“This Is Our Locker Room”: The Ines Sainz Scandal Begs The Question “Do Men Need A Man Cave?”

Most incidents of sexual harassment follow one of two scripts: 1.) How provocatively was she dressed? 2.) Is she just being a PMS-y humorless bitch and/or too sensitive? The story of Ines Sainz, the Mexican sports reporter who was sexually harassed by players and staff from the New York Jets, has forged a new narrative: What the heck was she doing in the men’s locker room? What kind of idiot is she — a former Miss Universe — to wade into that bath of testosterone?

Asking why Sainz violated macho airspace is not much different from putting her sartorial choices on trial. (And you’d best believe that’s happening, too.) It assumes men cannot control their behavior in the presence of a beautiful woman and they want — nay, need — a man cave where men can be men, damn it! There are more than a few Frisky commenters, not to mention public figures, who agree with this idea. When another reporter asked Sainz if she was OK after “hooting and hollering” when she entered the locker room with publicists, Jets player Chris Jenkins, for one, reportedly yelled, “This is our locker room!”

A woman violating a gendered space is not an excuse for sexual harassment, and that goes double when we are talking about a professional atmosphere where everyone is ultimately just trying to do a job, regardless of gender.

Here’s a few Frisky commenters on Ines Sainz in the Jets’ locker room (which, by the way, was not the only place where she was attracting the unwanted attention from the Jet’s players and staff). Commenter Johnny Five wrote:

“Your [sic] in a locker room full of men being men. Jocks at that. Honestly, what do you expect? I’m not saying it’s ok… but it’s human nature. Especially after a loss.”

Added Christinaval:

“I’m sorry … but she is a very attractive woman … who goes into the Jets locker room after a game/practice … testosterone soaring, with a bunch of half naked (probably fully naked) men? I’m not saying she deserved any of the comments … but what I am sick of, is women putting themselves in unfavorable circumstances and then crying “harrassment [sic]!” I don’t think women should be allowed in a men’s locker room.”

And LB20 chimed in:

“You’re a female reporter in an NFL locker room. I’m sure they are inappropriate with male reporters too – although in less controversial ways. Grow a pair and tell the guys to shut up if it’s bothering you.”

Those are just three comments of maybe a dozen in various blog posts I’ve written about Ines Sainz. I don’t agree with any of these comments, obviously and, in fact, I think they are victim-blaming excuses that infantilize men (more on that later). But these comments nevertheless tap into an idea that I think is worth pursuing: Sainz attracted attention within a space that’s supposed to be for men. For the sake of brevity, let’s call this idea a “gendered space.”

I am not naive. I know some spaces tend towards one gender (nail salons, bridal boutiques, mikvah baths, and OBGYN offices versus strip clubs, shoe shine stands, and barber shops) and we expect those spaces to take on the characteristics of that gender. I am not saying gender does not matter and everybody should have to feel 100 percent comfortable everywhere. I don’t expect that because I, for one, do not want men to watch me getting a manicure or my brows waxed. To me, grooming is private and I only feel comfortable doing it around other females. But sexually harassing someone who is in your gendered space isn’t a right, because treating other human beings respectfully doesn’t phase out in some zones — like, say, American law as you cross into the Atlantic Ocean.

A woman violating a gendered space is no excuse for sexual harassment — and that goes double when we are talking about a professional atmosphere where everyone is ultimately just trying to do a job, regardless of their gender. Ines Sainz may be a cheesecake beauty-queen sports reporter who has modeled nude, but she was nevertheless representing a news agency and she was in the locker room after being credentialed by the professional sports team she sought to interview. Women aren’t achieving the respect they deserve in their workplaces — whether that’s the CVS checkout, the law firm, or the Jets locker room — if they feel uncomfortable, or intimidated, or embarrassed, or paranoid, or overly preoccupied with whether they should have worn a potato sack to work instead. This entire brouhaha is as simple, and as complicated, as that. (And yes, I think male sports reporters should be allowed in women’s locker rooms if women sports reporters are allowed in men’s locker rooms. Male sports reporters are allowed in the WNBA’s locker rooms, The Washington Post has confirmed. That, however, is not the debate we are having.)

I talked about this the other night at length with my boyfriend: As I’ve written about before, he works in the predominantly male field of technology entrepreneurialism and he is always interested in my take on the gendered aspect of it. He is a football fan — a Jets fan, actually — and was arguing the point of view, as others have, that football players are literally stripping down naked in a locker room and they can’t be expected to always be polite to the guests, professional or otherwise. They are just trying to put their clothes on and go home, he said, and they are not focused on being on their best behavior.

My point to him was not sexually harassing someone is not the same thing as “acting like a gentleman” — it’s about treating people with respect as a baseline value. I asked him, “If a sexy woman came into his geeky male office and one of your male co-workers in his all-male office wolf whistled at her, would it be rude?” He said yes, of course. I then asked if after the sexy woman disappeared behind the closed doors of the elevator and one of your male co-workers wolf-whistled, would that be rude, too? He hesitated, then said yes. So I asked why and he wasn’t sure. I said because that behavior wasn’t just rude, like answering a cell phone during a meeting. It was sexual harassment because it was objectifying a woman in a professional atmosphere and that’s not respectful — the fact that she entered your male-only gendered space shouldn’t matter. I would hope, I told him, that sexual harassment would be wrong in the presence of men, women, children, or anyone — or not in their presence. Because it’s just wrong.

The idea that men need a man cave (a locker room … a strip club …) where “men can be men,” and “boys can be boys,” and they can sexually harass with impunity at will, is wrong, sexist and offensive. It assumes sexist behavior is something they switch off and on: it’s not acceptable out in the real world, but in their gendered space, anything goes! What’s more, it assumes that there is some kind of baseline pigishness that all men have and they just really need a space where they can be themselves. As commenter Baby Blanka put it (succinctly, I might add!):

“Every single locker room is not filled with people who have no idea the difference between right and wrong/professional and unprofessional.”

And as commenter Shoshanna added:

“… [W]e keep infantalizing these players, but they are grown-ass, professional men and should know better. The fact that so many people are blaming Ines is only going to allow this behavior to continue.”

It’s either wrong everywhere at any time, or it isn’t. I don’t expect everyone will agree with me, but then again, I don’t think everyone necessarily agrees with my ideas of feminism — that none of us should be prisoners of our prescribed gender and sexual roles. Sexual harassment has nothing to do with being on good behavior sometimes and everything to do with treating other human beings like human beings as a principle. And if it’s wrong on the street corner, it’s wrong in the technology office, it’s wrong on the construction site, it’s wrong in the classroom, and it’s wrong in the Jets locker room. Men are better than this.

[Washington Post: A Few Notes On Women In NFL Locker Rooms]
[TheStar.com: NFL Reinforces Media Policy After Jets Incident With Female Reporter]
[CBSSports.com: Jets-Sainz Mess Brings Ugly Locker Room Misogyny To Light]