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A Brief History of the Evolution of Locker Room Talk

It used to mostly be about golf.

A Navy ball team in 1943. (Photo: U.S. Navy/Library of Congress/LC-USE6-D-008506)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has characterized his comments about grabbing women by genitals, caught on tape 11 years ago, as “locker room talk.” Where did this concept come from? The phrase “locker room talk” has its origins in the ’20s and ’30s, and, in the beginning, it mostly seemed to be about golf. It wasn’t until the ’80s that locker room talk came to be associated, publicly at least, with sex and the objectification of women.

Here is a short selection of the content of “locker room talk” over the decades.

1929: Gossip About Golf

“Is the gentleman in knickers so weak minded that he cannot take his stance unless death silence prevails? .. funereal tees and hushed greens would indicate that he is… locker room talk and golf clothes only help to strengthen the evidence!” (New York Life, 1929)

1937:  Still About Golf

“There was locker room talk of a possible “sit-down strike” by some of golf’s older heads should the committee reverse its early ruling, but the treat subsided when it was announced the ruling stood” (Boston Globe, 1937)

1943: Teen Fashion

“We’d like to know what fads are sweeping your crowd—overalls and big plaid shirts, straw farmer hats and pigtails braided with daisies—and all the rest of the things that drug store-locker room talk.” (Chicago Daily Tribune, 1947)

1947: Labor Strife

“The strikes the took place after VJ Day…develop from a different set of roots…First the feeling on the part of management that the time had come to put unions back where they were in 1922. A drive similar to the one following World War I was in the locker room talk of more than one top executive. (The New Leader, 1947)

1961: “Unconscious Murderous Impulses”

“By contrast, in the locker room after a match there fewer social restriction and the facade of politeness is removed. Her the intense competitive spirit of each player is revealed. It is especially interesting to note the terms used to describe defeat: “It was murder.” “He slaughtered him.” “he killed him.”… In the fantasy of the player, the match was the “killing” expressed in locker room talk. (Psychoanalysis and the Psychoanalytic Review, 1961)

1963: Still Golf

“Locker room conversation usually reflects the playing conditions  of the course. Proper equipment in reliable running order is essential to good playing condition.” (Golf Superintendent, 1963)

1983: Sex and Makeup

“Men have been talking about sex in locker rooms since they were 14. While women were discussing ‘feminine’ things — makeup, relationships, feelings —men were doing the manly things — counting conquests, keeping score.” (Redbook, 1983) 

1991: Women as Objects

“Conversations that affirm a traditional masculine identity dominate, and these include talk about women as objects, homophobic talk, and talk that is very aggressive and hostile towards women.” (Sociology of Sport Journal, 1991)