Don McPherson is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, a feminist and social justice educator. Follow him on Twitter: @donmcpherson.
(CNN) “When you’re a star, they just let you do it. Just grab her in the pussy!”
Put Donald Trump’s words in the mouth of a college football player and you get to the heart of the work to end sexual violence on college campuses. Such language — and the attitudes and behavior of men who feel a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies — is at the center of hundreds of civil rights investigations by the Department of Justice into how colleges handle sexual assault cases.
Put those words in the mouth of a college football player — where you can indeed find it in some — and it will be clear why many believe entitled athletes are emboldened by the culture of sexism that festers in locker rooms. That belief assumes the locker room to be devoid of mature, respectful men and full of braggadocio and misogyny.
Sorry, Donald and Rudy, most men don’t talk like that
But as the Trump video shows, this language is not limited to young male athletes. It is common wherever men gather in the absence of women. Several men were on the “Access Hollywood” bus with Trump when he and Billy Bush had their infamous conversation and either remained silent or enthusiastically supported him as he boasted about how his entitlement allowed him to sexually assault women.
The bus is no different than any locker room or college campus where the vast majority of men remain silent in the presence of sexually predatory language and behavior.
In this environment, where women are often reduced to objects, the viciousness of the predator is abetted by the cowardice of those who remain silent. The woman in the video was referred to as a thing — “That’s nice,” the oglers say. “It looks good.” We hear Billy Bush exclaiming, “the Donald has scored” before he even meets the woman. Bush then insists that the woman give Trump a hug, simply because he got off the bus.
In 1993 the Mentors in Violence Prevention program was created at Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in society by Jackson Katz, a global leader in gender violence prevention. Katz introduced the idea of applying an analysis of masculinity and the tool of “Bystander Behavior” to the field of the prevention of men’s violence against women. That is, the program educates men on how to identify and confront the culture of sexism and misogyny that leads to violence against women.
In my own work as an educator for more than 22 years I have employed the approach of the MVP program with an acute understanding of the locker room environment that relies on the silent majority to perpetuate a toxic environment.
I spent the previous 20 years of my life in locker rooms as a high school, college and professional football player. And while the language used there was at times abhorrently sexist, the leadership in the room always dictated the extent to which it was tolerated. The goal of MVP is to empower the men in any situation to be leaders, to be part of the solution. In recent years, education and prevention programs like this have increasingly used various forms of bystander training to confront rape culture on college campuses.
Trump controversy could do a good thing
The Trump incident will certainly be discussed in political terms. But doing so risks missing the broader indictment of the moment — the entitled misogyny that leads to men’s violence against women.
Those who excuse the language as mere “locker room” talk are doing something dangerous. Society needs to understand and examine such language and recognize the damage it does. There is a need to expand the Department of Justice’s investigations beyond college campuses to all places where euphemisms like “locker room” talk are used to excuse and normalize a culture of violence.