m in there myself, and unlike Vegas – what happens in the locker room doesn’t stay in the locker room.
I may be a college professor by day, but for 4 months out of the year, I change out of my 4 inch stilettos and business attire and into solid black football cleats (which are very hard to find in my minuscule size, just so you know) and zebra stripes. I’m one of two female high school football officials in the state of South Carolina, so I spend a surprising amount of time in locker rooms. Not only in the locker rooms but on the sidelines, in the huddle, amongst coaches and players, in between players and players, and as the brunt of angry fans’ mouth diarrhea. So what does this experience afford me? Just that – experience.
I’ve been in multiple situations that would make other people blush. What most people don’t know is that as officials for Varsity games we arrive in street clothes and change and go over our pre-game responsibilities. For the bigger schools with more money, typically they rent a hotel room for the evening. Believe me – I have gotten a fair share of odd looks when I check into a hotel room with 4 or 5 other, mostly older, men. Really bizarre looks.
But for the smaller schools with smaller budget we get dressed in one of the school locker rooms. I’ve changed and showered in hotel rooms, boy’s locker rooms, girl’s locker rooms, all with a crew of men around. I’ve changed in cars, closets, behind lockers, in stalls, even an athletic director’s office or two when the small locker room was just wide open space. And not once have I ever encountered any conversation that has EVER made me feel uncomfortable.
I’ve had all types of crews. Younger guys who have new babies at home, marital bliss, relationship woes or work struggles. One has the most astounding record collection and an affinity for Jazz, so we have some pretty amazing conversations on music. Older guys who might let slip the occasional curse word and then blush and apologize for offending my delicate sensitivities. My typical response of “don’t fucking worry about it” soon puts them at ease. I’ve played martial counselor, college admissions advisor, tutor, child behavior advice giver, cultural attaché to the theater scene in Charleston (another passion of mine), a listening ear and a friend. If any of my crew members ever thought of me in a sexual way, it was never expressed. If things were said behind closed doors, I never heard. I was never sexualized or exploited. I was simply allowed to be. To be ME.
I guess I’m lucky in that way. And yes, I’ve run into some sexist pigs through my role as an official. I had a coach tell me once that I must not be able to use my flag because I had it employed elsewhere to help with my menstruating (I paraphrased for the sake of any delicate ears). I have had a few coaches and athletic directors call or email asking if they were required to pay for a separate hotel room or if I needed any “special accommodations” (and I’m not paraphrasing that one!).
To some my femininity in the male centered world of football may have been some sort of disability requiring “special accommodations,” but for the most part I’ve rarely felt more myself or that I was allowed to be myself, ironically when the barrier of my femininity was removed and the chromosomal chasm was ignored. Instead of being the “female official,” I was simply “an official.”
So why does this matter? Well, in light of Trump’s latest verbal plunge into I-Stick-My-Foot-Into-My-Mouth-Itis the culture of the locker room has been questioned. Trump’s claim that telling someone he would grab a woman “by the p****” has been “trumped” up to just the way boys are in more ways than one. So my question is where is the line?
There has to be one right? There always is. Where is that line in the locker room that makes it ok to make comments that afterwards you would have to rinse your mouth out before kissing your momma? Does it stop at the locker room door? What if you aren’t finished with your conversation? Can you press pause and then continue in the car? By nature if it’s considered ok to talk like that in certain places, then logically there must be rules about how it is conducted right? What are the god-damn rules of locker room talk?
And after all, it’s just talk, right? I mean, as long as Trump didn’t actually put his under-sized delicate digits onto a woman’s special place it doesn’t matter. WRONG. Words ARE actions. When you open your mouth whether it’s to yell at your child, praise your spouse or just let out a shriek of pure happiness, you are committing an action. Thoughts are involuntary. Words are not. While we cannot control what pops into our head, as the consumer driven jingle writers well know, we can control what comes out of our mouths.
I fully believe the writers of Avenue Q got it right with their song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” in that we have biases and faults by simple human nature, but by recognizing these flaws we can overcome them. We make a conscious decision to tell that racist joke, to cat call at the hot chick across the street, to tell your boss to shove all your overtime where the sun don’t shine. And therefore we should be accountable for our actions: by being labeled a racist or a womanizer, or getting fired.
I can hear the nay-sayers now saying I’m naïve or that the “locker room” conversation didn’t happen only because I was a female in the room. Well, I can tell you that I’m not naïve, not in any way. If anyone would have picked up on a sexual comment or a funny look, it would have been me. And why is that you might ask? Because as a victim or sexual violence I have a heightened sense of danger in those situations. I’m that person that always stands with her back to the wall at parties. I’m the one who upon entering a room notes which way the exits are, which one is closest. I’m the one with the mace and the self-defense classes. I’ve lived through it. I have seen the signs. I have witnessed what happens when “locker room talk” isn’t stopped at just talk and when those locker room lines don’t exist.
I’ve never told most people I was raped when I was 17. It took me over a decade to tell my own mother. Most of my family has no idea and will only find out if they read this post (Hi Dad!). And why is that? Why is it that as victims we feel that we are the ones who have to be ashamed? That there is something wrong WITH US? Why do we feel like Hester Prynne, and that if we don’t smile and push it away that everyone will see that we are marked. That bright red “A” branded on us every moment thereafter means that we are weak or damaged or just plain fucked up.
We see clearly the lines in our “locker room,” what we CANNOT talk about. Why is it we can talk about Donald Trump wanting to pussy grab, but we can’t talk about how when you fight back against a rapist you can pull every muscle in your thighs, or how hard it is to walk after that. There is no conversation about trying to hide that pain on top of the emotional damage so no one finds out. You can’t tell anyone because you don’t report it for fear that no one will believe you. Never spoken is the next girl that monster rapes and how she ends up almost dying from bleeding out from internal injuries and your guilt that comes with that knowledge. Imagine it all started with a smile at a party, a slap on the ass and an offer for a ride back to your car.
So here’s my question for you – if it is just “locker room talk” and boys will be boys, when and where is the line? Is it before you grab a woman’s ass on the dance floor at a club? Is it when you hit on the waitress at the local restaurant and hint that she can earn more tip later (wink wink)? Is it when you have a girl in your car and drive her to an isolated spot so no one will hear her scream?
I’m asking this of the males today, men and boys, where is that line? There must be one by simple logic. Is it only when you have a familial relationship with the target of such talk that it bothers you? Why is that? After all, the woman you are sexualizing may not be your daughter, but she is someone’s daughter, or mother, or sister, or spouse.
So I ask you to think about that locker room line next time you go to speak to or about a woman, and do you really want to cross that line?