In-Class Exam (Questions 2 & 3)

Question 2

‘Locker room talk’ has become a highly stigmatized topic post-Trump, with many athletes coming out to publicly condemn Trump’s portrayal of locker room banter (Gregory, 2016). Naturally, this has sparked a new wave on focus on what ‘locker room talk’ actually is and what it is used for. Urban Dictionary proposes three definitions of ‘locker room banter’ that all provide different shades of meaning:

  1. The crude, vulgar, offensive and often sexual trade of comments guys pass to each other, usually in high school locker rooms. Exists solely for the purpose of male comedy and is not meant to be taken seriously.
  2. Any manner of conversation that polite society dictates be held privately – with small groups of like-minded, similarly gendered peers – due to its sexually charged language, situations or innuendos.
  3. Racist, sexist, and crude language most men use towards immigrants, minorities, and women, when they are with their fellow male chauvinistic pigs.

While the provided definitions are an arguably accurate representation of what ‘locker room talk’ has been made out to be, I believe that the definitions do not fully capture the discourse that exists within the space of a locker room. In addition, the definitions are guilty of oversimplifying the social functions of ‘locker room talk’.

The Urban Dictionary has labelled ‘locker room talk’ as “crude, vulgar, offensive”, “sexually-charged language… innuendos” and “racist, sexist and crude”. These definitions are hyperbole, only presenting one façade of the many layers of discourse that exist within a social space. Another key characteristic of ‘locker room talk’ is that it seems to happen within a predominantly, almost exclusively male setting. Without a doubt, such degrading and shameful language that objectifies women does occur, with Floyd Mayweather even coming out to claim that Trump’s ‘locker room banter’ was how “real man speak” (Bieler, 2017). But surely it is a hasty generalization to claim that such manner of ‘locker room talk’ is spoken by every member of every locker room across the sphere. Topics that constitute ‘locker room talk’ range from the mundane: traffic, financial portfolios and cat food (Pennington, 2016) to egocentric claims surrounding their athletic performance (Curry, 1998). We must be careful in an agenda for gender equality and to systemically clamp down on male hegemony that we do not condemn all men to the same trash can and simplify all-male conversation to testosterone-fuelled conversations about sexual exploits.

Beyond the inadequacy of the provided definitions to capture the full range of ‘locker room talk’ is a deeper underlying issue: that such sexual talk happens in social settings amongst males other than in locker rooms as well. Even in a local Singaporean context with no access to an athlete’s locker room, conversation that objectifies women can be routinely heard from bunk talk in an army camp to rowdy conversations in a club at Clarke Quay. The second definition rightly points out the subversive nature of such vulgar rhetoric, that it is routinely manifested in private settings, but ‘locker room talk’ is not exclusively limited to within the locker room. The manner of crude, sexist and vulgar language should not be attributed any more to athletes, by virtue of the brand of hypermasculinity they embody, than to any other male.

However, we cannot deny that in a homosocial environment like a locker room, such talk does exist and studies have found that athletes and fraternity members have higher rates of sexual misconduct (Curry, 1998). From a sociolinguistic point of view, it is worth looking into the motivations behind such linguistic moves and the social function that this sexist brand of ‘locker room talk’ achieves. The definitions provided mention that ‘locker room talk’ exists for “male comedy” and seems to suggest that it is a way for the locker room members to establish a form of superiority over marginalized social groups in “immigrants, minorities and women”.

While serving the function of male comedy, such casual speech used for entertaining men, is definitely relevant and true of ‘locker room talk’, the definition goes on to state that it is “not meant to be taken seriously”. This is a point I seriously contend with as there are greater ramifications of such talk that entail it should be taken very seriously indeed. Language is the most powerful and innate medium available to humans and likewise “shapes our understanding of what we are doing when we do sex or sexuality” (Cameron & Kulick, 2003). Conversation reinforces what we consider to be normative and it is this exact discursive promotion of male hegemony and sexual positions in heteronormativity that is challenged by Queer scholars. As such, whilst one key function of ‘locker room talk’ is definitely for male comedy and entertainment, it should very much be taken seriously as it is belied by a historically prevalent thread of misogyny that has borne out in other manners such as the male gaze.

