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OnWords: Locker Room Talk


I’m not going to argue here that Donald Trump was justified in calling his hot-mic admission of sexual assault “locker room talk.”

Rather, I’m going to suggest that such candid speech is probably necessary.

In attempting to dismiss what he said, Trump acknowledged that we do—or should—speak differently in public than we do with trusted friends, with those we assume think like us.

For in those candid moments, we reveal a bit of who we really are, maybe not the person we’re always so proud of being.

The ability to do this performs some important social functions. One is to humanize, to admit our imperfections to those who accept us in spite or maybe even because of them.

Another function of locker room talk is as a kind of catharsis. It allows us to get out of our heads the toxic stuff that’s going on inside, stuff we don’t necessarily espouse but that we still sometimes think, thoughts that haunt our minds and prick our consciences.

Trump’s attempt at locker room talk underscored the cathartic effect, but rather than making him seem more human, it made him seem more inhumane, a man who, even in a moment of linguistic intimacy, could not resist his basest urges, whose candidness revealed a pride in his power to violate others.

So candid speech may be necessary not just because it makes us feel closer and better, but also because of what it tells us about ourselves.