Locker Room Banter


It was the end of my little boy Zac’s rugby match against another school. Covered in mud and with a few grazes to show, he was giving us a very animated impression of his rugby coach at half time:

“Now I want you boys to prove that you are men on that field, you’ve been playing like little girls!”  “We’re here to win, I don’t want to return to school with a coach of loser little girls, uphold the reputation of our school!”

Whilst we were chuckling at the deep-voiced impression, the little sister of another lad asked “why did the rugby coach shout at them for being little girls if they lost?”

The Mum of little Sophie explained that nobody likes to lose; the coach was trying to motivate the boys.  Sophie looked even more confused and said “girls aren’t losers!”

Sophie was right to query why the coach associated losing for the boys to being little girls . And we as adults, I am ashamed to say, failed to provide a satisfactory answer.  This was a seemingly commonplace team pep talk and yet it took the innocent perspective of a child to show us that the comments were wrong, unfair and sexist.

Struggling to explain away the coach’s comments caused me to question whether the comments were harmless or not.  Driving home, I did feel I ought to mention to Zac that perhaps his rugby coach could have used a different example to motivate the team, to which he replied: “Mum he probably upset a few groups of people ‘cos you know, he’s not that PC.”

I would be the first to admit that I am not that politically correct myself and today’s PC brigade is exasperating us all with what they deem politically correct – creating for us an unnecessarily restrictive straitjacket. For example, I was told to use the phrase “thought showers” instead of “brainstorm” at meetings (for a UK Government Department) in case it offended epileptics. Yet Sophie’s puzzled face tells me that she is right, the comments DO further enforce the idea that girls are weak and losers. So why are we teaching our little boys this?

One day, these little boys will become little men.  We are uncomfortable about speaking up about seemingly harmless banter – why? Are we scared of being PC police gone mad, are women afraid of living up to the nightmare caricature of the hairy, bra-burning feminist? Or is it because we deep down know the coach, our Grandad, our husband etc. to be harmless, we do not know them as a misogynist so they are not part of the problem?

Whether we want to admit it or not, seemingly innocent comments and banter here and there do mean something.  By telling a little boy that he’s a girl if he loses a rugby match, to stop crying like a girl or we don’t want a bunch of girls on the pitch entrenches the idea that to be a woman is to be weak, to be a man is to be a winner.  Such commonplace comments lay the ground for more brutal actions and worrying lad culture as one’s little boy grows into manhood.

Sexual harassment, assault and rape is rife at University; Uni lads rate girls on attractiveness and sexual performance.  The case of Brock Turner became headline news when he only served three months of a six-month sentence for raping a girl while she lay unconscious. Grown men in the workplace use sexist and misogynistic labels to describe successful female colleagues, as they cannot accept losing to a “weaker female.”

Harmless banter and lad culture also manifests itself into another area, that of politics and social media. Take the recent torrent of vile misogynistic abuse on social media against Gina Miller and her victory at the High Court challenging the triggering of Brexit.  Words and threats such as “bitch,” “whore,” “she deserves to be raped, or “die” have nothing to do with her High Court success or politics but everything to do with the fact that she is a woman.

In May, MPs from the UK’s three main political parties launched the Reclaim the Internet Campaign to shine more light on the online abuse women receive; the Labour MP Jess Phillips gave an example of the level of vile abuse. Just overnight she had received over 600 threats of rape.

Why do men think it’s acceptable to shut a woman up if they disagree, with threats of rape?  Why are men so threatened by a woman who dares to challenge the establishment? Instead of disagreeing with her and providing a valid counter argument, men instead question her very right to have a voice and opinion. Again, this is because it’s ingrained in a young boy’s mind at that seemingly innocent rugby pep talk that they must be winners and not lose like a little girl.

The worrying thing is that across the pond, our cousins could potentially vote in Donald Trump, which makes it very difficult to highlight the damaging consequences of this sexist and misogynistic language which men use; Trump gets away with blatant sexism and misogyny on live television. When asked by Fox News presenter Megyn Kelly about his misogyny, he dismissed the question as stupid and impertinent.  He has called women he doesn’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals,’ and insists women are too sensitive; he doesn’t have time for political correctness.  He boasts about “grabbing women by the pussy” and sexually assaulting them and trivialises his words by claiming they are just harmless alpha male “locker room talk.” But his words are hateful to women, replace the attack on women to let’s say the Jewish or Black community and the fact that its hate speech would become more obvious.

The good news over here in the UK is that police forces across England and Wales are now looking to implement misogyny as a hate crime after Nottingham Police carried out an experiment earlier this year that saw misogyny become ‘hate crime’ worthy of investigation.  If the decision goes ahead, it means that women up and down the country will be able to report incidents such as harassment and verbal abuse.  “The force defines misogyny hate crime as “incidents against women that are motivated by an attitude of a man towards a woman and includes behaviour targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman.”  This is a step forward certainly and comes a long way in getting over the stumbling block of even recognising that comments are of a hate crime.  However, we must challenge these apparently minor labels if we are to challenge the harmful gender prejudice. Nip it in the bud in the locker room and at school, before things escalate to the court room.


6 thoughts on “Locker Room Banter

  1. I think the term used by the coach ‘little girls’ implied *young* girls; as in ages under 10. He could have said ‘little boys’ to make his point the same. It’s motivational because nobody at Zac’s age would want to be labeled ‘little’ or ‘young’ anything.

  2. It is important that both girls and boys hear positive comments and not sexist phrases that ingrain in them that girls are weaker.

  3. Definitely a relevant and thought-provoking article, shredding light on the injustices women are facing because of societal perceptions of women.

  4. Men will be men. There is no point trying to change them. They know the law. If they break it then fine. They pay the costs.

  5. The PC comment about brain showers is ridiculous (on the part of the organisation who condemned its use). Brain showers are positive things. I have them regularly.

  6. This is OTT. What is said in a boy’s locker room is where it should stay. As if girls are not comparing the size of boys’ equipment in their own locker rooms. Coaches will motivate by finding levers. Boys who play rugby do not want to be compared to little girls. Period.

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