The definitions provided do not explicitly account for the key social function of ‘locker room banter’ as a bonding mechanism in a homosocial setting. Drawing upon Cameron’s study of fraternity brothers’ speech, it is clear that their conversation served primarily as a bonding mechanism (Cameron & Kulick, 2003). Studies on Japanese hostess clubs also found that men related to each other via heterosexual talk regarding women’s bodies (Allison, 1994). It is likely that ‘locker room talk’ fulfills such an interpersonal function as well, helping to curate the collective male experience via sexual conquests that have become innately associated with what it means to perform masculinity. In light of this, it possible to understand the distinction from “immigrants, minorities and women” as an exemplification of such homosocial bonding. In clearly demarcating who they are not, the men in the locker room are able to rally around their collective identity.

Finally, ‘locker room talk’ has a competitive function to it that is not captured in the aforementioned definitions. Given the concentration of masculine ideologies (toxic or not) in the locker room setting, there is a constant in-group competition within the males themselves (Kane & Disch, 1993). Members must constantly prove their masculinity and establish themselves as dominant members of the group. To avoid jibes and being made fun of, they descend into the rhetoric that affirms traditional masculinity, objectifying women as sexual objects (Curry, 1991). In other words, there is a clear competitive nature in ‘locker room talk’ as well and it functions as a way for members of the locker room to assert their presence and worth over other members.

Question 3

Being sex-positive is fundamentally about recognizing that an individual’s sexual preferences are their own personal choice and that they should not be subject to the moral or social policing of others. In relation to contemporary identity politics, a sex-positive framework furthers the agenda of feminism and fits in with the Queer movement in so far as it challenges the social structures that privilege a normative heterosexual identity.

One of the more defining characteristics of a sex-positive approach is an embracing on a woman’s part to her sexual desires and practices. Already, this challenges the moral imposition on women to guard their chastity as innocuously propagated via the “baseball” metaphor. Traditional masculinity views the female sexuality as something that needs to be pursued and needs to be won over, whereas women are relegated to being the perennial losers. This inherent sexism within sexual relations is best summed up with the quote: “Man fucks woman. Subject, verb, object.” (MacKinnon, 1989). Traditionally, females have always been placed in the subservient position when it comes to sexual relations. Additionally, whereas male sexual promiscuity has become accepted, and even celebrated as a marker of masculine prowess, female sexuality has been frowned upon and has often resulted in name-calling. Women as active sexual subjects have historically subject to widespread social contempt (Cameron & Kulick, 2003).

Being sex-positive tackles these two issues head on, in that it empowers women to take charge of their sexual practices. Females are now empowered, arguably the chief thrust of the feminist agenda. Perhaps the most salient manner in which this has manifested is in the move for sex-positivity to reclaim the label “slut”. Earlier moves by feminists to reclaim the term have not been successful (Epstein & Johnson, 1998), with the label still carrying with it a large power to shame. While general definition today still treats “slut” as a derogatory term hurled at females, sex-positive females seem to have no problem with identifying as a slut to reflect their sexual promiscuity. In fact, the term “slut” has now been divorced from the its sexist roots to be used even by sex-positive males (Barry, 2014). The politics of labelling cannot be understated, given how the term “queer” has been reclaimed to now advance one of the biggest sexual identity revolutions in the modern world (Cameron & Kulick, 2003). Furthermore, the sex-positive approach emphasizes consent as an important aspect of the sexual experience and that a woman’s choice to have as many sexual encounters as she wants is ultimately for her enjoyment as much as her partners’. The implications here for feminism can be seen clearly in that sex-positivity has made important headway in empowering women to take ownership over their active sexual practices, removing the shame and sexism from slut-shaming and promoting women to equal stakeholders in enjoying and constructing a sexual experience.

Also, sex-positivity ties in with the overarching thread found in queer theory. Queer theory challenges the heteronormative approach towards sex and sexuality, marginalizing not only people with overtly deviant sexual preferences such as homosexuals, but also views sexual promiscuity as a deviance from a hegemonic treatment of sex. The queer identity has become an umbrella term for all who do not subscribe to the narrow and restrictive understanding of sex and sexuality. Here, there is a clear intersection between the queer identity and sex-positivity in that an individual should have complete autonomy over determining their sexual preferences and the sexual practices they enact. Sex-positivity advances these “deviant” sexual identities as something that should be a personal choice and most importantly, just another normal and healthy sexual preference.

