If you are an active user of social media platforms, particularly Instagram, you likely know of the recent controversy that transpired in the month of May that was triggered by leaked screenshots of the obscene chats from “Bois Locker Room“. An Instagram group chat comprising of teenage boys belonging to wealthy urban upper-class households and going to the top-notch schools of Delhi, they were objectifying, body shaming and passing derogatory remarks on girls.
They shared the girls’, mostly underage, pictures without their consent and one of the boys even proposed gang-raping one of the girls. These screenshots, circulated widely on social media sites, reflected the ugly reality of the existing patriarchal and sexist beliefs that run rampant in our society.
The systematic subjugation, humiliation and sexual objectification of women under patriarchal structures have been something that is inherited from one generation to another and continues to manifest itself through various alternative ways and on repeated occasions. Sexual coercion constitutes a big part of the structured subordination and relegation of women, so much so that it is one of the oldest forms of tyranny and oppression. This controversy also raised questions as to how easy it has become for people to make lewd and denigrating comments and get away with it without any action.
Besides this, what the incident spurred were intensive and fiery conversations that centred around modern-day feminism, which many defendants and companions of those notorious boys, pejoratively equated to “veiled misandry”.
They instantly jumped to their defence as many of the other social media users expressed their rage over the incident and generalised “all men”. They held all men as culprits of the incident as they felt that the leaked chats had documented just one instance among the many which are conveniently swept under the rug. The uproar was so much so that on Sunday, 6 May, 2020, the hashtag #boyslockerroom was retweeted over 30,000 times.
In just a matter of a few days, the defendants of the members of the group chat as well as people who were uncomfortable with all men being held accountable for the wrongdoings of a certain group stormed social media with the hashtag #NotAllMen, which is a common rebuttal to generalised statements. What ensued was a war of words, an unfortunate suicide and, at times, rape and death threats.
As someone studying in one of the highly reputed schools of Delhi, I could relate to the incident much more than I thought I would. Such groups and “banter” are very common, particularly in school settings and everyone seems to be willfully unaware of it.
As unfortunate as it can be, the fact is that this group chat is not an isolated incident and that there are much larger issues at play. It is the unfortunate result of a botched upbringing and also, undeniably, the lack of proper sex education, gender sensitisation and sensitivity among teenagers. For us to be able to uproot these incidents completely, we have to first go down to the grassroots of such incidents and understand what leads to them.
There are so many factors that play a contributory role in the promotion of rape culture. It is important to note that rape never happens in individuality and it is never the first step. No person is born a rapist or has inherent propensities for inflicting such a degree of pain and trauma. Instead, such behaviours are imbibed and learnt and there is always a process, unfolding in gradual stages, that lead to the making of a rapist and may also hold the answer to why our boys are still not keen to respect women.
Such tendencies are fundamentally dependent on the immediate environment in which the person grows and the people who constitute this immediate environment, such as your parents, cousins, friends, etc. Besides this, it also relies on the ideas that the child imbibes from these people. For instance, if there is normalisation and, by extension, promotion of rape jokes, sexist attitudes and banter, catcalling, eve-teasing and non-consensual, unwanted sexual touch, then there is no way that the child would be able to grasp the notions of equality and respect.
To give you a well-defined idea about what leads to incidents like these, here are some factors that are instrumental in the endorsement of such terrifying degrees of sexism and misogyny, and which have perhaps remained constant as we moved from the Nirbhaya Gang Rape case in 2012 to Dr Priyanka Reddy’s case in 2019 to the present day.
The primary and most fundamental factor, in my opinion, is a lack of proper sex education and gender sensitisation. Although India is the second-most populous country in the world, constructive discussions and discourse around sex are still a taboo. At an age where the hormones play a pivotal role in moulding your experiences, beliefs and behaviours, talking openly about sex is a matter of urgency.
It is also common and natural to be curious and have questions about the same, especially when it is hushed up. This should begin with parents and teachers imparting the facts and right knowledge about sex and sexual health. I distinctly remember how our biology teacher flipped through the pages of the textbook which spoke about human reproduction and sexual health. Lack of sexual education, compounded by easy access to the internet these days has led to the development of erroneous ideas and misconceptions about sex.
When parents and teachers refuse to answer queries that crop up in all our minds, we are forced to resort to less reliable information that one finds on the internet, driven by a spirit of genuine curiosity. The issue further worsens when we share what we read and see with our friends, thus, having a domino effect. Therefore, the stigma attached to such topics has been a hindrance which results in a volley of topics left undiscussed. In addition to the biological aspects of sex, children should also be taught the concepts of consent and sexual desires.
Secondly, the contentious “boys will be boys” argument is often used to condone acts of sexual harassment, catcalling, rape and discrimination. It reinforces the concept of “toxic masculinity” that dictates a particular standard of conduct and behaviour that boys must match up to. It refers to the traditional cultural masculine norms that can be harmful to men, women and the society overall. It is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by aggression, violence, sex and status (Colleen Clemens).
Scholars have, time and again, highlighted that the ideas of masculinity are tied less to the body and more to socio-cultural ideologies, expectations and practices. This model of manhood, perpetrated by traditional ideologies, dictates men to be aggressive, unemotional, ruthlessly ambitious, dominating, not easily perturbed and always on the lookout for intercourse. These ideologies have proven themselves to be detrimental to everyone as they encourage practices like rape. Rape could be a tool to proclaim male dominance over women and other men.
Thirdly, our family values and the prevalence of sexism and misogyny are a hotbed for such regressive ideas. Take, for instance, the family WhatsApp groups which are riddled with “jokes” that attack and discriminate against women. Gendered stereotypes, stigmas and deep-rooted misogyny insidiously make their way into these group chats, mostly forwarded by ignorant and misogynistic uncles who rigidly believe that women only belong to the kitchen.
From wife bashing jokes to cartoons that depict husbands hitting or abusing their wives for cooking tasteless dishes, silencing women when conversations swerve to politics and economy, not considering women’s opinions on and participation in major family decisions or any other issue that is a “men’s matter”.
The misogyny in our WhatsApp groups and households is so commonplace that many women have internalised these patriarchal ideas. When young boys see women — their grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins — being denigrated and trivialised in the household, it has a powerful impact on how they view other women. A boy who has seen his mother serving meals every night can never wrap his head around seemingly abstract ideas such as “distribution of labour and household tasks”.
“How can he learn to respect women when he sees those at home being denied a voice, an agency and any authority?” – SheThePeople
Unless families stop peddling these stigmas by taking accountability, unless the women of the family are given equal status and guaranteed an equal say in household matters, there will be more “bois locker rooms”.
Last but not least is the influence of the entertainment industry on the mindsets of the audience. Our cinema industry has played a paramount role in influencing the young mind by denying the ideas of consent, objectifying women by reducing them to objects meant for the male gaze and the over-sexualisation of the female body. We have portrayed women as fragile and governed by the male protagonists, instead of directly and constructively contributing to the plot of the film. The item songs that the audiences groove to, soon after the release, neglect the consequences they have on younger uneducated minds.
Thus, it is essential to bear in mind that every step we take may have a long-lasting impression on the perception of others. Every time we ask a girl to “cover up” or laugh away at scenes depict serious issues like sexual harassment and catcalling, we are unconsciously propagating a culture that is toxic and horrifying in every sense. We, as a society, have a more significant role to play in recognising, acknowledging and curbing or halting the factors which perform an unnoticed yet significant role in the growth of rape culture in India.