1. The Story

“Bois Locker Room” is a private instagram group of young teenage school boys, aged between 13 and 17 of prominent schools in Delhi. This group seems to have started as a meme group on Instagram – one of those fun groups where teenagers bond by exchanging jokes, silly videos and more. By the time it had around 50 members, it had morphed into a vile exchange of gang-raping girls and sharing nude pictures of girls and young women. They made lewd comments on their underage classmates, the way they look and their dressing sense in a derogatory manner. There is talk of rape and gang-rape – “we will together gang-rape her” is one of the comments, thus glorifying rape. Some photos of girls were even morphed for entertainment.

This is how rape culture takes root in children. And rape is normalised!

To their group, the boys added girls whose pictures they were posting and when any girl protested, including the one who finally made it public, they threatened her with gang-rape. They were arrogant and confident that nothing could happen to them.

The girl from South Delhi had shared screenshots of this instagram group chats on 3rd May 2020. She wrote: “A group of South Delhi guys ages 17-18 types have this ig gc (Instagram group chat) named “Bois locker room” where they objectify and morph pictures of girls their age. Two boys from my school are a part of it.”

The girl further went on to expose the names of these boys. She shared a screenshot with the list of participants of the group.

Lots of parents do not know what their teenage boys and girls are doing.

“Bois Locker Room” is not merely a group of teenage students that got exposed and needs to be punished. This is a thinking – a sick and toxic masculine mentality – that needs to be cured from its roots. If we are just talking about indecent pictures being shared or leaked, language being bizarre, then still we are lacking something. The right question that needs to be asked is: why do these boys think like this? Why do they see girls and women with such eyesight?

“Bois Locker Room” raises several questions:

  1. Are we raising our children right?
  2. Can there ever be gender equality?
  3. Can we women stop being objectified?
  4. Why were there girls in the chat group “Bois Locker Room”?
  5. Has our society failed to develop mutual respect between genders?
  6. Is there any flaw in the education system?

What is at stake is, not just girls, but humanity, decency, society, innocence! These need to be saved. First we need to break our mental barriers. We have to stop thinking and saying “what can we do?” It’s our children, it’s our society! And we have to step in to save it. So we need to gather our courage, voice it out, say no to victim shaming, demand justice, generate little fear, build strong communications. We need to open locks of our mental barriers to avoid generating more “Bois Locker Rooms”.

  1. “Boys will be Boys”

Who are responsible for the sick, toxic masculine mentality of the school children of the private Instagram group “Bois Locker Room”? Is it the parents’ fault for not teaching their children? How entrenched are we, as a society, in toxic masculinity and rape culture? How do chats like “Bois Locker Room” chats perpetuate it?

Let’s have a closer look.

Looking at the stories, comments and the pictures posted on “Bois Locker Room” makes one to bow their head down with shame. But such behaviour is hardly surprising!

Because the saying “boys will be boys” is still very much a part of our vocabulary. This saying has long been used as the perfect excuse for sick, toxic masculinity and behaviour that stems from it. If a boy is aggressive, it’s because “boys will be boys”. If he is loud, it’s because “boys will be boys”. If he is demanding, it’s because “boys will be boys”.

A boy grows up in a household where he is allowed to do anything he wants. Cultural stereotypes of “boy” and “girl” are passed down from generation to generation. Boys are never asked to help in the kitchen, while it is a girl’s job to do so. Boys are allowed to go out with their friends, while girls need to do chores before anything else. Girls are told constantly that it is their responsibility to be safe. As if boys have no responsibility to keep themselves in check!

Thus, the upbringing of boys as “boys” inculcates a superiority mindset in boys.

This inculcated male superiority mindset is reinforced by the mainstreaming of pornography. There is the vastly increased imprint of pornography in popular culture. This is accelerated by both the fact that pornography has become available in greater quantities and the fact that it is easily available. Parallel to the greater supply and availability, “there is a clean-up tendency, through which regular pornography becomes respectable.” This clean-up is done by fashion industry, advertising industry, movies, SMS texting jargon, music videos and the mass media, and now-a- days sports. Take for example the Indian Premier League (IPL). The introduction of cheerleading into the IPL with gyrating “white” women with skin tight and skimpy clothes to entice crowds feeds deeper, insidious notions about sexuality. The 22–year old cheerleader from South Africa who was thrown out of IPL for revealing in her blog some of the activities in the IPL night parties, described how the dance routines and the normal workouts of cheerleaders were rejigged to make it more of show of their body than about the original concept of cheerleading. No wonder she stated in one of her blogs, “We are practically like walking porn.”

The mainstreaming of pornography gives rise to a set of problems. The gender-role stereotype presented by pornography seeps into the popular culture: women exhibit themselves, allure with voluptuous movements and then provide sexual servicing; and the men fall for it and are virile. This portrayal is increasingly present in the advertisements and fashion. This one-dimensional, limited representation of gender is pervading the popular culture and thus becoming the sole valid view of femininity and masculinity.

