On the third of May, a number of screenshots were released on social media exposing a group chat named “Bois Locker Room”. From these screenshots, we learn that this was a group of teenage boys who shared pictures of their female classmates and discussed about their bodies and threatened to rape them. This (rightly so) caused an outrage on social media and a lot of womxn came together to amplify it. Soon enough, the Delhi Police identified 26 boys who were called for questioning and further investigation is going on.

The social media outrage reached authorities because a lot of womxn came to raise the issue, mostly at the expense of their mental health and emotional well-being. They did it despite knowing the backlash and hate they will get for speaking up. A lot of them came to social media to support the girls who were targeted and spoke of their experiences. This lead to a discussion on social media about rape culture and how locker room talk perpetuates rape culture.

What is rape culture?

It is a term coined by the second wave feminists to show in ways culture and society normalizes rape. This patriarchal society we live in paves way for men to get away with anything they wish to. This puts anyone who is not a cis-het male at risk. Rape culture doesn’t only mean rape. It shows the stages in the way it leads to rape. It starts with something as normalised as eve-teasing, and rape jokes. Then it paves way for unwanted touch and threats and violation of privacy and safety. It eventually leads to the assault stage where the actual action of molestation is committed.

Rape culture manifests in ways the victim is blamed and shamed. When the police and doctors question the victim of sexual assault to know if they have done something to provoke the assaulter. This victim-blame game ensures that the system protects men and justifies by saying ‘boys will be boys.’ That it is expected behavior from men because they are aggressive in nature. It ensures that the blame is on the (usually) womxn because they must have done something to provoke men. What were they wearing? What signals did they give? Why were they out at night, didn’t they know better? Why was she with him? In fact, this victim-blaming is the reason why womxn don’t report rape or harassment.

This absolves men of all and any responsibility and lets them get away with it. 

The Locker Room talk is misogynistic in nature where men come together to discuss ‘boy things’. Like how hot a girl is or how hot would a girl be in bed. Digitally, these locker room conversations take place by making online groups on social media and sharing private pictures of women. 

This creates a fertile ground that allows men to feel safe and secure about the things they’re saying and doing. If they feel comfortable enough to say these things, they will feel comfortable enough to carry out these acts of violence. It asserts the sexist jokes and promotes misogyny where they talk about how strong they are and how weak womxn are. This sexualizes womxn’s bodies by default- as if they are some prizes to be sought and it’s a competition to see who wins.

A system rooted in misogyny will always ensure the sexualisation of womxn and reduces them to commodities for men.

There is no one cause of rape culture as it is very fluid and keeps changing throughout time. It depends on localized factors that include social and cultural aspects. However, rape culture is deeply rooted in the objectification of womxn and the dominance of men who are entitled everything in this world. This, however, is the result of generations and generations of misogyny and enforced gender roles.

A system that puts men at the apex of society lets everyone else believe that everything must be catered to a man. We’re taught that men must be looked after by women. Women shouldn’t anger men and must obey them. We’re also taught that men must never cry, and that they should always be angry. These enforced gender roles on young children leads to severe consequences in adolescence.

This harsh conditioning of gender roles leads to locker room conversations.

A lot of teenage boys experiencing puberty especially are peer-pressured into these conversations. While some boys use this to show their macho-side and crutch for their egos, others become silent promoters and active enablers. A lot of men have used this incident to share their personal experience with the locker room talk. They have spoken about how they weren’t seemed ‘cool’ and were ostracized for not taking part in this. This creates a sense of toxic masculinity which enforces the dominance of men over womxn.

The locker room conversations reek of privilege and entitlement, in every sense. Some of the last names of the boys in that chat included Mehta, Chakrabarty, Sharma, Choudary among the many Bhramanical names. We can’t ignore the role caste plays in this. In one of our previous articles, we spoke about how caste plays a role in kindness. In a Brahmanical patriarchy, men grow up entitled. They believe that they can own everything and anything. It goes to show how our upbringing is shaped by the caste.

One of the major contributing factors to this is pop culture. Pop culture has ensured that toxic behavior is romanticized. Stalking someone is romantic. Not understanding no is romantic, ‘because he’s fighting for you!’ It’s worth mentioning how we accept abuse as love. Growing up girls have been taught that a guy who teases you, likes you. It has been shown in many movies and TV shows. Bollywood has an incredible record of showing this behavior and romanticizing it. The songs where women dance in front of men are called ‘item songs’ with lyrics that objectify women. Fevicol se is one of the many many examples of these songs. Not only this, we have allowed movies like Kabir Singh to be the epitome of romance.

Now, if a young boy watches this and starts to romanticize abusive behavior like this, he grows up thinking that this is normal. That womxn enjoy this.

One might wonder the implications of it. But the answer is always closer to home than they think. The only implication of it is not rape or molestation. It starts with victim-blaming. By telling girls that they shouldn’t wear certain clothes, or go out at certain times, we are ensuring that men are not held accountable. That they are the not to be blamed. This creates an unsafe environment for womxn all around the globe.

When we were growing up, all of us had that talk. The ‘life skills’ talk: where  we warned that this could happen to us and we were given ‘tips’ to be safe. This is what girls at the age of eleven grow up listening to. When incidents like this happen, all womxn are terrified because it could’ve been them. It is them that they’re talking about. And how we all shiver at the thought of it. Even as I write this, I am constantly reminded of how many times this has happened to me, or could have happened to me. Catcalling and stalking people is so normalized that we don’t even register it as harassment (like I didn’t.) This results in a collective trauma shared by womxn.

Why does this happen?

