When gender based violence erupts on our TV screens, as it did recently with instances of molestation in Bengaluru, we react in shock. What does it say about a society where such acts have become routine? The shell of silence surrounding sexual violence needs to be shattered. As a first step towards a more honest conversation, we bring you “Talking Gender”, a series of articles on the fundamental problems of the collective mindset on gender.
No one teaches us the bro code, boys learn by themselves as they become men. And it isn’t about only the silly Barney Stinson type rules (although there is some nauseating stuff in there), but the more dangerous ones, which actively destroy the lives of people around us from other genders.
The documentary The Bro Code: How contemporary culture creates sexist men talks about how popular culture – films, sports, TV shows and commercials - objectifies and sexualizes women, systematically encouraging men to internalize our gender prejudices and normalize sexual violence.
But there is also the bro-code within our families and friends’ circles, which thrives on mutual encouragement, complicit silence and, at best, looking the other way.
From public policy to public outrage, as has been seen in the aftermath of the December 16 Delhi gangrape case, the battle against gender violence has been discussed in the context of our public spaces. But nearly not enough attention has been brought to how we choose to speak about gender violence within the confines of our homes and work-places, especially as men.
When a bunch of boys hang out together, feminism is most definitely a punchbag. Ideas of gender equality are linked to being a ‘pussy’. Gender violence is not a crime.
It starts small. Girls are considered weak and they are bullied from a position of assumed male power. ‘Girly’ things are sniggered over.
As teenagers, we don’t always immediately take to violence. It begins with the objectification and sexualisation of girls around puberty. We joke about the girls being objects of pursuit, and that alone. It is fun to mess with girls. It is ok to ‘screw around’ and ‘dump a chick’. If you are not playing the game, you are not a ‘man’ – and then ensues the bullying in the name of other genders and sexual identities.
There is the ‘Brode of Silence’ – never tattle on the other guy, because hey, the conquest of the girl is important, not her feelings, or her safety.
The guy could be a known delinquent, and yet, the girl will have to get hurt and figure it out herself, the guys will never hint at it. This starts at teenage and goes all the way to marriage, when his fiancée would ask us if he is really a nice guy, and we would tell her that he is, even if we knew he isn’t, because hey, we are bros.
Gaslighting is employed without a thought, and we give each other ideas for that. We bitch about girls as a sport, feeding into each other’s insecurities.
Rape is a reality, and we simply gloss over it. Beneath all tales of college conquests are horrific stories of physical abuse and torture. We crack some random rape jokes. Later at a party, she gets drunk and passes out. What stops us from ‘having some fun’ and then talk about it the next day, as no one else bats an eyelid and some even crack up to the ‘joke’? Why would any of us question it? After all, we are bros. Unless, of course, the woman is our mother or sister. We split them up like territories, create byelaws in the bro-code.
We never question Men’s Rights Activists, because the poor guy might be stuck with a bitch, right?
That friend who treats his wife or girlfriend as his property, is only ‘protecting’ her. She does not need agency, what she needs is protection. We, the bros, will protect her.
For every man in our patriarchal set up, the first step towards any semblance of gender equality is to first realize our own privilege. The next step is to speak about it to our friends and family, and very few of us get there.
By allowing every rape joke to go on unaddressed, by laughing and hitting high-fives for every ‘conquest’, we have enabled one person to get one stop closer to being an abusive, entitled male.
By walking away when a friend is slapping another girl, by lying to her that he is a ‘good guy’ when know he isn’t, we destroy one life.
The vehicle of gender violence is the complicity among men, and only when that is broken can we truly hope for dignity for other genders. Let’s tell him, that if he cannot respect women and treat them as equals, he cannot be our friend.