Pornography, at its core, is sexualising of male domination and female subordination. Women are portrayed as not fully human beings but objects for the sexual pleasure of men. So they become the targets of cruelty and degradation for the sadistic pleasure of men. The predatory industry of pornography that encourages exploitation for profit undermines other values such as respect, dignity and equality. It numbs the critical faculties of men from recognising the cruelty and degradation towards women, and that women are human beings with flesh and blood like them.

The boys, who consume the freely available and easily accessible images of pornography, are conditioned to see themselves as dominant over girls. Cruelty and degradation of girls fit easily into their notion of gender. To see girls as persons deserving respect and dignity – to see them fully human – would change the status quo! To be a “real” man, he should dominate her. She should follow orders. If he asks out a girl, and if she says “no”, he will run after her anyway, because she is supposed to say “yes”. And even if she says “no”, he chases after her. Still no? He gets her private photos, talks about having sex with her as if she is a mere object that he can touch and use her for sexual pleasure as he wishes. He doesn’t know what consent is at all, much less that it is necessary.

Moreover, the anonymity of the internet gives boys a false sense of power. This emboldens them to indulge in online abuse, taking the form of verbal abusive messages and morphed girls’ images, and using images of girls without their consent like in the case of “Bois Locker Room”. Internet chat groups, from time immemorial, have indulged in similar and often even more repugnant behaviour. Such groups allow for the exchange of misogynistic ideas, which would otherwise be frowned upon, by creating a space where no one needs to be on their best behaviour. It’s a safe space for hormonal teenagers to let their inner creep.

After the “Bois Locker Room” activities were exposed, an 18-year old boy told his mother that it is not the first time this has happened. He further told her a time when students were exchanging nudes of some girls in the school. The deal was – I will give you a picture, you buy me a Subway sandwich! Vicious behaviour like this propagates rape culture and puts the lives of girls in danger, making them feel unsafe all the time.

The problem is parents and others react only when incidents like “Bois Locker Room” come to light. There is no constant constructive conversation. Although this issue has been around for so long, nothing is done consistently. Parents should educate boys not to see or treat girls as pleasure toys. They need to teach them humanity. They should also talk to them about budding hormonal changes and how they influence them, and teach them how to control themselves and behave well. Don’t shy away. Be open. Otherwise lots of children can’t handle teenage. This is the age that decides whether they become responsible citizens or rapists. So guide them properly without shying away.

On the other hand, teenagers should also communicate and share with someone they trust, if they are complicit in such behaviour, so that they can navigate the pitfalls with some help. If they hear something that makes them uncomfortable, they should try to bring attention to it.

The bottom line is we have to stop normalising rape culture.  

  • Traditional Violent Indian Culture: Patriarchal Culture

The screenshot of the chat thread of “Bois Locker Room” reveals how casual and normalised rape culture is in India, and how entrenched we are, as a society, in toxic masculine and rape culture.

“Bois Locker Room” is an expected “normal” attitude and behaviour of boys in a patriarchal culture. Patriarchal culture normalises objectifying women and reducing them to nothing but looks – how attractive they are to male audience. “Item songs” in movies often focus on the female body parts men can lust over. Even the lyrics compare them to objects, thus degrading them. So when youngsters watch such movies, it is ok for them to objectify women.

Another thing completely normalised in a patriarchal culture is: no consent of women. Women are supposed to take orders from and accept unquestioningly the demands of men. Their consent is usually not asked, and even if they expressed that is ignored.

Patriarchal Culture

Although the Indian Constitution gives equal rights to all its citizens irrespective of their caste, gender and religion, this is yet to be realised even after 70 years of operation of the Constitution. The “Shining India” is still clouded with religion, caste, class, and gender based discrimination.

The traditional Indian patriarchal culture continues to structure our worldviews, mindsets, and our social world on the basis of male domination over woman and the denial of her full humanity and right to equality. Today, woman’s increasing presence in once exclusive male domains, her growing social and economic empowerment, her increased mobility and assertion of her freedom, rights, and independence are perceived as a threat to the traditional Indian culture.

The patriarchal culture demands woman to emulate mythical women like Sita, who showed unquestioning obedience to her husband Ram. She has to serve her husband and home. So her permanent domain is kitchen, even if she has a salaried employment. Ironically, a woman’s labour at home is not valued! Any woman who violates this tradition-imposed norm is not a woman of “substance”. The culture highlights woman as a womb that attains fulfillment in motherhood. So a woman has a limited freedom of choice to express herself and no value in her own self. Her dignity, freedom, value, and rights are curtailed by the tradition, of which she is the bearer. Thus, woman, by being the bearer of the tradition, is made to implement “death sentence” on herself.

