“It’s just locker room talk.”

With these five words, Donald Trump and many of his supporters have tried to brush away the presidential candidate’s sexually predatory comments recorded in a 2005 conversation between the GOP presidential candidate and NBC host Billy Bush. Presumably, the same defense covers Trump’s conversations with Howard Stern about threesomes, anal sex, and his own daughter’s derriere.

Putting aside the more serious question of whether Trump’s words in his conversation with Bush accurately describe real actions he has committed (something he denied when pressed by Anderson Cooper in Sunday night’s debate), let’s consider the notion that all this is “just locker room talk.”

The locker room, with its shiny little lockers and their built-in locks, lulls us into the illusion that compartmentalization of our lives is possible. The locker room offers the appearance of privacy, but at the same time elicits public performance (as every awkward middle school student knows too well). A liminal space, the locker room requires people to be at their most vulnerable—naked—in front of other people and therefore elicits the most bravado, whether feigned or genuine.

Thus the locker room is emblematic of the aspects of our lives that are both public and private—which, ultimately, are most things. The locker room is a window into both the individual soul and into the community that forms that soul. The locker room is a picture of the republic.

More recently, the locker room has mirrored contentious social and political debates about sex and gender. As more women participate in sports and sports journalism, the locker room points to progress in ...

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