Bois Locker Room: Stop Pointing Fingers, Take Collective Responsibility
Patriarchy is all pervasive. How can a social media group be immune to misogyny?
As a journalist, who has been tracking parenting practices for a couple of decades now, the boy’s locker room incident that unfolded in the past few days fills me with despair. The actual incident is, of course, disturbing, but the responses and the real issue being drowned amidst the noise is so unfortunate.
Nothing seems to have changed since 2004, when an MMS (multimedia messaging service) video, involving a teenaged high-school couple, was leaked and led to enormous media attention and backlash on the dramatis personae. The urgent need for value-based education was discussed, workshops and symposiums held, but it all ended with the teenagers, particularly the girl, being personally attacked and shamed. There was little effort to prioritize a culture of social and emotional learning in the school curriculum. Only a few schools did what they could, and continue to do so, but it’s obviously not enough. The result is that we are confronted with a situation that points to a deeper, more disturbing reality, in infinitely more complex times.
For those who are still unaware of the current incident—a private Instagram group chat, comprising mainly south-Delhi boys, came to light earlier this week. Screenshots from their chats, that went viral on social media, revealed sexually explicit conversations and shocking threats of sexual violence to underage girls. One 15-year-old boy has been apprehended, and five others have been questioned by the Delhi Police Cyber Crime Cell. There are some 20 boys, most of them in their mid-teens, involved in this group.
Of course, the actual incidents are disturbing in themselves: Not only do the misogyny and sexual aggression evident in the Instagram group signal the reality of our all-pervasive patriarchal culture, but it also points to the normalization of gender violence and toxic masculinity that surrounds us.The incident reveals many unsavoury truths—most of all how we have failed our kids on many levels. However, acknowledging this isn’t easy. Some would say an incident like this holds up a mirror to who we are as a society: Deep-rooted patriarchy that continues to devalue, objectify and shame women. Ugly locker room ‘banter’ that no one sees as a problem. And the culture of everyday misogyny that our children pick up easily, imbibe and live out in their own lives as they grow up.
The Bois Locker Room chat controversy has once again highlighted the pervasiveness of patriarchy and misogyny in Indian society. (Image used for representative purposes only. Photo: Pexels)
What has been equally troubling are the responses of elders: The messages coming out of WhatsApp groups, social media posts and television panels are entirely focused on virtue signalling. A majority of people are conspicuously voicing their outrage—somewhat competitively—focusing on shaming and retribution, rather than tempering their reactions with perspective. They have variously apportioned blame on the kids, technology, social media, peers, and are perhaps looking for other easy targets to impose liability. The rage is, of course, mostly targeted at the obvious ‘villains’ of the piece. I am not saying the boys should be let off with a mild scolding—of course not. They need to understand what they have done has hurt others deeply, and that their conduct and behaviour is unacceptable. That, indeed they are liable and need to face the consequences of their acts. However, they need to be met with restorative justice, as some very sensible experts have emphasized, keeping in mind their own future, and obviously that of the aggrieved young women in this case, and the way they have been compromised.
But this could also be a good time to pause, look around and inwards to examine how we got here. That the toxicity of a private social media group is just a logical progression of the culture that hurts women every day in our bedrooms, boardrooms, public spaces and through popular culture. How can young, impressionable adolescents remain immune to something that they witness on a daily basis?
We must confront the reality of the daily gender injustice that we are either party to or look away from in some form or another. We need to look ourselves in the eye and ask ourselves if we have done enough to break that cycle of male privilege to champion women’s rights, uphold their dignity and self-worth unfailingly. If we have walked the talk and taught our children to do so, as their teachers, mentors and elders.
As parents, we need to ask ourselves if we have created easy channels of communication with our kids, built safe spaces for them to share their conflicts, anxieties and distress, without fear of being judged. Have we done enough to demand a school system that puts social and emotional learning ahead of grades and academic excellence? Have we stepped in, every single time, to stop misogyny in its tracks, so our kids can learn how to uphold justice, empathy and kindness? Please, let’s look at the mirror first.