At the gym today I found myself caught in the morning tide of fellow gym-goers. The locker-room was packed full of sweaty men trying to slink their way back into their work suits; talking casually about the working day ahead and weekend plans. I tend to keep myself-to-myself at the gym; avert my eyes, shrink into the corner. That self-conscious panicky feeling I got during gym class as a teenager worms its way back in, so I try to get in and out as fast as possible – it’s a good little cool-down cardio. Today though I found myself unwittingly absorbed into a conversation I quite literally wanted nothing to do with.
Having obviously completed their morning ritual this group of guys huddled together and tumbled into the changing room and of course, as luck has it, their lockers were all neatly rowed together next to mine. The stench of masculinity drew closer, and with it came a pungent sexism that was hard not to choke on. I found myself pushed into a little corner, whilst five or six guys began sharing their expectations from this weekend, and their experiences from the last. The pack started talking loudly over one another and so began the rehashing of previous sexual exploits, a string of very degrading remarks about one girl being ‘filth’ in the bedroom and even the passing around of another poor girl’s ‘nude.’
After the guy next to me had done adjusting his genitals, which after a (accidental) quick glance explained his need to be overcompensatingly loud, he tripped slightly whilst hopping into his underwear and promptly knocked into me – and thus I was dragged into the conversation. Following a quick apology, the guy then asked what I was doing this weekend and asked, ever-so-politely, if I was getting my hole. Suddenly I was shrouded in shame and felt myself shrink back into that nervous 14-year-old boy who wasn’t daring enough to talk about his sexuality. All I could muster was a slight shaking of my head, which from a far probably looked more like a nervous twitch. To which the guy replied ‘Nah, you will mate, you will!’ before landing an encouraging ‘fist bump’ on my shoulder. For a brief second I considered that he was hitting on me, but that was quickly extinguished when he turned back and continued to inhale his own brand of fragrant misogyny, which involved uttering words like ‘tits’ and ‘dirty’ more times in one sentence than I ever thought possible.
It was a painful experience physically and emotionally. Physically because it brought on a sticky cold-sweat which was accompanied by uncomfortable nervousness, and I could feel the beads trickle down the back of my neck. It was also painful because I could feel the anger brewing in my stomach as a result of the bile these guys were spewing. Emotionally I felt emasculated and cowardly; I would go as far as to say ashamed. Not cowardly because I didn’t hit out with something about having sex with guys, but cowardly because when they started talking about these girls like they were little more than worthless objects I did nothing. I said nothing. It was a conversation born out of a need to show off their fragile masculinity, but it made me think about my female friends, my sisters, my mother and how I’d feel if I heard someone talk about them like that. I thought about how utterly disgusting it is that this mentality is still alive and breathing. Worse still, it’s still breeding and spreading sexism. I felt cowardly because I didn’t have the ability or ‘balls’ to tell those guys they were being vulgar and behaving like a pack of feral animals.
It’s interesting to see how people react to an oversharer. It’s something that I’ve thought about a lot. It’s a challenging thing when you’re the type of person who has a desire, or let’s say a compulsion, to share facts about your personal life. For me it’s not done out of some narcissistic need or attempt to grab attention, it’s just how I process the world – I make creative content based on my life – but I have to be careful about making myself to exposed. The locker-room mentality I was subjected to today though wasn’t oversharing as much as it was just damn right offensive and blatantly sexist.
The term oversharing is complex because I truly do believe that it’s really gendered. I think when a guy shares his experiences emotionally it’s bravery, or when he boasts about his sexual conquests it’s seen as heroic, expected almost. Yet when women do the same people tend turn their heads in shock, it’s seen as sort of ‘TMI’ – too much information. As someone that is very open about his emotions and experiences the phrase TMI is something I intensely deplore. What exactly constitutes too much information? For me, it seems to have a lot to do with who is giving the information and I feel as though there’s something that socially trivialises female experiences and justifies male ones. A guy can brag about his sexual encounters with a girl from his early days through a cracked-puberty voice until he’s a lot older, sat a table, swigging beers with his friends and very few people would react badly. If a girl dares bad mouth a guy’s performance in the bedroom then it’s seen as bitchy and a stab at his masculinity – which it is, but the same rules should apply for the men. Neither of these are okay, but why when a girl shares her experiences are they not considered as vital as their male counterparts’ experiences? Why is it slutty? It’s something I’ve always roundly objected.
Talking about a girl as if she’s a whore is not okay. In fact, talking about anyone like that is profoundly wrong. So, why do we do it? I’ve done it, I hate myself for it but I’ll admit I’ve bad mouthed someone after we had sex. Everyone has done it and it’s horrible. I think that a lot of people have been miseducated about sex is by the media, films and TV. Movies and shows have white-washed sex is so many ways as an attempt to try and hide the messy and challenging aspects of it. They’ve projected this augmented reality of what’s acceptable and as such we’ve lost sight of what isn’t; we don’t know the right way to treat or talk about someone. I feel like Hollywood puts sex into different brands like, ‘I’m so angry at you right now! I hate you! We must have sex right now!’ which isn’t healthy. There’s that ‘I’m so in love with you that the moment this elevator door closes I’m going to shed my boxers and we’re going to do it!’ Seeing characters from shows and films treated like objects is what makes part of our society think it’s okay to act as though we own the rights to the person we’re fucking. Most of these depictions of sex are destructive, and sex is an intense thing emotionally and physically. It takes a degree of trust, yet we talk about what happened as casually as we talk about Wimbledon.
I write a lot of about broken hearts and failed romances, but I never (knowingly) do it with the intention of humiliating someone or hurting them. I talk about my sex life a lot but I never name the guys or go into (what I think is) too much detail. I certainly do not brandish photos of the guys around either – particularly in locker-rooms. You can talk about sex, you can share your experiences but don’t do it in a way that’s degrading to the other person, be them male or female. It is possible to share your encounters with your ‘buddies’ in a way that isn’t inherently sexist. I know as much as any guy knows that locker-room talk is mostly crude, offensive and quite often degrading – that’s just how it is, right? No. Just because men have historically done something doesn’t mean you can’t stop. And it doesn’t mean it’s not hurting woman. You can choose not to say those words or be vulgar. Men aren’t helpless. Nobody is helpless when it comes to protecting the dignity of others or showing consideration.
As I left the locker-room, and I would never do this, but it popped into my head: Can you imagine the look on those guys faces if I whipped out a dick pic and bragged about it ‘taking it’? If I subjected them to the gory details? I suspect that would fall into the same realm as we put woman who ‘overshare.’ I expect I would be told it’s ‘TMI.’