Finally, sex-positivity brings to the forefront the treatment of the relationship between sexuality and identity in education. The independence and discretion that sex-positivity affords each individual in crafting their sexual identity is undeniably a progressive approach. Where modern identity politics still contend with hegemonic sexual ideologies disseminated in classroom sex education, sex-positivity presents a new, well-articulated definition of sexual identity. Whilst not meant to encourage everyone to deviate from heterosexuality, a sex-positive pedagogical approach will certainly go some ways in promoting acceptance for people who have been marginalized for their sexual identities and practices.


Allison, A. (1994). Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club: University of Chicago Press.

Barry, E. (2014). I’m Sex-Positive, and Most People in Chicago Have No Idea What That Means.   Retrieved from

Bieler, D. (2017). Floyd Mayweather says Trump’s ‘locker-room talk’ is how ‘real men speak’.   Retrieved from

Cameron, D., & Kulick, D. (2003). Language and Sexuality: Cambridge University Press.

Curry, T. J. (1991). Fraternal Bonding in the Locker Room: A Profeminist Analysis of Talk about Competition and Women. Sociology of Sport Journal, 8(2), 119-135. doi:10.1123/ssj.8.2.119

Curry, T. J. (1998). Beyond the Locker Room: Campus Bars and College Athletes. Sociology of Sport Journal, 15(3), 205-215.

Epstein, D., & Johnson, R. (1998). Schooling sexualities: Open University Press.

Gregory, S. (2016). Donald Trump Dismisses His ‘Locker-Room Talk’ as Normal. Athletes Say It’s Not.   Retrieved from

Kane, M. J., & Disch, L. J. (1993). Sexual Violence and the Reproduction of Male Power in the Locker Room: The “Lisa Olson Incident”. Sociology of Sport Journal, 10(4), 331-352.

MacKinnon, C. A. (1989). Toward a Feminist Theory of the State: Harvard University Press.

Pennington, B. (2016). What Exactly Is ‘Locker-Room Talk’? Let an Expert Explain.   Retrieved from

Queer Linguistics for Dummies

Foregrounded by gay and lesbian activism in the 1970s and 1980s, which challenged the concept of a coherent and homogenous gay or lesbian identity (Motschenbacher & Stegu, 2013), the “queer” agenda emerged to highlight the diversity within the non-heterosexual community. Initially coined as a derogatory label, it was reclaimed to categorize all positions that did not conform to the heteronormative assumptions in circulation. Extending its reach past the homosexual community, the queer identity included transgenders and persons that self-identified with culturally marginalized sexual desires (Jagose, 1996). In effect, the queer agenda aimed to bring all individuals who challenged the existing hegemonic and orthodox understanding of sexuality together under this umbrella term. Soon after, a body of perspectives developed and came together to form queer theory, interrogating how institutions, social structures, relations and actions promoted heteronormativity as natural and desirable (Cameron & Kulick, 2003).

Drawing upon this pluralistic framework that is queer theory, queer linguistics is a sociolinguistic inquiry and study of language data that, contrary to its name, does not examine or suggest a distinct brand of homosexual language use in itself. Instead, queer linguistics focuses on how linguistic and discursive practices enable and contribute to the reinforcement and formation of hegemonic heterosexuality and gender binaries as normative constructs. Peering behind the veil of dominant heterosexual discourse, queer linguistics examines how an alienation of non-normative sexual identities can be promoted and disguised by and in language use.

Being a relatively new sub-field of sociolinguistic inquiry, queer linguistics has offered new approaches and ways of thinking about and theorizing language and sexuality. By providing the overarching basis and underpinnings for queer linguistics, queer theory has made noticeable contributions to language and sexuality research. Namely, how it builds upon previous major works on language and sexuality, signifies a step towards ascribing equality and recognition for LGBTQ persons in research and goes beyond mere theories of sexuality to question how various social positions combine to form a complex queer identity.

