Locker Room Talk at the Workplace

Locker Room Talk at the Workplace October 7, 2016

I’ve only once ever been subject to the kind of talk that made me fear for my physical safety at work.

I was in a male-dominated workplace, but so had I been my entire adult life up until then.

I had never worked in a purely non-Christian environment before, though. All of my workplaces until then were either frankly or vestigially Christian, even those that were ostensibly secular.

This was a hobby store for a male-dominated hobby, but not the sort where you had to wear bunny costumes or anything. Just a store full of guys buying perfectly respectable guy things to do their perfectly respectable guy hobby. I had no problems interacting with my male colleagues or my male customers, and I found my male boss to be courteous and responsible. It was a normal, decent workplace, and I didn’t particularly notice any difference between it and the church-inflected male-dominated workplaces I had been in before.

Until one day the boss left the store about three hours before closing. I’d never been there before without the boss.

That day, a few minutes after the boss left, the two remaining male employees started swapping dirty jokes. I was too busy filling stock to care.

Half an hour after the boss left, they started swapping worse jokes. Jokes with curse words describing female body parts in the punch line. I busied myself with filling stock and pretended not to hear them.

A customer came in, and the cheerful bonhomie returned. And then the customer left, and I was left alone with two men who quickly returned to their crude jokes.

Image via Pixabay. Public Domain.
Image via Pixabay. Public Domain.

Half an hour after that, the locker room talk started.

And I just left work early. I went out the back door, got on my motorcycle, and left. I don’t think I even clocked out.

Not many weeks later, I manufactured an excuse and left the place entirely, because $64 a day was not enough to work with people I couldn’t trust. And their willingness to engage in misogynistic talk the second the boss left the room meant that I couldn’t trust them.

They were testing each other, see?

They were floating rude talk as a trial balloon, to see how the other would respond. And when the response was one of acceptance, the transgressive nature of the talk escalated. Their voices deepened and got more intense, and they stayed in proximity to each other and to me rather than floating around the store doing their job.

And they didn’t tattle on me for leaving work early, did they? Because they were just nervous enough that I might tell the boss about what they’d said when he left the room, and I was just competent and respected enough that he just might believe me.

That’s how predatory behavior happens. They wait for the boss to leave the room. And then they start finding allies.

They wait for the boss to leave the room.

What do women do when it is the boss who starts with crude jokes and moves to the locker room talk and escalates from there?

If it is only the power of the most powerful man in the room that keeps the violence of such men at bay, what happens when the most powerful man in the room is himself the predator, himself the one who initiates the locker room talk?

Where do women go when the most powerful man in the entire country is an ally of such men?

Where will women go to escape predators, when the most powerful man in the country openly authorizes preying on women?

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