Trump’s bro-talk dehumanizes women, experts say. And they fear its repercussions if he is elected president. (Photo: Getty Images)
Sunday night was Donald’s Trump’s chance to clear the air surrounding his sexual brags that went down in infamy on Friday, when the Washington Post published leaked Access Hollywood footage from 2005 in which Trump boasted to Billy Bush about his sexual conquests and power over women. Trump said, “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait,” followed by “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the p***y. You can do anything.”
On Friday, Trump chalked up his lewd language to simple “locker-room banter,” and despite public discourse over the weekend discussing how his brags described sexual assault, Trump again brushed off his conversation as run-of-the-mill bro-talk during the debate.
Anderson Cooper asked Trump four times about the incident, and he did not sugarcoat it: “You called what you said locker-room banter — kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals. That is sexual assault,” Cooper said. “You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women.”
Trump seemed incredulous that Cooper, and the American people, didn’t get it. “I don’t think you understood,” he said. “This was locker-room talk. I’m not proud of it. I apologize to my family. To the American people. Certainly, I’m not proud of it. But this is locker-room talk.” Watch Trump’s comments, below:
On Monday morning, the hashtag #LockerRoomTalkIn5Words was trending with 14,000 tweets as of 10:15 a.m. and about 100 more coming in per minute. It began as an attempt to raise awareness on the language surrounding sexual consent and snowballed from there.
How sexual predators rationalize evil.#LockerRoomTalkIn5Words
— Werner Twertzog (@WernerTwertzog) October 10, 2016
— RJean (@rjar70) October 10, 2016
“What he described doing and wanting to do — if someone did those things on a street, a bus, a subway, a school, in the workplace — forcing oneself physically and sexually upon a woman or another person — that’s something you can get arrested for, you can go to trial for, an you can and often do go to jail for,” Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, tells Yahoo Beauty. “He not only said, ‘Hey, I’d like to’ — he said, ‘This is what I do because I am powerful and popular.’”
Psychologists we spoke with are concerned that such attitudes and language can perpetuate violence against women.
“The language that Trump used was typical ‘bro-talk,’ in which men talk to other men about women as if they [women] are sex objects rather than fully human,” Sarah Gervais, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, tells Yahoo Beauty via email. “When you describe women only in terms of their sex appeal or reduce them to their sexual body parts, you render invisible their humanity.”
She points out that the tone of Trump’s “banter” may also be harmful to female self-confidence. “Research from our lab shows that when women are treated in objectifying ways, they start to see themselves as sexual objects and feel more body shame, heightened anxiety, and safety concerns,” says Gervais. “Seeing this type of behavior from our leaders (even if they say that it is only ‘locker-room’ talk) reinforces the notion that women are and should be treated as sex objects. It is highly problematic for the way men see women as well as how women see themselves.”
Experts went as far as saying that this sort of language, when used by a leader, could potentially contribute to attitudes of violence against women.
Neil Malamuth, PhD, is a professor in the University of California, Los Angeles, department of psychology who studies the causes of sexual aggression. He tells Yahoo Beauty that the type of comments made by Trump and the attitudes that seem to underlie them “clearly are similar” to the measures of attitudes supporting violence against women that his research has consistently shown to contribute to men’s sexual aggression against women.
One study conducted by Malamuth measured men’s characteristics and the likelihood of their committing acts of aggression against women, especially acts of sexual aggression. In this study, women pretended to be subjects in the study alongside actual male subjects — and were instructed to “mildly reject” any advances the male subjects made on them. Afterward, there was a taped conversation between the man and the woman who had rejected him. These conversations were then coded for various characteristics of hostility.
“We found, as predicted, that men who are more prone to commit acts of sexual aggression in the real world in this context did express in how they talked to women — hostility, putdowns — anger at their rejection,” Malamuth notes. “This one study shows the activation of that kind of aggression that can be expressed in words.”
Malamuth notes that the individuals we choose to lead our country are those who we feel can represent our “best qualities” and become role models for ourselves and our children. “If our best qualities are conducive to violence against women, it certainly doesn’t help create a climate that would reduce violence against women and if anything might contribute to a social climate that, at a societal and individual level, facilitates and encourages violence against women.”
Indeed, echoes Laguens, “The part that’s horrifying is that [Trump’s] behavior and how he talks and the way he acts, part of it is so out there, that it’s hard to focus on what does it mean to have these horrifying views turned into policy. But we know he’s for that — punishing women, judging women in the workplace based on how they look, not treating or paying women equally. … We’re trying to put an end to rape culture, and people are willing to vote for the poster boy for the attitude of what leads to it.”