Given that mendacious claims about the things men routinely say to each other have recently become central to what passes for political discourse in this country, I am moved to share my highly individual impressions and experiences. The disclaimer here is that I am pushing fifty, I live in red-state heck, and I don’t know many men who are a great deal younger than myself, although I know many who are older. Mine is a small slice of American male life, not any kind of representative sample.
But here’s how man-to-man conversations about women have tended to break down over my lifetime:
- Nothing gets said about women that wouldn’t be said in their presence: a bare majority of conversations, call it 51%-plus.
- Things are said about women that wouldn’t be said in their presence, but not sexual things; examples would be open discussion about how a relationship is going, indirect guy banter that that boils down updating each other on relationship statuses without openly addressing those questions, or whining and commiseration that parses to “bitches be crazy” with varying degrees of affection: maybe 30% of conversations.
- Sexual talk (possibly frank but usually indirect) that is basically about who is getting any, is it any good, and is it “worth” the various costs, be they financial, emotional, or measured in increments of lost personal autonomy: perhaps 10% of conversations.
- “Locker room” type talk about women not present or in view, concerning whether she’s hot, exactly which parts of her are hot, who would like to do what with her, who wouldn’t touch that with your dick: a maximum of 5% of conversations, and that’s stretching it. This 5% of conversations is objectifying but the underlying fantasies being shared are consensual; the often-ludicrous assumption is that the women under discussion would be up for it, and there’s no predatory overtone except to whatever arguable extent that objectification itself is predatory. This is also the first part of the breakdown where the conversations are likely to be initiated by a fairly small subset of one’s male acquaintances; absolutely “not all men” want to have these conversations but it’s fairly normal to play along with the ones who do, especially when they are of higher status or have economic power in your life.
- “Locker room” talk as above, only with explicit rape-culture added, and more often concerning women who are in view but not in earshot. Less “I’d like to fuck her in the ass” and more “I’d like to catch her in a dark alley.” Heavy objectification (“look at those tits walking down the street!”) and often violence (“sure she’ll talk to you, just slap her face to get her attention”) and rape “jokes” (acknowledging and dismissing as irrelevant the certainty that the women mentioned wouldn’t be up for it) feature prominently. This is a tiny percentage of all conversations — 1%, maybe 2% maximum — and when these conversations happen they are invariably initiated by “that guy”, one of the several special kinds of assholes that every man knows. I have also once or twice also encountered cliques of men (in my cases these were workplace cliques in blue-collar workplaces) where really knuckle-dragging sex talk was used to establish and demarcate in-group and out-group boundaries. In a group where two or more men are enthusiastically talking like this a higher-status man will usually change the subject or explicitly tell them to knock it off; if they are the higher status men, others will usually separate themselves from the conversation as soon as practicable.
For calibration purposes, the currently-notorious bus conversation between Donald Trump and Billy Bush falls squarely within the bounds of that 2% of conversations in the fifth category; however it’s among the mildest of such conversations.
I don’t know “all men”; I just know the men that I know. These are my impressions. Make of them what you will.
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