When presidential candidate Donald Trump was caught on tape speaking about touching and kissing women without their consent, his explanation was that this kind of talk was ‘locker room banter.’ He suggested that taking pride in belittling and assaulting women is normal for men. He has also then been accused of actual assault as well.
Hearing this from someone who may have a chance in becoming the most respected authority figure in the US is very confusing for children.
If he says it and if he does it, is it not normal? Should they not try to emulate him?
Children are very observant. Even if they have not mentioned it to you, they have probably heard and absorbed it all.
In order to protect your child from psychological damage, try to engage with them in an age-appropriate way. This may involve engaging with other people in your life who also shape your child’s world.
Issues of consent
Consent is important at any age.
It is up to you to create a culture of respect and gender equality in your own family. And in all of your networks.
The more you and your partner practice respecting everyone’s privacy and dignity, the easier it will be for your children to understand and follow suit. It will be ‘normal’ for them. Locker room culture will feel alien.
This means they will talk to you about it. And that means that you can do something about it!
Consent and young children
Even very young children have to deal with consent, boundaries, and privacy every day.
Don’t force your child to touch, hug, or kiss anyone, not even a cherished relative.
Explain to them that their body is private, and ask them to tell you if anyone tries to touch them without consent.
Help them find age-appropriate ways of negotiating the playground and the adult world.
Investigate your own gender stereotypes in the way you talk to your child and in the way you perceive little boys and girls. You will probably find out a lot of new things about yourself.
Again, your own behavior is where it all begins and ends.
Never shame a child for their body, or for their gender.
Shame creates violence, both verbal and physical.
Now is the time when your child will hear ‘locker room vocabulary’ in the world outside your family. Even on TV. Now is the time to take it seriously and respond to it.
Don’t shame your child for repeating phrases. They are experimenting with adapting to the society they will need to fit into. But they are also looking to you to make sense of it.
Don’t shy away from discussing unpleasant terms for intimate parts of the female body. Explain why these terms are mean and hurtful. Give your child alternatives and back them up against those who try to push them into limiting gender roles.
Don’t hesitate to start discussions with other parents. Bring it up at school.
Your child needs to know that you have their back when they stand up for themselves or their friends.
For girls, hearing themselves described in derogatory and demeaning terms can be traumatic. Many women report experiencing a deep rift between themselves and the world when they realize that men and boys see them as sex objects. Objects whose value depends on their looks.
Girls are often deeply influenced by the message that they need to please men. They feel the need to look ‘like a ten’ and behave accordingly. Deep-seated insecurities and lifelong issues with body image stem from this.
How you can help teenage girls
Support girls in finding their own value inside themselves. Encourage them to look for strong, independent female role models. Current politics offer some great examples! Show girls the beauty of different body types.
Never dismiss how frightening the locker room culture is for women. It is a crude expression of male dominance. And, unfortunately, there is a real danger that words may be followed by actions.
Girls need to be protected by a network of women and men who oppose the locker room culture and create a safe environment where girls can become women without being devalued.
What does it mean to be a man?
Boys are searching for male role models from the moment they understand that they are boys. And that search can be very confusing.
Positive male role models can show boys that they have choices and the freedom to define themselves. They can also model that being a man doesn’t mean looking down on women.
The ‘locker room banter’ model of masculinity is very old-fashioned. To many boys who grow up in more gender-equal families, it is both baffling and terrifying.
A locker room can be a place of intimidation and bullying where older boys and men socialize younger boys into a brutal male hierarchy. Belittling and demeaning women is part of that. Belittling and demeaning other men is also part of it.
How you can help teenage boys
Open up the world of the “locker room.”
It is not a secret society. It is not a place where the most primitive mindset rules.
Protect boys by giving them access to positive male role models. Men who don’t have to belittle and threaten women in order to feel strong.
Many men feel trapped and twisted inside the locker room culture all their lives. They have trouble connecting with women and with their own kids.
‘Locker room banter’ is not harmless fun. It is a threat to all of us.
Children are best protected by adults who show them a different way to talk and to live.