From World Leaders to Teenagers: How We Nurtured Many ‘Boys Locker Room’ Around Us

The evening of 3rd May saw a tremendous upheaval in several sections of young Indian Instagram and twitter. By late night #boyslockerroom had reached the top trending hashtags on Indian twitter. What kindled the outrage was the leaking of several outrageously lewd screengrabs of a private chat group on Instagram. The group titled “boys locker room” consisted of several highschool teenage boys from rich affluent families of south Delhi who had been outed by a fellow decent member of the group by leaking the contents.

Screenshot of Conversation in the Instagram group, ‘Bois Locker Room’, Source: Feminism In India

This seemingly benign group chat was used as a platform to share public and private pictures of their own female classmates and then subjected to ridicule, lecherous comments, and sexually explicit fantasies. Needless to say, the pictures were procured and distributed without the consent of the girls many of who were underage, like the boys themselves.  Within hours the screenshots were trending on major social media platforms and there were attempts to contact the parents of these boys or take some sort of legal action. As of now, DCW has taken cognizance of the issue and one school student has been detained by the Cyber Cell of the Delhi Police in connection with the group.

The first time that I ever heard the term “locker room talk” was during 2016 when the president of the United States, Donald Trump was accused of having extremely lewd conversations about several women. Trump responded to the allegations in a dismissive manner saying they were nothing but “locker room conversations”. He went on to accuse Bill Clinton of saying far worse things about women on a golf course and dismissed the allegations as an overhype to some harmless banter. It is interesting to note how male accountability (or lack thereof) shows the same patterns from average young boys to the highest leaders of a country.

‘Locker room conversation’ is an immensely misleading euphemism of casual daily objectification of women, the disrespect of women’s agency, and the blatant breach of boundaries and trust of women. Locker rooms here refer to changing and storage rooms used by men after testosterone pumped sports game where they chill out and discuss women sans any boundaries and respect.

“IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL”

Source: Behance

A defense or justification of this sort of behavior has come from adult men from all over the country who claimed the issue was being blown out of proportion. Surprisingly the defense and the outrage both had the same argument that “it’s all too common”. So we have one established fact for sure that locker room conversations or to put it simply, objectification of women has been a milestone in every young boy’s life continuing later into adulthood and manifesting itself in various forms. There’s no debate at the existence of such conversations at least.

The primary issue at hand is absolutely no one, even those defending these boys, condone rape yet are quick to defend the boys concerned. Almost the entire country demands rapists of any much-popularised case ‘be punished under the strictest laws and not be spared’. Almost everyone agrees rapists shouldn’t be spared. So why do we have a culture of rape in our seemingly righteous society? It stems primarily from the fact that the definition of rape has been highly restricted and several parameters and criteria are to be checked simultaneously for an incident to be classified as rape.

Men take the liberty to draw the lines of decency and assault themselves. The idea of rape being such an unspeakable, unbelievable ghastly act has led to the belief that such incidents occur in an alternate reality and that too infrequently. The idea of a rapist being a cruel, unempathetic monster has dehumanized the rapist to the extent that it is unbelievable to people that a young school-going boy, a loving husband, a doting father, an educated academician could ever be the one to rape.

Rape has been relegated to such a restricted definition that nothing except the vision of violent physical force on women qualifies as rape. In many cases, even this violent image doesn’t suffice. Such strict definitions and nomenclatures help only in evading accountability. Acts of coerced consent, drunk consent, pedophilia, non-consensual sexual activities, redacting of consent, etc do not even make it to the list of rape checklist.

They are dismissed as miscommunication or “bad sex”. Moreover, several relations like that of boyfriend, ex-boyfriends, husbands cannot even be accused of rape since they are entitled to free access to their female partner’s body at all times.

RAPE CULTURE

It is a weird scenario since the outrage on social media and in several places or the lack thereof is just because of definitions at this point. There are no differing opinions on the complicity of the boys or the existence of such several groups or even the existence of such banter. The difference of opinion is ‘how seriously such a “hormonal teenage banter” is to be taken’.