This happens because men are raised to be this way. We moral police womxn so much so that we forget that they’re the victims and not the violators. Men have created an environment of fear where they thrive. Many studies in social psychology have shown that men with these macho traits are more likely to abuse womxn.

When we allow conversations like this to take place, we allow men to do anything. We ignore them now but when they follow through with this, the entire country wakes up and screams for them to be hanged. Capital punishment is not the solution for this systematic issue. How was the encounter in Telangana supposed to teach boys a lesson? It clearly did not. When we send individuals to their deaths for this, it shows that we’re against the individual who had the guts to carry it out but not against the issue of rape, in general.

The only way we can make progress is when we make systemic changes.

Like previously mentioned, a Brahmanical patriarchal society has roots in misogyny. We can’t make progress until we make changes in the system of the world we’re living in. Capitalism and patriarchy make a beautiful pair which profits men in every way. This leads to oppressing people in the margins. We should work on changing the perspective from shaming womxn to holding men accountable. We should not allow a system to thrive where people are commodities and sheer economic growth and profit is given more value than human life. 

In this article, the author writes, “The capitalist system’s propensity to reorganise the economy on a global scale to its own profit has direct repercussions on gender relations.” This is seen in the way womxn are treated at work- calling upon them for extra labour and paying them less. This exploitation of womxn’s labor reinforces that womxn are only disposable.

We cannot ignore the role capitalism plays in this. When movies that glorify problematic behaviour (Kabir Singh) do well at box offices, we reinforce this into our youth that it’s okay to do this. So, it is clearly seen that the media, patriarchy and capitalism go hand-in-hand. And we can make a safer space for people in the margins if we deconstruct the system we’re living in. The system can’t change overnight but it doesn’t mean that we wait for it to change. We have to start making changes now. We can start at home.

Re-define masculinity with your sons.

Parenting is hard as it is. But it is our duty to raise better sons. We need to have conversations with young children about good touch and bad touch. And we need to talk to children about sex and consent. We need to have these difficult conversations. Children must be taught about the dynamics of society in a way that they would understand. We have to teach them that womxn are not beneath them or that they’re objects.

When we teach boys how to be tender and soft, they won’t grow up with repressed emotions that take a violent turn. Parents have to actively see to it that children grow in a safe environment. When a child grows up looking at how his father is screaming at his mother, he learns misogyny. And when we showcase an environment where men have always dominated womxn, we teach them misogyny. When we let them watch movies that romanticize abusive behavior, we teach them misogyny. It takes all the subtle little things to make a mountain. From a young age, we have to teach our sons to be accountable. We have to teach them that there will be consequences to their actions. Only when we do this will we create a safer environment for womxn.

Assure them that it’s okay to cry and be in touch with their emotions. Sit with them and ask, ‘what does masculinity mean?’ Ask those difficult questions: does it mean that they hurt everyone? Or does it mean that they think they own everything around them? What will happen if they cry? What will happen if they’re taught basic skills like cooking and cleaning?

GirlsHealthChampions auf Twitter: "Justin Baldoni, an actor ...

It’s a tough conversation but it has to be done. Show them good role models of masculinity: Justin Baldoni, Steve Rogers, Bob Ross and Steve Irwin. These men have shown that being kind and being aware is not a weakness but a strength that can help you create a better environment.

Apart from parenting, another factor that can contribute to creating a healthy environment is school.

It is time that schools take comprehensive sexuality education seriously and do it properly. Instead of only explaining to students how safe sex must be practiced, we need to help children deconstruct ideas of gender, bodies, sexuality and relationships. Schools should explain to the student body of how sex is an act of pleasure from both consenting parties and not an act of violence that can be used against so. And we have to be sensitive when we’re teaching children this.

We also need to be sensitive when womxn come out with statements of harassment. Instead of bombarding them with questions, we have to be more empathetic and create a safe environment for them in that moment. And most importantly, we have a responsibility as institutions, to protect womxn and trust them with their statements. Because there’s no proof of harassment, it is very easy to get away with it.

We have to ensure that the society changes and it is a safe world for children: where men are allowed to emote and women don’t have to be at the receiving brunt of these acts. Schools and Parenting have to collaborate on how to make sure that this does not happen. They have to be accountable for it.

The Locker Room is just the tip of the iceberg of the much larger problem of rape culture. A system rooted in misogyny and sexualisation of womxn will lead to this. Everyone has the responsibility to make sure that we create a safer environment where womxn don’t have to live in fear. Where our pictures aren’t leaked and we aren’t topics of discussion. We have to start by deconstructing the idea of the society as we know it and begin to replace it with a kinder, softer and healthier space.

And it has to start now. Go have that difficult conversation with your boys. Your five minutes of discomfort is nothing compared to a lifetime of trauma that womxn face. Step up, now. 

The collective trauma that womxn go through everyday is being normalized. “Haa this fear is normal, ya.” is what I hear from people all the time. The trauma is so internalised that we don’t even register it. It’s not normal to be scared for your life when you’re walking down the streets. And it’s not normal to be taught how to avoid rape. It’s not normal to think twice before wearing that mini-skirt. This is all not normal.

There’s a reason why womxn have more mental health issues like depression and anxiety than men. This is because of how we’re scared every time we step out. And how our personal spaces and safety keep being violated on an everyday basis. It’s the 21st century and it is high time that we make some radical changes.

While, yes, parenting and schools play a huge role in the individual development of the child, we need to remember that this society and the capitalistic + patriarchal system we’re living in is always going to encourage this sort of behavior. Until the media stops glorying this and until the capitalistic system changes into a more human-oriented system, there won’t be a safe space for womxn.

Omaiha Walajahi
Pause for Perspective