Alexis Jones: “Locker Room Talk”?

That’s a long walk. I feel like we have to practice with that.

So, first off, what an honor, what a privilege to be on this stage, getting to have this conversation with you all. The truth is that I’ve spent the past three years in college locker rooms, having conversations with young men about the importance of respecting women.

I was recently invited to a major university, and as I was being “debriefed” on the way in, they were telling me what was going on specific to their locker room. I was informed that there was one player who had punched his baby mama; that there were four other players that were facing rape allegations with four separate women; that there were another two players who had filmed and watched one of the rapes of an unconscious girl; and knowing all of this, one of the head coaches came in the day after the election, and he started the chant: “We can grab women by the pussy because this is America.”

Well, that is not the America that I know, and the truth is that sexual assault is but a symptom of the problem. The problem is the mindset of how these young men are being programmed to think about, to talk about, and to treat women.

Now before I dive into the whole talk, I feel like I have to preface a few disclaimers. One: I’m absolutely going to mess up. I just accepted that that’s going to happen. And I’m probably going to blank out at some point, so please be gentle with me. On top of it, there are brilliant people who have dedicated their entire lives to this conversation, and institutions who have paved the way, so I am but offering my humble two cents.

Number two: ProtectHer is but a starting place for us. We’ve recognize that men are also sexually assaulted, one in ‘16. We know that the LGBT community is also assaulted, and while those communities absolutely deserve our attention, for the sake of this conversation, I am going to be speaking about “her,” because violence against women is a house on fire, and I will be speaking in heterosexual stereotypes.

Number three: ProtectHer is not implying that women are weak and that we can’t protect ourselves, so we need men to come and help protect us. ProtectHer is an invitation for all of humanity to better prioritize the women and girls.

Now, what’s interesting is that some schools call me because, you know, at the end of the day, they care about what’s going on in their locker rooms. But before I ever started in locker rooms, I worked in girl empowerment for a decade.

When I was 19 years old, I founded a nonprofit called I AM THAT GIRL. We’re basically a bad-ass version of girl scouts for college girls. We have about a million girls involved now, and we just opened up a chapter in our 20th country. So the truth is – thank you, man ! I dig that.

So, the truth is that I have a name, and a face, and a story for every time someone talks about girls in statistic form. And it wasn’t until three years ago that Yogi Roth and Trent Dilfer called me, and they asked me to come and give a talk to the top 18 high school quarterbacks for a TV show called “Elite Eleven.” What I didn’t realize was that when it aired on ESPN, a week later, everything with Ray Rice would come out. And suddenly, I was that girl in the locker room, having tough love conversations with men about the importance of respecting women.

Now it probably helped that I worked at FOX Sports and ESPN, and that I grew up in Texas where football is a religion, that I grew up with four older brothers. My father’s the very best man that I know, my husband was a professional athlete for nine years. And what’s interesting is all of a sudden being hired by division one schools all over the country, that I was invited behind the velvet curtain to better understand what was going on with them.

Like I said, there were some schools who were hiring me because they had an incident going on in their locker rooms, and there were other schools who were just legitimately concerned, and I had one head coach call me, and he said he was worried because he had a daughter, and the way in which these young men were talking about women, that was so disrespectful.

So sure enough, I fly out and I am sitting there, and halfway through my talk — we’re sitting in a circle in the locker, you can imagine, the only girl — and halfway through my talk, one of the guys raises his hand and he says: “You know, I get it, it’s important to ‘respect’ chicks, but it’s cool to fuck chicks.” And you can imagine, the coach is like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” He is sitting there, shaking his head, looking down at the ground.

And so, I look up at this kid, and I said, “Okay, says who?” Now there is this long pause, and immediately he is looking at his boys left and right who are equally mortified, staring down at the ground like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. We’re for sure running sprints now.”

And so, after a minute of awkward silence goes by, I look up and I say, “Here is the thing, I am not necessarily disagreeing, I’m just saying you made a really opinionated statement, you said, ‘It’s cool to fuck girls,’ I’m just saying, ‘Says who?'”

And finally, he looks up at me and he says, “I don’t know.”

And I said, “Yeah, that’s the problem: you’re on autopilot and you’ve been programmed to think that way; you were handed a script; someone gave you a definition of cool that’s not even yours, and you have the audacity to pawn it off as though you’re being original.”

Mother, father, preacher, teacher, I’m not here to tell you how to live your life, I am simply inviting you to be brave enough to author your own life, to come up with your own definitions, and to think for yourself. He came up to me after the talk, and he gave me a really awkward hug, and he said, “Thank you,” and I looked at him, and I said, “For what?”

And he said, “No one has ever asked me to think for myself. I want to thank you for the invitation.”

Now, I have a thousand stories of adventures, being the only girl in the locker room. And I have stories that would make you laugh, and they would make you cry, and they would make you cringe, and they would break your heart. But more than anything else, they would leave you hopeful.

You see, I was put on the planet to empower women. I was made known of that at a really young age, but it wasn’t until I stood in a room full of alpha dudes that I realized that I’d been missing the point, only preaching to half the sky. That violence against women is not a women’s issue, although we are incredibly capable creatures. Violence against women is a human issue, and it requires all of us participating. And the truth is, the majority of these young men feel that they have never been invited to sit at our table. And because I’m not Santa, and I can’t fly to every single school — although Lord knows I have tried, I have spent 220 days a year on the road for the past three years.