Queer linguistics builds upon and addresses a key shortcoming of the previous approach towards studying this relationship between homosexuals and language. Prior to engaging with queer theory, research on language and sexuality revolved around attempting to uncover how gays and lesbians used language differently. What came to be known as the “lavender lexicon” (Leap, 1995; Legman, 1941) defined characteristic ways for homosexuals to speak. However, critics have pointed out that it simply attributes an observed linguistic feature to a pre-determined identity group (Stokoe & Speer, 2017), jumping to conclusions about gay language when these linguistic features are not exclusively used by the gay community. By selectively noticing linguistic features that fit with stereotypes of the identity group and disregarding other occurrences of the same features in the unmarked identity groups (Jefferson, 2004), traditional studies fail to account for what exactly makes gay language “gay”. Instead, they polarize both identities and problematically attempt to distinguish the homosexual identity from the heterosexual one via an exclusive focus on the homosexual identity. Queer theory challenges this exact dualistic approach that assumes a female/male and heterosexual/homosexual binary, instead recognizing the variation and range of positions within non-heteronormative identities (Cameron & Kulick, 2003). Likewise, queer linguistics does not shoehorn language use into reified categories and has served to inform studies examining how straight people also access and employ supposedly “gay features” (Cameron, 1998; Kiesling, 2005). Furthermore, queer linguistics can reverse the discourse to study how certain linguistic features may have been stigmatized as a marker of subversion from the heteronormative, subliminally criminalizing both the community and the associated linguistic features. Beyond merely circumventing the circular reasoning demonstrated by traditional work on “homosexual language”, queer linguistics offers a concrete step forward in reshaping and demystifying the rhetoric surrounding the language use of the LGBTQ communities.

Next, queer linguistics advances an awareness in treating homosexuality and heterosexuality as equals by focusing on how language use interacts with all forms of relationships between sexuality and gender. Language and sexuality has largely treated homosexuality as a marked identity, singling them out for study and research, thereby unwittingly propagating the treatment of homosexuality as a subversion of the heteronormative. In so doing, the heteronormative identity is assumed to be the unmarked sexuality, echoing sentiments viewing homosexuality as unnatural perversions. Queering the sociolinguistic inquiry into language and sexuality entails challenging this exact unmarked status of heterosexuality (Coates, 2013). In line with the view that heteronormativity is merely common and not normal, queer linguistics suggests that heteronormativity itself is subject to the same discursive construction and reinforcement. Studies looking at telephone sex workers who have to constantly maintain and emphasize their heterosexuality showed that heterosexuality can indeed be actively marked in language use (Hall, 1995). In demonstrating that heterosexuality is equally susceptible to the same linguistic processes as non-straight sexualities, queer linguistics shifts the focus from being exclusively on the LGBTQ community to how language governs and intersects with all sexual relations. Removing heterosexual identity from its default and self-evident position, queer linguistics alters the baseline assumptions that has long privileged heterosexuality and demands a paradigm shift in negotiating the queer identity.

Finally, queer linguistics moves beyond a narrow focus on sexuality to broader social positions and provide a more nuanced insight into identity construction of non-heteronormative persons. Beyond the interaction solely between language and sexuality, queer linguistics is also predicated upon queer theory’s “broad critique of multiple social antagonisms, including race, gender, class, nationality, and religion, in addition to sexuality” (Eng, Halberstam, & Muñoz, 2005). Analysing how a queer speaker embodies multiple minority positions and temporalities by adopting different scripts (Provencher, 2014), it becomes evident that homosexuality is not just a position of desire. Given that there is a policing of sex in public discourse (Foucault & Hurley, 1990), idealized sex has long been portrayed as the practices of “heterosexual, white, middle or upper-class couples” (Gadsden, 2003). There is an undisputed and longstanding intersection between sexuality and issues of race and class. As such, the LGBTQ identity cannot be viewed isolated from social forces, to attempt to do so would grossly simplify their identities and overlook the struggles and regulation that they systematically face. A multifaceted queer identity consequently means that discursive practices enacted by a queer speaker differ depending on individual biographies and their positioning in that particular social moment (Leap & Motschenbacher, 2012). Queer linguistics divorces us from studying sexuality as an end in itself, drawing attention instead to the various material forces at play that all shape identity.

