Sports

Not in this locker room: Athletes say they call out Donald Trump-style misogyny

Pushing back against mindsets like Trump’s and preventing its escalation into sexual violence is hard, but there is work being done to create a space for that conversation.

Mobeen Noormohamed has played rec league hockey with the same guys for more than a decade.

Perry King/for Metro

Mobeen Noormohamed has played rec league hockey with the same guys for more than a decade.

The conversation Donald Trump had on a 2005 videotape, words he described as “locker-room talk,” were definitely not the kind of words Mobeen Noormohamed would ever use.

Playing rec league hockey with the same guys for more than a decade, Noormohamed has seen the locker room as a place to connect with the guys he plays with, as well as an outlet to let off some steam.

“It is sometimes like a venting thing, talking about work or about life,” said Noormohamed, from his Stouffville, Ont. home, “and the guys relate to that.”

If they do talk about women, especially their spouses, it’s kept tame. “Is it a lot of vulgarity? No, not really. At the same time, is it stuff that we would talk about with our spouses? Probably not,” added Noormohamed, a husband and father of two.

In the Toronto Argonauts locker room, they talk about everything under the sun. Matt Black, the team’s defensive back and kick returner, says he sees more guys giving back to the communities where they grew up than living up to the misogynist label associated with the stereotypical locker room behaviour attached to Trump.

Matt Black, the Argos’ defensive back and kick returner, says he sees more guys giving back to the communities where they grew up than taking part in stereotypical, misogynist locker room behaviour.

Torstar News Service

Matt Black, the Argos’ defensive back and kick returner, says he sees more guys giving back to the communities where they grew up than taking part in stereotypical, misogynist locker room behaviour.

“Just because it happens in a locker room doesn’t make it OK for you to say something like that,” said Black, who has taken part in the Argos’ Make the Call program, one that develops violence prevention strategies by talking to men and boys, including many high schoolers, about their attitudes toward women.

“I’m a father of a daughter,” he added. “If my daughter comes home and tells me something (violent) happened to her, what’s any father going to think? I’m going to be enraged.”

Noormohamed and Black have each heard minimal vulgar comments about women in their spaces, but Dr. Margery Holman from the University of Windsor argues that the behaviour is still very common. Researching about women and sport for years, Holman has found locker-room culture to be historically male-dominated, where misogynist behaviour can stew.

She said talking with utter vulgarity about women behind closed doors sends the message that feeling and thinking that way is OK and enables even worse behaviour in men, even violence, in the future.

Recently, many athletes, including the NBA’s Lebron James, denounced Trump’s comments, saying that his Cleveland Cavaliers teammates don’t talk about women that way. A 2012 survey, conducted by the White Ribbon campaign in Ontario, says 97 per cent of men thought that violence against women was unacceptable to them and that they have a personal role to play in stopping it.

But, Holman argues, those voices still represent a “vocal minority.”

“If you ask athletes, they might be reluctant to talk about it. Often it’s something that’s under the table. There’s a lot of silence that shrouds it,” she said. Comparing that talk with hazing, Holman says the sports environment is protective and that many athletes still don’t call out other men or confront the issue.

“It’s really difficult to stand up to it,” explained Holman, who has studied sexual harassment as part the university’s kinesiology department. “The majority of men don’t engage in those behaviours, but we need them to speak out against others.”

Pushing back against mindsets like Trump’s and preventing its escalation into sexual violence is hard, but there is work being done to create a space for that conversation.
Mike Schaaf, who co-ordinates the MANifest Change program, a men’s outreach effort organized by the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, has reached out to about 2,000 people in the Ottawa area and thousands more via social media to discuss positive definitions of masculinity — which foster acceptance and builds better relationships with others, especially women.

Schaaf, who estimates that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 boys experience sexual violence, is well aware of the locker-room talk and understands the nature of it.

“As men, we are often under pressure to prove ourselves to other men by acting tough, bragging about sex with women, and showing willingness to use violence,” he wrote in an email. “We aren’t satisfied with that definition of manhood because it underlies violence against women and violence among men.”

Working with high school and varsity athletes, including an active relationship with CFL players like Black, Schaaf’s work aims to better bridge the conversation.

Black feels it’s important, now as a father and leader, to have these discussions with men but to also empower young women, to give them courage and support them if they suffer violence.

“Do what we need to do to empower young women, so that when something inappropriate happens to them, they know that it’s OK to come forward and tell your story,” Black said 

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