So, we created the first ever ProtectHer program, that can be integrated into college locker rooms, to invite young men to broaden their definition of manhood. Because we believe that in order to protect the dorm rooms, that we have to activate the hearts and the minds of the locker rooms.

Now a few things that I have learned being in the trenches with these guys is first and foremost, we have to make them aware of their programming. We have to get the most distracted generation in history to pause long enough to be introspective, to ask the hard questions: “Says who?”

We know that they consume ten hours of media a day. Media that glorifies violence against women, that’s inherently disrespectful, that’s hyper sexualizing and objectifying. We know that they consume 3,000 brand images every day, spoon-feeding them a definition of manhood that’s been hijacked by a cheap cologne-wearing Ken doll, lacking a moral constitution, self-respect, and authentic confidence.

We know that the majority of these young men learn about sex through porn. So, maybe we can stop being so shocked because they’re doing exactly what we, as a society, are programming them to do, and they’re doing it very well. So maybe, as a society, we can better educate them on sex and healthy relationships.

Two, we have to have a conversation about identity. We have to broaden their definition of manhood because the consensus in the locker room, right now, is very easy and pretty achievable. It’s be as rich as you can, be as famous as you can, and bang as many girls as you can.

Now, it’s interesting, because my husband had a brilliant idea, he said, “What we have to do” — and my husband is here, he is a 6’9? poster boy of feminism — And his brilliant suggestion was, “We have to get these young men to stop viewing women just as sexual objects, but to remind them that women are human beings, too.” He said, “So honestly, if I were you, I would just pull pictures of their girlfriends, and sisters, and moms from social media. I’d put it in your presentation.” That’s my husband voice, by the way.

It was this brilliant idea. So, for the first talk that I ever gave for Elite Eleven, I pulled pictures of all the women that they loved, and I put up a slide, and it says, “One in four girls will be sexually assaulted on a college campus.” And of course, their eyes glazed over, like, “Here we go, we’re going to have this conversation.”

And then I clicked the next slide, and I said, “But it’s different when it’s her.” And I memorized ten to fifteen names, I said, “It’s different when it’s Sarah, and when it’s Lauren, and when it’s Jenny.” And now these guys are looking at their 16-year-old sister. Half the guys in the room started crying. We have to reframe this issue to make this extremely personal to them.

Number three, we have to have a conversation about respect. You can’t give something that you don’t have. We have to imbue these young men with more self-respect, so that they’re able to treat others with more dignity. What dawned on me was that we are not teaching enough emotional education in school right now, we are certainly not teaching these young men how to create an authentic confidence, so they are sourcing it from exactly where they know how. Through performance, through popularity, and through possessions. We have to broaden a definition of confidence that is not contingent on social media highlight reels and external validation.

Four, we have to have real talk with these guys. I have yet to come into a locker room where they use words like “consent” and “bystander.” Those are words that we use, in our shiny star studded PSAs. I have yet to hear of a guy come in, and raise his hand, and be like, “There’s this really great opportunity for us, bystanders, to intervene.” I have never heard of a guy be like, “We were in the middle of hooking up, I’m not going to lie, I paused, I was like, ‘I just want to make sure that I officially have your consent moving forward.'” That’s not me poking fun at the intention behind these words. That’s just we have to give them real language and real tools for the moments that we are asking them to be brave. We have to work with them, and be in conversation with them, to offer them language when they see something sketchy, being able to say, “Yo, we don’t do that.” That in the middle of hooking up, to give them language like, “Yo, I just want to make sure that you’re cool with us having sex.” Because as long as we’re talking to them like academic robots, I think we’re setting them up to fail.

And as far as a few calls to action, anyone in media, please stop crucifying coaches and universities when this stuff happens in their locker room; we’re at pandemic levels, this is happening everywhere. Instead, just celebrate the universities who are doing it right, so that we can inspire others to follow suit.

For coaches and educators, please invest in programs like these, that are preventative medicine, we cannot continue to triage these symptoms, putting band-aids on bullet wounds.

For parents out there, you hold all the power in your wallets. Demand that, in order for you to pay tuition, these schools have to invest in the safety of both your daughters and your sons.

For students out there, ask your administration to invest in these kinds of programs. And for student athletes out there, say that you are not going to sign with any university that isn’t making prevention a priority.

For policy makers out there, if you have to have a driver’s license to drive a car, why would you not have to take a mandatory sexual assault prevention program, in order to attend a college or play sports?

For the National League team owners, would you be so audacious as to sign a ProtectHer pledge that says that you won’t draft any students who have sexual assault convictions. To be a professional athlete is a privilege, it’s a real-life superhero in this country, and you literally have the ability to change the entire game with those kinds of standards.

Lastly, ProtectHer is a battle cry, it’s a belief system, it is a cultural identity that is rooted in the inherent respect for women. Right now, as we sit in this auditorium, we have women and bad-ass men all over the country, marching, standing at their capital, saying that this is the shift — saying that this is the shift that our country wants to make, and it’s easy for us to sit in an auditorium, and it’s easy for us to hear these different talks and to be inspired by them, but the truth is, this kind of audacious shift in culture is going to demand that the warrior, that the gladiator, that the protector in you and in me rises to the occasion to create a new definition of normal, where girls, and women, and all people are treated with dignity and respect. Because the truth is that men are not simply the problem when it comes to violence against women, they’re also the cure, and we have never needed them so much. So, for the real men out there, consider this your invitation.

Thank you so much.