The Locker Room, the Privacy Myth, & Vestiges of Privilege

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Soccer is a man’s game. Soccer is a white man’s game. Soccer is a heterosexual white man’s game. These are the messages lurking behind the media, radio, blogs, and newspapers that saturate our universe. Almost out of sight, like a shadow they follow our every footstep.

And they are easily found in that notorious of locations, the “locker room.”

Physical locations both reflect and reinforce our prejudices. White flight in America led to a generation of bored exurb brats afraid of minority panhandlers, city skylines, and nightfall. During the 1950′s, abusive men latched onto the concept of “privacy” to deem marital affairs, ie, domestic violence, relevant to and only to be addressed “within the home” and behind closed doors. And, of course, slave-owners conceptualized entire races of human beings as chattel, not persons. The physical plane and abstract values can merge to horrifying perfection. They feed off one another. They reflect one another. And this truth hides just out of sight, but in plain view.

On a personal and lighter note, when I first arrived at my college in the United States, I was excited to meet my roommates in my dorm. I ever-so-eagerly desired to delve into affluent privilege, to complain about dirty dishes on desks, dirty laundry on floors, loud music, and everything else associated with living with almost total strangers. No separate sleeping quarters? Bah! That was the college experience. And it lived up to my expectations.

However, that summer, a good friend pointed out that, in many other places, university students always live in separate rooms, or at least separate sleeping quarters. Why? Privacy. My friend also pointed out that for individuals with non-majority lifestyles or orientations, such as LGBT, the room and sleeping arrangements at my school would have forced potentially disruptive & embarrassing disclosures. The problem would not have been a disclosure, per se, but rather that the physical structure would force its timing.

Societal pressure exerts everywhere on the underprivileged and yet, ironically, privilege can be invisible to those who have it. Privacy and physical locations can be swords and shields to advance and defend hetero-normative beliefs. And this can be seen clearly in the conventional sports locker room.

One of the unspoken rules of the male locker room is the open-aired suppression and/or marginalization of “abnormal” desires. The locker room isolates those within from society at large, forcing a small group to interact. However, within that group, few walls or barriers to sight exist. It forces a feeling of disingenuous intimacy, of close interaction that must mimic closely the dominant rules of society because everybody else is watching/not watching. In a sense, the locker room is a miniature Panoptic State, to use terminology from Michel Foucault, in which all social interactions can be watched closely and intensely to ensure full compliance.

Ideas, individuals, and others from outside the locker room are foreign and therefore wrong. A few months ago, a Mexican TV reporter experienced sexual harassment while in an NFL locker room. Of course the reporter brushed off the actions and I won’t put any words in her mouth or feelings in her head. But the catcalls and comments point to the idealized heterosexual male myth of the “boys only” room, where “guys can be guys” and a woman is “a chick.”

There is not a very well constructed argument for this locker room as “A Room of One’s Own” for guys. Rather, this locker room behavior eerily imitates the 1950′s domestic violence “household” concept – it’s a pretext to treat women like crap behind closed doors, to let privacy “empower” males and to dis-empower females. The underlying message, that males only act in conformity with feminist ideals in the public sphere, that they only begrudgingly treat women with respect if there’s a risk of being shunned, implies that within males naturally lurks a sexist pig. This sexist pig is the natural state of the male.

Yet is this closed and closely monitored private sphere the truly natural state? Or do the unique pressures exerted force otherwise decent human beings to act like pigs? Does this private quarter function like a town hall for a Southern city during the civil war, a launching pad for racist idiots to seek out their vocal like-minded peers and impose themselves on everyone else?

Privacy can be a sword & shield to advance sexist values. And also hetero-normative ones. If a respected female reporter with credentials cannot be tolerated in the locker room, then how can a homosexual male hope to survive in this toxic place? Take a step back and ponder – is that even the right question? Or is that the wrong way to ask the right question?

Many writers have asked this question: when will a topflight player have the courage to reveal he’s gay while playing? Yet the physical realm reflects and reinforces heterosexual norms, and conspires against any such heroics. My question is – when will we re-make the locker room?

And just to be clear, this “heterosexual normalizing” behavior is not a question of a gay teammate gawking at naked teammates. Rather, it also involves the daily jokes and a sense of humor predicated upon a simple assumption – male/male affection is the abnormal, a punching bag for laughter.

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