Locker room talk and the phallus: Anxious masculinity in the apology of Donald Trump


In the second presidential debate of 2016, Donald Trump has to debate on a public stage only a few days after the release of a 2005 tape of him describing his sexual assault of a woman, and laughing about it with Billy Bush. I am confident in stating that from an ethical point of view, this tape should have crushed his presidential hopes. However, in the end Trump was able to recover his polling numbers through his presidential debate performance and apology. So how did he do it? What did he say that turned back particularly the christian vote? Donald Trump used the rhetoric of christian masculinity and a focus on particularly fundamentalist pet issues to overcome the damage done to his reputation.

Literature review

Discourse Ethics and Communicative Space.


The second presidential debate occurred the week following the publication of a lewd tape from 2005, in which Donald Trump describes himself sexually assaulting a woman. The famous line “When you are a star they let you do it. You can do whatever you want, grab them by the pussy” stirred outrage among the American public, due to it seemingly describing sexual assault, and certainly demeaning women (Barbaro & Choznick, 2016; Berzon, Palazzolo, & Passy, 2016). Following its publication, Donald Trump did something he had not done through the entire campaign up to that point. He made an apology. In his apology Trump (2016) utilized the strategy of minimization, claiming that he didn’t assault a woman, instead it was “locker room talk”. He used the strategy of attacking the accuser by going after Hillary Clinton regarding Bill Clintons scandalous past. Trump uses the strategy of mortification, saying he is embarrassed. Finally, he used the strategy of differentiation between words and actions, saying Hillary Clinton represented the actions of her husband.


The purpose of this analysis is to examine the text of the 2nd 2016 presidential debate to tease out the gender representations which played a key role in the encounter. The goal of the investigation is the provide an explanation for why Donald Trump’s polls seemed unaffected by the 2005 lewd tape and suggest that Trumps masculine performance in the presidential debate played a key role in his recovery of his own voting base, the civil religious right. Further, this analysis will seek to examine how gender itself played a role in this key debate which is situated in the context of gender issues.


Presidential debates and gender.


Donald Trumps apology is in line with other apologies regarding sex scandals, including Bill Clinton’s own. Trumps apology relied heavily upon gendered discourse. Trump’s motivation was primarily to protect his base. This motivation is clear in his appeals to ISIS, Middle eastern conflict, and other religiously charged issues. Trump clearly embodies the template of anxious masculinity, as demonstrated not only in his explicit discussions throughout the campaign regarding the size of his actual penis, but also in his response to attacks with aggressive counter-attack and appeals to conquest in the Middle East, and cryptically making “America great again”? Trumps comparison regarding words and actions is interesting because Trump clearly uses words with an attempt to harm other’s reputations, but he claims that words can’t be violent like actions are. This betrays a view of the speech act that is fundamentally flawed, and doesn’t recognize the impact of discourse on hegemony and oppression.


Althusser, L. (1971). Ideology and ideological state apparatuses. In L. Althusser (Ed.), Lenin and philosophy and other essays. New York: Monthly Review Press.



Media critique and memes. Writing about rhetoric and society. MA in Communication They/He

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Aaron J. Alford

Aaron J. Alford

Media critique and memes. Writing about rhetoric and society. MA in Communication They/He