Sunday night’s Presidential debate started with one simple question that has been on everyone’s mind lately: Are the candidates modeling good behavior? While each tried to defend their behavior in the first debate, that question was quickly followed by one about the salacious tapes that were released Friday of the lewd 2005 conversation between Republican nominee Donald Trump and former Access Hollywood host Billy Bush.
By now, we’ve all heard the taped conversation in which Trump claimed he could kiss, grope, hug, and sleep with any woman he wanted. The conversation included derogatory remarks about women, including a statement about grabbing them in the genitals.
When asked about the conversation, Trump did apologize; but also dismissed the comments as “locker room talk,” simply “locker room talk” he claimed almost half a dozen times.
He then went on to say they were “just words.”
I rounded on my almost thirteen-year-old son who was watching the debate with us. “You will never talk about women in a demeaning way.” He opened his mouth to speak as I continued, “You will never disrespect women and say insulting comments about or to them.”
“No, Mom, never. I won’t.”
And in my heart of hearts, I want to believe him.
But I also know that some boys and teenagers talk that way. They have seen and heard those comments being said about women and think it’s normal to speak and act that way. After all, they are “just words.”
I don’t believe there is any such thing as “just a word.”
Words are used to excite, incite, and inspire people. Words can be used to build a person up or tear a person down. Words give people ideas. Words move people to action. Words have emotional meaning attached to them. Good or bad, words mean something.
Words mean something to the girls who are scared to walk through the hallways at school amidst cat calls and derogatory comments. Words mean something to the women who are in abusive relationships. Words mean something to children who are being emotionally abused by the adults they are supposed to trust. And words mean something to the young boys who will take them to heart and act on the things that are being said by their peers and men they look up to.
Locker room talk isn’t “just talk” for the students of color who report that bullying has increased in the face of some of Trump’s political statements. Locker room talk isn’t just talk to young co-eds who are being taken advantage of at campus parties.
Locker room talk implies that saying derogatory things is okay if it’s kept in the locker room. But unfortunately, locker room talk is how some boys learn to treat women. And that is disturbing.
Long after the debate, as I cuddled with my sweet eleven-year-old son, I told him that some things were said by Mr. Trump but dismissed as “just words.” My son is very impressionable, and I can see him taking to heart the words of others someday.
“Guys you look up to are going to say insulting things about girls and women. Are you going to know what is right and what is not? Do you know the right way to treat girls and all people?” I asked him.
“Yes, Mom, I do,” he insisted.
But I don’t know if he will. And that scares me.
I do know that he is being raised by a man who is good and kind. He stood high among all the other young men I dated because he was a gentleman who treated me with respect. He models that respect for our boys by never mistreating me or allowing them to mistreat me.
Some will say that words only have meaning if you let them, but I think that’s a lie. I think it’s something that people say to excuse the other things they say.
I will teach my boys that everything they say means something. Everything they say illustrates their character and reveals their hearts. I will show my boys how to strengthen their character and how to have goodness in their hearts so that they will never have to worry about the things they say.
The things they say will be more than “just talk.” They will reflect love and respect, honesty and kindness, and acceptance and understanding.
Because words are just that powerful.
In or out of a locker room.