Not this kind of grooming.
Glamour Grooming for pets, Shawnee, Kansas
Not this kind, either.
National Men’s Grooming Day is August 19
And not these grooms, although they’re cute.
No, this week we’re looking at yet another sense of grooming, one that’s been in headlines a lot lately.
The grooming in these stories refers to a sense of groom (verb) that the OED defines thus:
Of a paedophile [sic, British spelling]: to befriend or influence (a child), now esp. via the internet, in preparation for future sexual abuse.
Or what a recent Psychology Today story defines as
The deceptive process used by sexual abusers to facilitate sexual contact with a minor while simultaneously avoiding detection. Prior to the commission of the sexual abuse, the would-be sexual abuser may select a victim, gain access to and isolate the minor, develop trust with the minor and often their guardians, community, and youth-serving institutions, and desensitize the minor to sexual content and physical contact. Post-abuse, the offender may use maintenance strategies on the victim to facilitate future sexual abuse and/or to prevent disclosure.
Child sexual abuse is a real and shockingly widespread problem; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four girls and one in thirteen boys in the US experience sexual abuse. But there’s another equally prevalent abuse problem: the abuse of the term grooming as a homophobic and anti–Democratic Party slur.
Here’s the lede of “Why So Many Conservatives Are Talking about ‘Grooming’ All of a Sudden,” a story by Kaleigh Rogers published in FiveThirtyEight on April 13, 2022:
“Grooming” has become the most recent scare tactic of choice for the right. Fox News host Laura Ingraham included a segment on her show last month where she claimed public schools have become “grooming centers” where “sexual brainwashing” takes place. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene recently tweeted that the Democrats are the party of “grooming and transitioning children.” Last week, One America News host Chanel Rion even called President Joe Biden “the groomer-in-chief.”
Right-wing activists, Rogers wrote, are using “grooming”
against any Democrat (or company)1 who disagrees with them on certain policy issues. This is a deliberate tactic that was promoted as early as last summer by Christopher Rufo, the same conservative activist who helped muddle the language around critical race theory. “Grooming” is a term that neatly draws together both modern conspiracy theories and old homophobic stereotypes, while comfortably shielding itself under the guise of protecting children. Who, after all, can argue against the safety of kids? But by adopting this language to bolster their latest political pursuits, the right is both giving a nod to fringe conspiracy theorists and using an age-old tactic to dismantle LGBTQ rights.
(The text of the footnote: “Conservatives have suggested that Disney’s opposition to Florida’s law restricting when kids learn about sexual orientation shows that the company supports groomers. FiveThirtyEight is owned by Disney.”)
It’s the latest right-wing culture-wars buzzword.
Remember "Sharia law"? You laugh but there was a time when RW media was very seriously predicting that Sharia law was on the verge of taking over US courts. Like so many of these episodes, no one ever looked back to reassess or correct or apologize -- just on to the next one.— David Roberts (@drvolts) December 3, 2022
The “grooming” epithet is not the exclusive province of wild-eyed extremists. Here’s a March 2022 article—“OK, Groomer: Why Some in the LGBT Movement Are Focusing on Kids”—from the Witherspoon Institute, a Princeton, New Jersey, research institute that seeks to “enhance public understanding of the moral foundations of free societies”:
Normal people believe that sexualizing children is predatory. But, in light of the recent passage of a Florida bill that would restrict instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary schools, it is clear that many activist educators and their political allies are comfortable with the idea that elementary school children are already members of the “LGBTQI+ community” and should be instructed accordingly. OK, groomer.
The setup is “normal people” (read: heterosexual Republicans) vs. “groomers.” “OK, groomer” is a twist on “OK boomer,” the “retort to someone older expressing condescending or out-of-touch views” that made the American Dialect Society’s 2019 list of words of the year. “OK groomer” was picked up and popularized by an actual extremist, James Lindsay, who was banned from Twitter in August 2022 and reinstated in late November under the new Muskovite regime.
A bit of etymological background:
Groom has traveled a long way from obscure lexical origins. The noun first appeared in the 13th century, when it meant “a man-child or boy.” (Where it came from is a mystery. “There is no trace of the word in any Germanic language,” the OED informs us.) Slightly later it came to mean a male servant; by the 16th century it could mean “a servant who attends to horses,” a sense it still retains. William Shakespeare was the first writer to use “groom” to mean “a man on his wedding day” (it’s a shortening of “bridegroom”).
The verb to groom—as in to tend to or curry a horse—didn’t appear until the early 19th century; this sense eventually extended to human animals as well, for whom it means “to clean and tidy” the body. The sense of “grooming” a political candidate or employee—preparing the person for a role—is an Americanism first attested in 1887.
And that was that for about a century.
Then, in May 1985, the “prepare” sense appeared in its new context, in a Chicago Tribune article headlined “Pedophilia: A Sickness That Tears at Kids’ Trust”:
These ‘friendly molesters’ become acquainted with their targeted victim.., gaining their trust while secretly grooming the child as a sexual partner.
Read more about the evolution of grooming in a 2021 discussion on English.StackExchange, where the news hook was the arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell, “accused of crimes related to allegedly recruiting and grooming underage girls.”