Source: Rachel Levit

Firstly the fact that needs to be debunked is to classify such breach of privacies and disregard of consent as “just a phase”. Primarily because there is no dearth of experiences of women facing the same at the hands of grown, adult men. Moreover the promulgation of pseudo-scientific arguments about the male brain being meant to “mate” or hardwired to give in to “primal instincts” or men being visual and tactile creatures etc. is a poor attempt to justify one’s perverted fantasies with science. (Yes, these are some arguments presented in ostentatious language by educated people in order to justify abusive behavior.)

There is a fine line of demarcation between teenagers feeling first pangs of attraction during puberty and teenagers following patterns of passive harassment and potential abuse and rape fantasies.

Surprisingly, the entire debacle did not come as news to most women who are well aware of how an unspoken cis-masculine code exists of entitlement and enabling. The fact that such call outs are inadvertently accompanied by massive support from cis men of all ages and places goes only to prove how many rapists and assaulters do not function in isolation. They are surrounded by a group of enablers; the group of such like-minded people tends to hide their complicity and veil their guilty conscience by either downplaying or invaliding the accusations.

What needs urgent notice is the fact that several young girls from premiere institutes have come forward sharing similar stories of passive-aggressive assault threats, revenge porn, nonconsensual distribution of pictures, slandering, and mental and physical abuse. Some institutes to be trending as of now are SRM, Jadavpur University, NLIU among others. This string of call out could very well launch another wave of MeToo in India. The extent of normalization of assault fantasies in cahoots with friends(read: enablers) is what rape culture is primarily composed of.

Source: The New York Times

Rape culture is an environment that creates encouraging conditions for potential sexual assaults and normalizes the promotion of the same. The sharing of non-consensual pictures, the lecherousness beneath consensual pictures, the graphic fantasies of rape, and the confessions of the same are not silly, naughty banter. They have the potential to ruin the lives of young girls many of who face several years of trauma and bullying. Even if the acts do not translate into rapes, the mere fact of having your privacy breached and made an object of humiliation before thousands of people on social media can take a great toll on someone’s mental health.

WHAT IF IT HAPPENED TO YOUR MOTHER AND SISTER.

The root of most instances of sexual assault needs to be recognized as male entitlement to the female body. Be it stealthing or forced consent or marital rapes or distribution of private pictures, cis-men are made to believe they must have all-time access to women’s bodies.

It’s worse if the woman in question actually did consent to an encounter with one of them; the entitlement leads them to believe the consent cannot be redacted or worse, it’s not important. The constant dehumanization of women and reduction to objects of acquirement and achievement leads men to believe they must at all times boast of their feats.

The idea of maintaining “body counts” and bragging about sexual escapades reduces sexual activities from a mutual act to a more one-sided narrative. Casual locker room talks encourage the belief that sexual activities are about “doing something “ to another person, usually inferior, instead of it being or reciprocated simultaneously. The agencies of women in question are disregarded even in cases where women have consensually shared their intimate pictures or texts with their partners leading to the distribution of the same to even strangers. Why? Because rape culture convinces cismen that sex or intimacy isn’t a mutual act and women must not own the right to deny sex or their bodies, that once acquired it must not be lost, that you now own the body, the agency, the chats, the pictures and even the very narrative of sex.

Source: New Yorker

Here comes the age-old argument of “what if it happened to your mother or sister?”

Apart from the evident issue of this being a highly unempathetic question to the women in abusers’ family, it is often ignored how this question itself is rooted in male entitlement. One expects a rage when an abuser’s female relatives are spoken of in lewd terms but why would the lecherousness anger them when they regularly bestow the same on other women?

Because the dynamics of objectification and entitlement create an interesting pattern.  Female family members are often seen as “property” (for lack of better words) or self-owned goods to be protected hence the outraging of modesty of a man’s “possession” is seen as an outrage to himself.

Any rage that comes at lewdness only towards one’s mother or sister or wife does not come from a place of justice and respect but from a place of possessiveness as per which no man can claim what one already “owns”.

