Questioning Her ‘Safe Agents’: An Analysis Of Family And Schooling Practices In Response To ‘Bois Locker Room’

Co-Written by Shilpi Shikha Phukan, Rinzing Ongmu Sherpa and Garima Rath.

Cartoon by Li Feng

Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic depression, another issue that hit the internet recently is the ‘bois locker room’ controversy. Bois Locker Room, a closed Instagram page of elite South Delhi school-boys uploaded explicit sexual content of minor girls, objectifying women bodies to the extent of normalizing rape culture. The Delhi Commission for Women had timely taken actions against the admin and members of the group. However, it reopened an array of questions on gender-sensitive curriculum and school practices. In this article, we argue that one cannot understand this event only as a failure of the school system, but should address the inherent patriarchy embedded in our societies. Unfolding our memories of ‘becoming woman’ in three different states of India- Assam, Odisha and Sikkim, we analyze the idea of ‘schooling the body’, first within family as the primary unit of socialization and then in schools which is a reflection of the larger society.

Marcel Maus (1973) argued that Culture is ‘not just a matter of cognitive or symbolic knowledge, but entails an education into socially sanctioned bodily techniques, dispositions and sensory orientations to the world’ [i]. Thus, the way our bodies act and react, thereby adhere strictly to culturally appropriated social sanctions. And these social sanctions are taught to us first through the family and later the school. This socialization begins with the idea that gender differences are biological without taking into consideration the social and cultural construct of gender. As per the notion in North-India a woman is akin to a field  where the man lays his ‘seeds’, indicating that the role of a woman is only limited to the idea of reproduction [ii]. Likewise, the commonsensical idea of purity and pollution is always associated with women. For example, biological or natural processes related to women’s body such as menstruation or childbirth are considered polluting. In Assamese Hindu society menstruation is highly polluting that during puberty the girl is kept in segregation for at least seven days, till a ceremony called tuloni biya is celebrated to mark her womanhood. These are numerous such instances in how a body of a woman have become a site of reinforcing patriarchy.

The purity of women is inherently related to the honor of the family. This notion indicates that a woman’s sexuality needs to be controlled, and if let ‘loose’ she might bring dishonor to the family. Controlling women is central to patriarchy as it disables the woman’s agency to make a univocal choice. Thus, girls from a very young age are taught to walk on egg-shells lest the society gives them labels. Most of them grow up adhering to such patterns throughout their lives, thereby becoming culturally suppressing. Talking and laughing aloud, ‘standing and sitting in a particular posture, dressing ‘unconventionally’, or even merely applying bright lipstick, labels a woman as being provocative and ‘inviting’ men. For example, the Nepali proverb, keti bhayera biralu ko chaal ma hinnu parcha meaning a woman should tip toe like a cat in silence. The outspoken, dominating or unconventional women are ridiculed and made part of family jokes (for e.g. in Odiya the terms kusanskari or belajya are used to describe such women). Such commands over women’s behavior are imposed by both men and women. Thus, women too, have been active agents in perpetuating patriarchy of all kinds.

This ‘tragic pattern of socialization’ [iii] in families also reflects in the school practices. Schools are not monolithic entities that just constitute a world in themselves, but instead, they are also related to the larger society and in turn, are affected by it.  The unequal gender relations in the family also reflect in school practices. For instance, classrooms outrightly have separate seating arrangements for boys and girls. Likewise, outside the classroom, there are subtle indications on how to interact with a person from the opposite gender. Schools are also sites where body-shaming gains legitimacy. A voluptuous girl gets objectified, girls being too-thin are considered non-desirable and effeminate boys are mocked off as gays. Such an attitude develops from deep-rooted hegemonic notions of an ideal body perpetuated by families and legitimized by societies.

Similarly, the orthodox attitude of looking at a menstruating woman differently and derogatorily is also reflected in schools. Both girls and boys are rarely educated about menstruating bodies, neither in school nor in the family.  Instead, the accepted norm is to maintain secrecy as it is considered a ‘taboo’. Girls often experience instances of boys and male teachers cracking jokes or shaming girls if they accidentally stain their skirt. Such cases reflect their insensitivity and ignorance towards the subject. These examples echo on how our bodies are under constant surveillance, and schools become physical spaces where those in authority constantly monitor. As Howson argues that ‘relations within such spaces are based on the observation of  many by the watchful eyes of the few, or on the “gaze” which judges as it observes and decides what fits – what is normal – and what does not’ [iv].

The discussion brings us to the question- what are we teaching in schools? Of course, there is no official curriculum in schools that explicitly teach gender. Still, the hidden curriculum and the pedagogical activities are often gender inappropriate and insensitive. Thus, women and marginalized gender not conforming to the standard societal norms are usually vulnerable to violence in school spaces. Therefore, the school brings us back to revisit the debates on patriarchy. Sylvia Walby, in her celebrated work ‘Theorizing Patriarchy’, defines it as a system of social relations and explains how it has led to women’s subordination in various ways in society. While there has been a definite shift in society, patriarchy too has taken new forms of reproducing itself.  In this context, it is also important to understand how patriarchy is actively present in our social institutions-religion, politics, media, education and so on. Thus, to address gender inequality and violence, we further need to draw our focus on intersectionalities that regulate our society. The Bois Locker Room incident is not merely a failure of the schooling system but is the result of a culmination of various such intersections.

Garima Rath, Rinzing Ongmu Sherpa and Shilpi Shikha Phukan are Doctoral Candidates at the Centre for Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Email:  [email protected][email protected][email protected]


End Notes

[i]Mauss, M. (1973), ‘Techniques of the body’, Economy and Society 2: 70–88.

[ii] Leela Dubey (1988), ‘On the Construction of Gender: Hindu Girls in Patrilineal India’. Economic and Political Weekly, 23(18), 11-19

[iii] Krishna Kumar (1986), ‘Growing up Male’, Seminar 318, 21-23.

[iv] Howson, A. (2004), ‘The Body in Society: An Introduction’, Oxford: Polity.




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