Yesterday I assumed from the many posts on Facebook that Donald Trump had again said something wrong. I wasn’t sure what he said exactly, but people seemed to be upset. I decided to google it and found the video everyone was talking about. I must say I was a bit underwhelmed at first. My initial thoughts were something like: “But… that’s just ‘man talk’. It’s blatantly rude and disrespectful, but men do that around other men. Especially men like Trump – he’s always rude anyway. Why the fuss?” Although I still haven’t completely figured out why this issue is so much more important than Trump saying horrible things about other minorities, my own reaction scared me a little. Because my own reaction was that it’s normal for men to say such things, and normal generally means ‘okay’. But I’m actually not okay with it. So what’s the deal with that?
With my background in behavioural psychology I know that we see something as normal behaviour (‘the norm’) when a lot of people do it. There are norms for people in general, but also norms for certain groups. We actually adjust a lot of our own behaviour to such norms because we want to feel included. We also like it when others adhere to norms, since they enable us to expect things even from people we don’t know personally. When men say rude things about women we aren’t incredibly shocked, simply because they are men and this can be expected from some of them. We don’t like men saying such things, but we accept it because it’s the norm: it’s just ‘cool’ to talk like that.
The main problem with such things being said, especially when it’s said by someone with an influential position, is that people may believe that it’s not just the norm to say disrespectful things about women but also to act disrespectful towards them. If someone thinks it’s cool to say they could ‘grab someone by the pussy’, someone else might pick it up as it being cool to actually do that. Consequently, if a lot of people do it, doing it may become the norm – even if the women it’s being done to aren’t okay with it. This already happens in bars and clubs, where ass groping is seen as something that will happen anyway. Because of this weird norm it’s up to the women to just be okay with it, instead of it being up to the men to keep their hands to themselves. If the woman decides not to ignore it and to actually say something, she’ll just be laughed at. With this norm, she is the one at fault.
Trump’s video exposes a much bigger issue than just a random guy (who happens to be running for president) saying something rude about women. It shows us an example of this norm, and not having Trump as a president isn’t going to make a change. Norms are changed from inside the group, when its members start doing things differently. With the many disgusted reactions to this video, even from men, change may be on its way. It’s up to the men to continue this trend. Be that person who tells others they are being inappropriate, even when it’s ‘just a joke’. I know it’s hard, but if you’re not okay with Trump doing it, then why would you let your friends?