Whereas female friends, classmates, acquaintances, and complete strangers are viewed as a ‘no man’s responsibility”, free to be possessed or claimed. Such questions only further take away the agency of women by defining their worth in terms of their relation to men.

“HOW CAN BOYS FROM SUCH AFFLUENT FAMILIES SAY THAT?” AND OTHER HYPOCRITICAL OUTRAGE.

Source: The New York Times

One of the most widely remarked comments in the entire debacle has been about the social class of the accused boys in the group chat. “How could sons of educated people say that”. “ How can boys of affluent classy families be that way?”.  Such remarks only show the deep-seated class/caste bias in our society where women are told to shield themselves from rickshaw-wallah bhaiyas and bus conductors and sabzi wallah bhaiyas.

Post the gangrape and murder of Telangana vet in November 2019, social media brimmed with calls from upper caste-class men and women calling for public execution and flogging of all truck drivers. Popular media has also lead people to believe that fair, coveted women are being “pursued” and “woo-ed”  when men of an equal class stalk and harass them whereas she must conceal and “save” herself from lecherous anti-heroes who are often depicted as lower-class criminals.

Source: The Nation

In my opinion, the reason why the rage built in this particular case is not because it was something incredulous or unexpected, neither was it because of the social standing of the boys’ families but rather had to do with the social standing of the girls who were victims in the unfortunate group chat. The girls being objectified in the group share the same social and class privileges as the boys. The way caste-class privileges play out in this country, it cannot be ignored how often the voices of “other women” are unheard, unheeded. Women of the marginalized sections have time and again called out men in powerful positions and with immense social capital but they fell on deaf ears.

The most recent example would be Muslim women being hounded on social media for protesting against the government. We have had a mind-numbing amount of hate-filled sexual messages in our inboxes, rape threats, and lewd commentary, which were regularly ignored and seen as part and parcel of being vocal.

Another incident would be the nationwide lusting over Kashmiri women post the changes in article 370. Kashmiri women were spoken of in the same terms as Kashmiri land and resources to be acquired, owned, and used and for days social media overflowed with obscene posts from men of educated and affluent households. The very fact that this did not receive any outrage from Indian feminist circles proves the movement is not without fault and actively benefits only a few women. Bandaid solutions of legal actions and account suspensions are taken which, to be honest, is impossible to achieve for most women of marginalized sections.

I do not know what will happen to the boys and the FIRs against them, maybe lawyers would be called in or out of court settlements would be reached; all such solutions seem like privileges that few have in a country with a judicial system as ours. There seems to be no respite in sight for women without the means to hire an advocate or without the social capital on the internet required to garner enough attention. Meanwhile, the myth of the poor illiterate potential rapist and the rich educated relentlessly pursuing loverboy continues.

ANY REMEDIAL?

It is natural to look for immediate bandaid solutions in order to vent the frustration of insecurity women have been feeling since their births. As much as third-wave feminism and social media have brought men to instant accountability, there seems to be no change in the culture of rape on the ground level.

 

It is near to impossible to make grown men understand the concept of consent when they have grown up believing they are entitled to women’s bodies and the society does nothing to disprove it.

Efforts need to be made at the root level in order to introduce sex education from an early age. Children need to be made aware of the dynamics of intimacy and sex and understand these as acts of mutual pleasure instead of a one-sided marathon to achieve a trophy or to increase your “count”.

Moreover, the concept of consent, privacy, nonverbal communication, and boundaries need to be ingrained at a young age. There should be strict disciplinary actions at educational institutes and workplaces against molesters or harassers or even mildly uncomfortable conversations. A good place as of now would be to start talking to your younger siblings and children, to stop shielding your friends who have been enablers and abusers, and to constantly introspect our own selves in order to unlearn universal misogyny.

Until then, there seems little hope in sight.

Hanan Irfan
Hanan Irfan

A voracious reader, writer, literary critique, social activist, engineer, and a raging feminist. A political enthusiast and a feverish debater. Ever likely to be found around a stack of books, free Wi-Fi and a power point. Tries to paint and fails.

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