Teenage boys degrading, and making explicit comments on photos of girls, shared without consent. Appalling, but also, a manifestation of the misogyny kids see us normalize every day.

Boy and girl standing at a schoolImage for representation. Raja stills/Picxy
Voices Gender violence Tuesday, May 05, 2020 - 17:04

‘Locker room talk’ has often been a phrase used to disguise everyday misogyny as bro-banter. It has been used to shut down those who call out everyday sexism, to soothe the egos of those complicit. However, in the last two days, the phrase has revealed just how casually rape culture catches the young. The revelation has come in the form of an Instagram group called ‘Bois (sic) Locker Room’, where many teenage boys allegedly share photos of girls without their consent, make explicit remarks about their bodies; some even talk about rape and sexually assaulting the girls in the photos.  

As the screenshots came out, women were furious, disgusted and upset – and wouldn’t you be if you had to say the same thing over and over again? Amidst the calling out and outrage, the India Me Too account made a pertinent point. Referring to the hanging of Nirbhaya’s rapists, the tweet said, “Tell us again how hanging four rapists in a day was supposed to strike fear in the hearts of men and boys? States can hang all the rapists they want, #boyslockerroom will continue unless the root cause of patriarchy, entitlement and toxic masculinity is addressed.”

Indeed, the usual reaction to an incident of sexual violence – apart from victim blaming and shaming – is to demand retribution against the perpetrators. The more gruesome or violent the incident and the more privileged the victim, the louder the demand for 'harsh punishment'. And the poorer and more marginalised the perpetrators, the more violent is the punishment demanded. In contrast, when it's apparently affluent south Delhi boys, those justifying their actions get more apologist: "It was a mistake" and "Boys will be boys."

However, time and again, women, and experts from the fields of law and those working with sexual violence survivors have said that accountability is the best deterrent. Accountability does not necessarily translate to the harshest punishment; rather, it is the guarantee that wrongdoing will have swift consequences.  

What the ‘Bois Locker Room’ members did was horrible, wrong and traumatising to many girls and women. However, their words and actions are also a manifestation of the misogyny they see every day – in popular culture, in films and perhaps in their families. Boys grow up seeing their fathers, grandfathers and other men in their families with a sense of entitlement over their daughters, wives and sisters. They grow up seeing violence and discrimination against women normalised in their households. They grow up seeing narratives where women choose death over sexual assault glorified in films, reinforcing that her ‘honour’ resides in her vagina. They grow up learning profanities where violence against women is normalised, and using them becomes a rite of passage almost. And they grow up with little to no questioning of these ideas, believing that there will be no consequences for their misogyny. 

So what does it tell young men? That the best way to silence a woman is to threaten her with sexual violence. The best way to prove you’re a man is to be violent, to control the woman. Indeed, the ‘Bois Locker Room’ members reacted similarly to being outed. Further screenshots showed them referring to the girls who had spoken up as sex workers, more profanity about rape, and ideas to leak their nudes. All of this is horrifying, no doubt, but even more so because it allegedly came from school-going, educated teenagers. Some of the group members were reportedly adults too. 

In the present case, the Delhi police as well as the Delhi Commission for Women have taken note of the incident. The police have even identified almost all members of the Instagram group, and will ‘examine’ all of them. Do the teenage boys in Instagram groups like these need to be held accountable for their actions? Absolutely. Do they need to be given the strictest punishment, ostracised permanently? I wouldn’t say so. And above all, do they need to be educated about toxic masculinity, everyday misogyny and rape culture? Without a doubt, yes.

Accountability does not always have to mean confrontation. It doesn’t even mean censoring all problematic popular culture. Sometimes, it can simply mean questioning the norm and having a conversation. It can also mean actually discussing women's issues and safety with boys and men, and not just with a room full of women who already expend a lot of energy trying to 'avoid' sexual assault.

In this case, the aggressors are young, which gives me hope that once they learn the consequences for their actions and are educated about patriarchy and entitlement, at least some of them could be on the road to change. Because, if boys will be boys, there is little hope for men, and none for women.

Read: Delhi schoolboy held in ‘Bois locker room’ controversy: What the scandal is all about

Views expressed are author's own.

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