The problem with locker room talk is that it is never just locker room talk. This misconception is exactly the problem.
The truth is, whether it is in the office, on the sports field, in the park, on the street, in the supermarket or in the school, every time we interact with one another we are constantly defining and redefining the rules of the game. Nothing is written in stone. There is no written law, uncovered and dusted off at the dawn of human civilisation that told us how to do it. No, we made it up. All of it. We have decided how we behave. We have chosen what we can say - what is appropriate and what is inappropriate, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. Between us. We, the individual, through our actions and interactions with one another, decide what the rules of the game are.
As the pre-eminent Canadian-American sociologist Goffman suggests, we follow scripts, 'lines' of social behaviour, presenting ourselves as characters, as if constantly in a play, continually monitoring the responses of others to see if they signal acceptance, recognition, deference, adjusting our performances in accordance with the responses we receive. If they signal acceptance, we continue; if signal a less deferential response, we change course. This is the process through which normative behaviour and social values are born and sustained. They only exist in the public domain through consensual agreement, when particular actions are greeted with deference and acceptance. Essentially, norms and rules only become real and stabilise in contexts of social interaction.
But the point here is they are flexible. They can change. Just as performances change, the way we act can change. We are in charge of our behaviour and language. And that's why locker room talk is never just locker room talk. It is more than that. It is easy to dismiss the single chat after a session in the gym or before a football match as a private space, a place that is safe from public intrusion, a place one can be who they really are without fear of 'political correctness gone mad'. But these informal conversations are exactly where the norms that govern our society are created. They are the building blocks of what is socially acceptable. They are, in many ways, the smallest units of social value - the millions of conversations that happen at a micro level between you and me, between you and your neighbour, you and your work colleague, you and whoever - whether it be in the locker room or in the library or at the bus stop or in the post office. Wherever it is, the myriad of conversations that happen on a daily basis is exactly what establishes what is normal, valued and accepted. And we have the power to change it. Between us. Every day. And those who fall back on adages of 'that's just the way things are' or 'that's how it is' are simply hiding behind excuses for bad behaviour. And worse, they are either refusing to recognise or failing to see that they have the power to change everything. Locker room talk is not simply locker room talk. It is so much more significant than that. It is part of the backbone of what we learn to accept. And only by refusing to accept it will it change. Only by refusing to accept it will our mothers, wives and daughters feel less objectified, will ethnic minorities feel less targeted, will homosexuals feel fully liberated, will the old, the sick and the young live in a better and brighter future. We need to each one of us consider our performance and how we want to be seen. And as the audience, we each need to challenge. It is only by what we refuse to hear can we really change what somebody feels at liberty to say.
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