The intersection between gender and sexuality has been a topic of much fascination for scholars past and present. As the rhetoric surrounding the LGBTQ community begins to shift in our modern world, so queer linguistics has emerged to provide a wholly dedicated sub-field of sociolinguistic study into an identity that has been marginalized and misrepresented for the most parts of history. Informed largely by the perspectives embodied in queer theory, research into the intersection between language and sexuality has been reshaped by the field of queer linguistics. By challenging hegemonic institutions that promoted and regulated heterosexuality, it addresses the inherent flaws in existing scholarship, reinvents how research handles the homosexual identity and offers a more comprehensive view of queer identity.


Cameron, D. (1998). Performing gender identity. Language and gender: a reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Cameron, D., & Kulick, D. (2003). Language and Sexuality: Cambridge University Press.

Coates, J. (2013). The discursive production of everyday heterosexualities. Discourse & Society, 24(5), 536-552. doi:10.1177/0957926513486070

Eng, D. L., Halberstam, J., & Muñoz, J. E. (2005). What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now? : Duke University Press.

Foucault, M., & Hurley, R. J. (1990). The history of sexuality. Volume 1, Volume 1. New York: Vintage.

Gadsden, G. Y. (2003). Crooked Men and Straightened Women. Journal of Homosexuality, 43(2), 59-75. doi:10.1300/J082v43n02_04

Hall, K. (1995). Lip Service on the Fantasy Lines.

Jagose, A. (1996). Queer theory: an introduction: NEW YORK University Press.

Jefferson, G. (2004). A note on laughter in ‘male–female’interaction. Discourse Studies, 6(1), 117-133.

Kiesling, S. F. (2005). Homosocial desire in men’s talk: Balancing and re-creating cultural discourses of masculinity. Language in Society, 34(5), 695-726.

Leap, W. (1995). Beyond the lavender lexicon: Authenticity, imagination, and appropriation in lesbian and gay languages: Taylor & Francis US.

Leap, W., & Motschenbacher, H. (2012). Launching a new phase in language and sexuality studies. Journal of Language and Sexuality, 1(1), 1-14.

Legman, G. (1941). The language of homosexuality: an American glossary. Sex variants: A study of homosexual patterns, 2, 1149-1179.

Motschenbacher, H., & Stegu, M. (2013). Queer Linguistic approaches to discourse. Discourse & Society, 24(5), 519-535. doi:10.1177/0957926513486069

Provencher, D. M. (2014). Stepping back from queer theory: Language, fieldwork and the everyday in sexuality studies in France. French Cultural Studies, 25(3-4), 408-417.

Stokoe, E., & Speer, S. A. (2017). Conversation analysis, language, and sexuality. In K. Hall & R. Barrett (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Language and Sexuality. Oxford: OUP.

Image Credit for Cover Image: Chronicle Books

Am I Sexually Harassing You?

In wake of a slew of workplace sexual harassment incidents coming to light, a lot of public discourse has been swirling around this thorny issue. Unsurprisingly, society has swiftly and collectively remonstrated predators like Harvey Weinstein and Al Franken. Consequently, this seems to have created a pressing new topic of discussion for the average, innocent male specimen: How do I tell and where do I draw the line between sexual harassment and compliments? We turn our focus to a blog article providing guidelines for men aptly titled: “Know the Difference Between Compliments vs. Harassment in the Workplace” published on “The Good Men Project“. Whilst being seemingly well-intentioned, I argue that the article is still blindsided by sexism and toes the line of being patronizing to women.

The article’s main thesis is that the key difference between harassment and compliments is the intent of the speaker. Harassment involves the man’s “power and intimidation” as he objectifies and sexualizes his female counterpart. On first reading, it is easy to pick up on the inherent sexism here where men are portrayed as the gender holding all the power in the male-female dichotomy. This is a sentiment raised by Cameron and Kulick (2003) when they wrote of a regular association between “power and masculinity/powerlessness and femininity” that cuts across societies and again by Lakoff (1975) who suggested that “women’s language” first and foremost directly indexed powerlessness and a lack of authority. In language and discourse that emerges from our social relationships, the article accurately points out that men hold more social power than women.

