Thursday, October 13, 2016

Locker Room Talk

Sean Connery as James Bond - the ultimate womanizer
Bo Derek was a 10. In case you don’t know who Bo Derek is, she was an actress that starred in the 70s movie ‘10’. The idea being that on a beauty scale of 1 to 10, she was a 10. I bring this up now in light of the so called ‘locker room’  talk that Trump used as an excuse for his disgusting comments about women a decade ago. It was recorded on a ride with Billy Bush, who was at the time co-host of the television show ‘Access Hollywood’. (He has since been fired from his current job on the ‘Today Show’ for his behavior then.)

This got me thinking about the very concept Trump used as an excuse for his comments. What Trump meant by ‘locker room talk’ is that many men will talk about women differently among themselves when there are no women present. They will talk in terms of women as sex objects. This is not to say that there aren’t men that refuse to ever talk about women this way. Of course there are. But many do, especially when they are adolescents. And often they do not outgrow that part of their adolescence.

I am not excusing it. It is disgusting to objectify anyone. Human beings are not objects!  But like it or not objectifying women is a fact of life in our culture. Although most men will never speak that way in public - certainly not when a woman is present - the truth is when they are in the proverbial ‘locker room’ this is how many men think. As noted above - when the subject of a beautiful woman comes up - there are a lot of men that rate them on a scale of 1 to 10. Lest anyone think this is only being done by ‘low-lifes’ and that the vast majority of men don’t think like this, well – a movie like ‘10’ indicates otherwise. That movie was a huge success.

Does art imitate life? Or does life imitate art? I think it’s a little bit of both. But I also think life imitates art a lot more than art imitates life. Movies and advertisements are rife with sexual images. Women are treated more often like sex objects in them than not. Especially in movies geared towards men. Like the James Bond series. Is there even a question how novelist Ian Fleming’s protagonist, James Bond, saw women? And yet to this day Bond is an icon to hundreds of thousands of men.

Then there is the advertisement industry. The use of beautiful women in ads is a proven method of getting a male customers attention. The more suggestive the ad, the more attention it would get.  In fact I recall an airline ad where a female flight attendant pitched her airline by objectifying herself and saying ‘Fly me’!  

And if yet more proof is needed to show that women are so widely objectified in western culture, there is the porno industry. Playboy founder, Hugh Hefner made a fortune as a pioneer in this industry. He too was considered an icon among his millions of male readers. In those circles being ‘cool’ usually meant having a lot of female conquests.  

Think of all those athletes that capitalized on being ‘cool’ that way? Even some that were role models like Basketball superstar,‘Magic’ Johnson. All too often male celebrities believed they had license to do whatever they wanted to any woman they met. Ask Bill Cosby. Or Bill  Clinton. Or John Kennedy. Or Donald Trump.

Objectifying women is not just a phenomenon in the general culture. It exists in some of the finest Yeshivos in the world. Even in Charedi ones. I was once a teenager First two years of high  school in  in a Charedi and the last two a modern orthodox Yeshiva.  Again, not every student talks like that even in private. Perhaps most don’t. But a lot do. Even the so-called ‘good ones’ – those that are seen as top Yeshiva students. I heard it as a teenager from more than one student like that in both Yeshivos. Most did not act on it. But they did talk like that in private. There is a lot more talk like that in Yeshivos than most of us are willing to admit.

Today, more than any other time in my lifetime we live in a hyper-sexualized world. Women are seen as sex objects more than ever. Back in the 50s most men would hide that kind of thinking. Today, many men wear it as a badge of honor - at least among other men in private.  Which is why Billy Bush played along with Trump’s attitude about women. He too saw women that way. He just never said so in public.

So Chazal were not wrong when they admonished men to not gaze at women. They realized that many men do see women as sex objects. And that when they ‘gaze’ at them  they might be fantasizing about a sexual conquest. 

Modern day warnings by rabbinic authorities about Shmiras Eynayim’ ‘guarding your eyes’ should not be taken lightly. Much as it would be nice for a man to see a beautiful woman wearing tight clothes and think only about her brain, that is usually not the first thing that comes to a heterosexual man’s mind.

How to deal with that is the subject of much discussion. Erasing women from the public square is not the answer. The sex drive exists. And in my humble opinion - like food when one is constantly denied it one gets hungrier.

That being said - it is incumbent on men to try and avoid images objectifying women. But unless one lives in total isolation, that is virtually impossible. These images are all over the place. On billboards, on buses - in entertainment and in the print and electronic media. Even mainstream websites will have ads featuring very attractive women (in some cases - in very suggestive poses) selling something. It is therefore our obligation to control our impulses and focus on the humanity and dignity of any woman, no matter how attractive she might be to us.

We must sublimate our impulses into positive behavior. But to deny human nature can be a self defeating proposition under the ‘right’  circumstances. Best to recognize it and control it. Most of us can do it. And we do. 

But looking at women as desirable sex objects is the  way of much of the world. It is now and always has been. And that’s the conundrum of western culture. We are bombarded with images of women as sex objects and are expected not to see them that way. It behooves us to live up to those expectations because no human being should ever be treated like an object of lust. They should be treated with the dignity and respect that being created in the image of God demands!