Just as people have argued that “there’s no such thing as an anti-war film” (a quote generally attributed to the French filmmaker François Truffaut), I tend to disagree with Solnit and Schumer. There’s no such thing as anti-rape humor, at least not for the men in the audience. Humor can make the act one of comedic idiocy more than of willful brutality. It almost always distances us men from the horror and trauma of the violence.
Humor was, in fact, Trump’s own best defense. When he claimed his words were simple “locker room talk,” he was speaking to millions of men who grew up making sexual and sexist jokes about women. During my teenage years, when I changed high schools frequently, and in my 20s, when I lived and worked manual labor in many parts of rural America, sexist humor was common in locker rooms, on construction sites, in the automobile repair shops, in boxing and martial arts gyms and among educated men who exchanged their own brand of comedic stories of sexual conquest. Even though many of the stories were quite aggressive, the elicited response was always laughter. The normalization of Trump’s sexual assault through mainstream comedy certainly didn’t hurt Trump’s cause among these men who grew up objectifying women with jokes; they wanted to laugh at it, and they were given permission to do so.
This is why Trump’s defense was so effective and the response of liberal commentators so naïve. Male writers published ostensibly reflective pieces about how Trump’s talk sounded like no locker room they’d heard. Their underlying message was that they were good men, that most men didn’t talk this way. It was another instance of the liberal passion to appear good rather than to address the problem. The hashtag #NotInMyLockerRoom struck me as a not-so-distant cousin to #NotAllMen rather than as a rallying cry of outrage. It implicitly denied how prevalent and acceptable sexism actually is, and it failed to recognize that we men can do more to prevent sexual assault if we spend less time insisting upon our goodness and reflect on how much sexism is a part of our lives.