However, a closer inspection will reveal a deeper layer of sexism concealed in the main argument of the article: that the intent of the man determines the nature of the act. There is a glaring hypocrisy here as the article – and society – pays heed to the intention and illocutionary force of the man’s utterance or action and yet wilfully distorts and obscures the illocutionary force of a woman’s ‘no’ in response to verbal and physical advances for sex (Kulick, 2003). Men are almost victimized, having innocent statements misunderstood and misinterpreted. When handling men, the ambiguity behind a simple statement like “You look like you’ve lost weight” is played up.  On the other hand, an explicit rejection of sexual advances by a woman is freely misinterpreted by men. In many cases of sexual assault, regardless of how clearly she says “no”, the man may still not be charged with rape (Tuerkheimer, 2014). Scaling back from the severity of sexual assault, a woman’s “no” to a guy’s romantic advances are very commonly construed as “playing hard to get” (Read: 5 Ways She Plays Hard to Get by MensHealth) and totally ignores the fact that her “no” may very well just mean “I’m just not interested in you”. The problem is this insidious disparity: we are quick to sympathize with men who have their innocent and ambiguous compliments misunderstood but men have no qualms thwarting the unambiguous refusal of women.

But the most glaring issue with this article comes in the next section where the article suggests that “a good rule of thumb these days is that if you wouldn’t compliment a male co-worker on it, don’t try it with a female co-worker.” A confounding statement, given we are now ten years into the progressive fourth wave of feminism. Even with all the flaws and criticisms of the feminist movement, surely society has made enough progress to recognize women as independent humans who deserve to be respected on their own terms – and not pinned to whether it is respectful to a male counterpart. The article seems to do little more than teach men how to cope with this new persecution and scrutiny in the workplace they are now under, rather than implore men to not objectify women and not to see them as sexual objects to be pursued and won. To be fair to the article, problematic arguments and sexist undertones pervade a fair share of the rhetoric surrounding respecting women and is not isolated to this particular article. Many prominent figures and stars had to invoke daughters and sisters to highlight the severity of sexual harassment as if sexual harassment on any woman was not severe enough (Read: Sexual Assault Survivors Aren’t Just Daughters. They’re Actually Humans).

I am aware that the article sets out to deal with the contentious, fine boundary between compliments and sexual harassment. I am also aware that the boundary is not always well-defined and that sexual harassment is not always as obvious as with Weinstein. There are women on the other side of the fence too, with prominent French feminist Catherine Deneuve leading the voices of 100 female writers in denouncing the #MeToo campaign and declaring men’s “right to hit on women” (The Guardian, 2018). Public discussion and education, both of which this article sets out to be, are definitely important and relevant in getting men to deal with this difference between compliments and sexual harassment. But in doing so, this article (and the many others like it floating around the interweb) should not neglect to press home fundamental principles like basic decency and being respectful. Given the volatile nature of the topic, they have the additional burden of ensuring there is no subliminal sexism that would otherwise undermine their conversation. They would also do extremely well to explicitly decry and recognize that sexual harassment is sexual harassment is sexual harassment, instead of coddling grown men who cannot distinguish their ill intentions from genuine compliments.


Cameron, D., & Kulick, D. (2003). Language and Sexuality: Cambridge University Press.

The Guardian. (2018). Catherine Deneuve says men should be ‘free to hit on’ women.   Retrieved from

Kulick, D. (2003). No. Language & Communication, 23, 139 – 151.

Lakoff, R. T. (1975). Language and woman’s place: Harper & Row.

Tuerkheimer, D. (2014). We Preach ‘No Means No’ For Sex, But That’s Not What The Law Says.   Retrieved from

What is Bromance?

A bromance is a close, platonic relationship shared intimately by two men (or in this case, bros). Many times, this feeling of affection and emotional connection stems from sharing commonly “masculine” domains like sports, games or girls. A bromance is largely underpinned by a universally acknowledged but unspoken “bro code”. However, the “bro code” is commonly extended and can be applied to guys in general, even between guys who are not in a bromance.

President-elect Barack Obama, left, and Vice President-elect Joe Biden wave to the crowd after Obama’s acceptance speech at his election night party at Grant Park in Chicago before giving his acceptance speech Tuesday night, Nov. 4, 2008.(AP Photo/Morry Gash)