Sadomaschistic (SM) scenes involve the enacting of fantasies that often involves humiliation and pain. The consensual participation in such scenes requires mutual communication and understanding. Oftentimes, the parties involved will establish a ‘safe word’ before engaging in any sort of SM activities. The purpose of the safe word is to provide an ‘out’ for either parties in the enacted scenario; when uttered by either party, the ‘safe word’ will immediately result in the desistance of the other party from whatever s/he is doing (Cameron & Kulick, 2003).
Words that connote reluctance or resistance are not encouraged to be used as safe words. To understand why this is so, we first have to understand the relationship between the submissive and dominant in a SM relationship. A SM relationship involves at least two parties deriving pleasure from two roles – dominant and submissive. The former derives sexual pleasure from imposing his/her will on the submissive. On the contrary, the latter derives pleasure from succumbing to the will of the dominant. It is thus a common SM scenario where the submissive will display some token of resistance with the expectation that the dominant will overrule it. As a result, words like ‘no’ or ‘stop’ are often uttered in the performance of a SM scenario, and their function as safe words would ultimately defeat the purpose of the scene.
According to Cameron and Kulick (2003) then, the solution will be to come up with words that stand out in context as incongruous and unambiguous. In the SM world, common safe words include ‘pickle’ and the use of a traffic light system (‘green’ for go on, ‘yellow’ for slow down’, and ‘red’ for stop). In both cases, these words are highly unlikely to be used as part of the performance of an SM scene. Their usage will be completely out of place in context, which allows for their effective usage.
However, in Julie’s and Mike’s case, their situation is slightly more complicated. When sexual relations are taken online, there is added ambiguity in the expressions of desires and wishes, more so than in real life. Intentions behind each line of text becomes less certain since body language cannot be read through a screen. Using emojis add a new level of uncertainty to such communications since the symbols are completely arbitrary and can be interpreted differently by different people.
Some might argue that it seems straightforward enough – after all, there is no way pickles can be used as part of a SM scene without ruining the performance of it, right? This might be the case in a spoken context, but as mentioned, things become a lot more ambiguous in an on-screen context. The eggplant emoji ? is used often as a representation of the male penis due to its phallic-shape. It is by no means a stretch to then also associate the pickle’s ? phallic shape with the male genital.
Needless to say, the emojis involving the expressing of emotions, hand signs, and clear representation of SM scenarios (e.g. chains, locks, keys) are easily construed to be part of the SM scene and thus, should not be use as the ‘safe emoji’ for the purposes of Julie’s and Mike’s SM sexting. Contextual knowledge will also include the ?emoji in the ‘no go’ list, as it is a common symbol for semen. This thus leaves us with the poop emoji, the toilet bowl emoji, as well as the karaoke emoji for the purposes of a ‘safe emoji’. Personally, the choice of a ‘safe emoji’ will boil down to the microphone emoji as I view that as the least ambiguous out of all of them. In SM role-playing where humiliation of the submissive is often part and parcel of the scene, there is no guarantee that the usage of the poop or toilet bowl emoji will not come into play.
Taking into accounts the ambiguity of sexting and the relationship between submissive and dominant then, I believe that the ? emoji will be the most appropriate as the ‘safe emoji’ for Mike and Julie. Of course, this should be communicated before any SM scenarios are carried out and both parties should understand that the usage of this emoji signifies an immediate ‘stop’ to the SM scenario.
Interestingly, the top three definitions of ‘locker room talk’ in the Urban Dictionary all present a different facet of ‘locker room talk’ as we understand it. The first and third definition seem to take on a more critical view of such talk, labelling it as ‘crude’. The second definition, however, takes on a more subdued view, defining it as talk that occurs in private among ‘like-minded, similarly gendered peers’. All three definitions take into account that locker room talk is often of a sexual nature.
Personally, I agree with the second view the most even though there are elements of the first and third definition that I believe are crucial elements in characterising ‘locker room banter’. Particularly, I appreciated the inclusion of other genders (and not just men) in its definition of ‘locker room talk’. While I acknowledge that ‘locker room talk’ is primarily associated with men, I believe that similar conversations revolving around such sexual topics also occur among women. More conventionally though, such talk by women would be regarded as ‘gossip’ rather than ‘locker room talk’. In the same way that gossip is marked as feminine behaviour, ‘locker room talk’ has been marked as masculine behaviour. In spite of that, the two definitely share some similar characteristics. Specifically, they both involve a conversation between like-minded individuals about topics that they agree on even though ‘locker room talk’ tends to be cruder in nature.
The second definition thus brings us to one of the key purposes of ‘locker room talk’ – bonding. More primarily, this refers to male bonding. Through the communication of supposedly ‘private’ issues of sexual nature, ‘locker room talk’ helps to facilitate bonding within the group as individuals will be able to better relate to one another. However, this does not fully encompass the nuances that go hand-in-hand with ‘locker room talk’.
While the second definition provides a pleasant view of ‘locker room talk’, it does not take into account the fact that ‘locker room talk’ is predominant in male culture over female culture. Such a distinction is actually crucial for the discussion of the social and interpersonal functions behind ‘locker room talk’. While the first definition takes on a laissez-faire view on the importance of topics discussed and the third definition takes on an overtly-critical view (both of which I do not agree with), they both acknowledge the important point that ‘locker room talk’ involves sexual (and often crude) comments regarding women by men. This then brings us to another function of ‘locker room talk’ – the assertion of male dominance and heterosexuality in a homosocial environment. On top of just bonding, the experience of ‘locker room talk’ also re-affirms the identity of a heterosexual male in a heteronormative environment.
In fact, the alleged ‘locker room talk’ that Donald Trump was engaged in share many similarities with the conversation that took place between fraternity brothers as analysed by Cameron (1997) as well as with the kind of ‘breast talk’ that takes place at hostess clubs. All three of them involve the explicit indexing of the heterosexual identity. The fraternity brothers make disparaging remarks on an alleged homosexual male, the Japanese men use the presence of the hostess to indicate their interest in women (thus indexing their heterosexual desires) and finally, men engaging in ‘locker room banter’ uses disparaging and crude sexual commentary of women to index their power over and desire for women. We can see here that in all three of these situations, the conversations serve as a means for men to assert their dominance and heterosexuality in a male-dominant, heteronormative society.
The usage of the term ‘locker room talk’ by Donald Trump has actually drawn much flak from many athletes who deny the occurrence of such talks in locker rooms. Whether or not such talks are actually prevalent in male locker rooms, this article ends off by raising a crucial point with regards to the topic. ‘Locker room talk’ should not be an excuse for any kind of disparaging or derogatory remarks made. Responsibility should be taken for the words that we speak and it should not be simply be brushed off as something that ‘everyone does’.
Cameron, D., & Kulick, D. (2003). Language and sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pennington, B. (2016, October 11). What Exactly Is ‘Locker-Room Talk’? Let an Expert Explain. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/11/sports/what-exactly-is-locker-room-talk-let-an-expert-explain.html
Cameron, D. (1997). Performing gender: young men’s talk and the construction of heterosexual masculinity. Johnson and Meinhof pp.47–64.