So what exactly do men talk about in locker rooms?
Donald Trump was caught on tape admitting to the now-unemployed Billy Bush that he forcibly kissed women without warning and grabbed them by the genitals.
“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he bragged.
But as we now know from at least 15 women who say they were inappropriately groped by Trump, they don’t in fact let you do it. They protect their dignity and get the hell out of there.
In the second presidential debate, Trump famously tried to explain away his grotesque comments as “locker room talk.”
This column was written before the third debate. But since the second one, a lot of us have had to consider what actually gets said when there are no women in the room.
One NBA player joked that he and his peers don’t brag in the locker room about groping women. They talk, he said, about their investment portfolios.
Which is funny, but also a better reflection of reality than was Trump’s depiction of his awful words.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past 60 years in locker rooms. And I’ll confess that I have in fact heard Trump’s kinds of comments in a locker room.
But that was when I was in high school.
So Melania Trump was in fact closer to the truth this week when she dismissed her husband’s comments as “boy talk.”
What her husband said was the kind of hateful, dismissive putdown — random sexual braggadocio – that gets said by high school boys after football practice.
The men I know don’t talk that way.
Remember, too, that well before the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump admitted to sexually attacking women, he disparaged Carly Fiorina’s face, publicly speculated about Fox News host Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle, and compared women to “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs” and “disgusting animals.”
Now let’s take a look at the more political aspects of Trump’s comments.
Even his canny campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, has termed Trump’s bragging to Billy Bush “disgusting.”
But Conway then turns to the Clintons and makes a campaign issues about their conduct toward women.
And if we Clinton supporters are being honest with ourselves, we’ve got to admit the other side has a point.
During Bill Clinton’s initial presidential run and his two terms as president, he was dogged by claims that he was too sexually aggressive. Women I knew in politics compared notes about whether and when he hit on them verbally. We all joked about it.
When it became a campaign issue, his team fought back hard.
His 1992 campaign manager, James Carville, dismissed one woman’s claims about Clinton’s sexual conduct by saying, “Drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer, park, you never know what you’ll find.”
For her part, Hillary Clinton tolerated a steady round of efforts to undercut her husband’s accusers. The Clintons, after all, have faced over 25 years of politically motivated attacks, and neither Bill nor Hillary has been shy about responding.
Eventually, though, elements of Bill’s conduct caught up with him.
Recall that he paid an $850,000 out-of-court settlement to end a legal dispute with former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones, stemming from her complaint that he made inappropriate sexual advances to her when he was governor.
He had sex with Monica Lewinsky in the White House and lied about it. He committed perjury under oath and resigned from the bar rather than be disbarred.
So does that disqualify Hillary Clinton to be our next president? Not in my book.
When it became clear to everyone that her husband had a sexual dalliance, you only had to view Hillary’s face on TV — to know that she had genuinely believed Bill when he said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
Hillary stood by her man. The reprehensible sexual conduct was Bill’s, not hers. It occurred years ago. His accusers’ attacks and Ken Starr’s fishing expedition that led to impeachment were fueled by right-wing money aimed at his policies.
It was shameful of Republicans to put the nation through impeachment proceedings for “high crimes” because a cornered president had lied about sex.
Moreover, it was a different time when the public had different standards. Big men, the reasoning went, have big appetites. And Democrats hardly had the exclusive rights to sexual misconduct, as Republican scandals made clear.
Seen through the prism of today’s standards, you have to wonder about Democrats’ defense of Bill Clinton. Could he get elected again, knowing what we now know?
Recalling Bill’s transgressions, Trump and Co. have tried to make the voters think Bill’s on the ballot.
But he’s not. Hillary is, and she has shown for decades now that she’s her own person with her own policies.
I hope we’ve all learned from the sordid discussions of sex that have dominated this campaign. We need to reach for a higher standard in both the locker room and the Electoral College.
One final point: This election is about a lot more than sexual conduct.
As columnist Nicholas Kristoff points out, Trump’s pattern of behavior goes well beyond sexual attacks. And the public’s reaction reveals a double standard for women politicians.
Imagine, Kristoff wrote, how people would feel if Hillary Clinton:
- Had talked about shooting people on Fifth Avenue
- Told a staff member “laziness is a trait in blacks” and retweeted white supremacists
- Went bankrupt five times
- Referred to men she had seduced as “victims”
- Bragged about the size of her genitals
- Paid no federal income taxes for years and refused to release her tax returns
- Falsely claimed a critic of hers had made a sex tape.
Of course that wasn’t Clinton. Those actions describe the Republican Party’s presidential nominee. The one over there. The guy talking boy talk.