The shackles around woman are tightened with a demand on her to be “pure” or to protect her “modesty”. The fear of being violated of her “modesty” restricts her of her movements, dreams, and exercise of her rights and potential. It makes her more vulnerable. It is important to understand why “rape” laws are explained in terms of “outraging” woman’s “modesty”. All laws are related to the fact that the social system defined by the power elite ensured that a woman remains guilty forever once she has been violated. In the traditional patriarchal culture, “shame” is attached to the female victim and her family, not to the male perpetrators. Probably, this is the reason why the name of the rape victim was not made public.

Thus, the patriarchal culture fosters a “culture of rape”, violent abuse of the weak, the underprivileged, and the deprived. This “culture of rape” is bred in our homes. In the modern, “civilized”, and increasingly urbanised India, the female child in her mother’s womb is as vulnerable as girls and women in the society. The only difference is that the very people who would have brought her into the world – her parents – exterminate her when she is in the place considered to be safest – her mother’s womb. Her crime – not being a male! The preference for a male child to that of a girl in India has led to the dangerous trend of eliminating girls through practices like female feticide and female infanticide. The antenatal sex determination tests have furthered the practice of selective abortion of female fetuses.

To have a daughter is acceptable if the couple has already a son, but a daughter’s arrival is unwelcome if the couple has a daughter already. With more money and material demanded in dowry, a girl has become a potential financial drain on parents. So girl is no longer desired. Moreover, sons are traditionally viewed as the main breadwinners who will take care of the family, continue the family name and perform the last rites of the parents – an important ritual in many faiths.

An old folk song in Uttar Pradesh illustrates the agony of a mother:

Oh God, I beg of you,

I touch your feet time and again,

Next birth don’t give me a daughter,

Give me Hell instead …

Even if a girl is allowed to live, gender bias starts within the family where girls are neglected in terms of their food, health, and education. By depriving them of their basic necessities, a culture of dependency is established. The unequal power relations are promoted by celebrations such as Karva Chauth and Raksha Bandhan. They reaffirm that girls should live under the protection of boys. Subordination of women is made complete through violence against women. No woman is exempt from this, be it rich or poor, educated or illiterate, urban or rural. It is only the degree and nature of violence that differs. Their bodies are violated and objectified. Women do not have the freedom either to live or to die. In a sense, women are deprived of the basic human right to live a life with dignity.

Gender Justice should not be a forlorn cry of a few but should start at home, for that is where the meaning and dignity of life is either asserted or shattered. Gender discrimination is, probably, seen only among human beings. Animals never display discrimination in the kids on the basis of gender. Have you ever seen a dog feeding only its male puppies? Have you ever seen a lion or lioness killing its female cubs? It is only among human beings that such crude preference for male child is visible to the extent that parents on not conceiving the right gender can go to an extent of exterminating the baby. In the process what is forgotten is that both male and female are equally required to carry forward the human species. And both are equally important for the wellbeing, growth and development of family, society and world. Equal opportunities for girls and women to education, income and political power, and a change in the mindset of both men and women regarding female child will contribute to that end.

If we are serious about realising the ideal of equality of women and men and wish to create equal opportunities for women and men, it is imperative that alternative popular cultural images and narratives about gender are created for girls and boys, and young women and men. If there are no images and stories of women who contribute for the development of society like female educators, community developers, medical professionals, engineers and activists, or of vulnerable, caring and loving fathers, how can the new generation ever realise that these possibilities exist? And how are they to learn that gender need not limit options? Probably an alternate media and/or community based media should promote the diversity of gender representation in order to counter the one-dimensional, limited representation of gender promoted by the popular media.

Sources

Aleesha Matharu, “Boys Will Be Boys, If We Stay Silent About ‘Locker Room’ Talk.” https://livewire.thewire.in/gender-and-sexuality/boys-will-be-boys-if-we-stay-silent-about-locker-room-talk/

Kamalakar Duvvuru, “Success Story of ‘Shining India’.” https://dissidentvoice.org/2013/02/success-story-of-shining-india/

“’Bois Locker Room’ – New Incident But Same Old Rape Culture.” https://audioboom.com/posts/7574552-bois-locker-room-new-incident-but-same-old-rape-culture

“’Bois Locker Room’: Whistleblower tells NDTV what led him to expose the contents of the online group.” https://scroll.in/video/961259/bois-locker-room-whistleblower-tells-ndtv-what-led-him-to-expose-the-contents-of-the-online-group

“What Is Bois Locker Room: DCW Issues Notice To Instagram, Delhi Police Cyber Cell Begins Probe.” https://news.abplive.com/news/what-is-bois-locker-room-on-instagram-delhi-boys-glorify-rape-culture-1228066

“What My Teen Sons Taught Me About #Bois Locker Room.” https://www.ndtv.com/blog/what-my-teen-sons-taught-me-about-boislockerroom-2223440

Kamalakar Duvvuru teaches the New Testament with an objective of promoting peace, justice, unity and love. He can be reached at kamalakar.duvvur@gmail.com


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