What followed next, and is still going on, is a drill we women are so familiar with, you’d think we live it every day. Oh, but we do. And yet, the sheer audacity of it all made my insides crawl. The girl who had shared screenshots of the group chat and exposed its participants’ Instagram handles had her account hacked.
According to the next few screenshots, the alleged admins of the chat brazenly declared (with the confidence of a C-grade movie villain’s son) that nobody would be able to do anything to them, they would create a new chat with different handles, and they would leak photos of the girls who were speaking out against them to teach them a lesson. There was also a screenshot being circulated of a Snapchat chat where two guys were quite matter-of-factly discussing gang-raping a girl. However, it was eventually revealed that this was from an unrelated incident and falsely interjected into this narrative. Because what is news these days without some tampering.
While all this was happening, the victim shamers, defenders and #NotAllMen activists jumped right into the fray, defending the honour of a population that has never needed it in the first place. They assassinated the characters of the girls who chose to speak up. Their arguments, carefully practiced, rehearsed, and perfected through years of patriarchal upbringing, had quite the range.
1. Why were the girls sending such pictures to the boys in the first place?
2. Boys will be boys.
3. This is how boys talk when girls are not around.
4. The girl who spoke up is just doing this for fame. Look at her photos, she wants the attention.
5. Some boys were just added to the group but not participating. At least don’t ruin their lives by exposing them.
6. Stop generalizing. #NotAllMen are like that.
7. Feminazis need to relax. This is just a bit of harmless fun; we all do it.
8. Rape hua toh nahi na?
9. Why didn’t the boys’ and girls’ parents keep them under control?
10. Woh photos milenge kya?
The last one shouldn’t be surprising at all. There’s a reason a new group chat was created immediately after the first one was exposed (allegedly). There’s a desperation, a need, a powerplay here.
What is shocking is how obsessive these teenage boys could be in the pursuit of their sexual fantasies that they were undeterred even in the face of potential legal action. Instant gratification without the fear of consequences is the motto of our generation, after all.
The final move in this sleazy game of strip chess was made when, in a perfectly timed masterstroke, screenshots were released of something called ‘Girls Locker Room’ and ‘Hot Boy Memes’. These were meant to prove that girls also judged and rated and objectified boys, as bad as the boys did the girls. Some will say the chats were doctored. And if I were to tell you I believed that, the haters will say, the author is biased.
Of course, I wouldn’t back down. I’d retaliate that, no, I am just pointing out that these are diversionary tactics used by men (and even women who support these men) to deviate attention from the main issue, which is that these underage boys have displayed great maturity when they dealt in criminal acts amounting to sexual harassment, child pornography, cyberbullying and intent to rape during these ‘innocent and fun’ chats with their friends.
And again, repeat arguments 1-10 listed above.
Thus, the infinite discourse goes on and on. ‘Feminism’, much like ‘Secularism’ or ‘Liberal’, has been denigrated as a filthy word. If you’re a feminist, you’re angry, biased, leftist, a male-basher, disrespectful of Indian culture, and every gauche thing imaginable. So even if the woman you are defending has an absolutely spotless record, there will always be a way to prove that she might’ve done something to ‘tempt’ or ‘provoke’ such a crime upon her.
So, then, let’s not talk about either the boys or the girls at the centre of the Bois Locker Room fiasco. Let’s not hold either of them in these conversations guilty just yet. They’re ‘just children’ right? How about the finger we’re waiting to point at the true perpetrator be turned and pointed at us, a society drenched in patriarchy that squashes female voice and pleasure with the same vigour as it shuts down any conversation about sex, unless it is between same-age, same-sex peers, behind closed doors, and sleazy? As a society, we’ve normalised ‘locker-room talks’ or ‘boy talks’ as something that just happens behind closed doors, no questions asked. It’s just boys blowing off some steam, we say, letting the doors remain shut on the conversations lest we become privy to those conversations and titillate our own demons.
When it comes to sex, we are all hypocrites. We like to do it. We like to watch it. We encourage it when it is about propagation. But when it comes to talking about it, openly and maturely for pleasure, there’s an obvious hesitation, a shudder, a cringe, even. We’re okay if our children get their sexual education from American frat-boy movies and Bollywood, porn sites, magazines, video games and racy erotica. And let’s be honest, these are not exactly bad things; they’re mostly a rite of passage for adolescents, who’re only just discovering pleasure and romance. The problem arises when we let these be the ONLY guides for sex available to young minds.
These fantastical notions, coupled with the tiptoeing and euphemism around sex talk and Victorian-era notions of female sexuality give these children a mixed message.
Masturbation is a man’s domain; women shouldn’t talk about it. But men love to hear about women who masturbate. When a girl says no, she means yes. If you stalk her but you do it out of love, it is okay. But also, a girl is this delicate flower who’s virtue, and her family’s honour, lie in her vagina. So even if you love her, pre-marital anything is bad. Men enjoy sex and deem it so pleasurable that they want to do it all the time. But a woman’s pleasure doesn’t exist, just like her mythical g-spot. Except if the woman is of ‘questionable’ character, then she is wild in bed and wants it. Oh but wait, a woman must be an enchantress in bed and unleash her sensual side to keep her man enticed enough so he doesn’t rover. And finally, homosexuality is a sin in God’s eye. But a man’s ultimate fantasy is two women making out.
You see this labyrinth? See the problem? Most of the information on sex that emanates from movies, television, shady corners of the Internet and peer groups only drives young boys and girls all over this maze, without leading them to the centre. What’s at this centre? Awareness and education that can teach them to separate sex from gender, facts from fake information, and consent from non-consent, amongst other important distinctions. At this point is equality, respect and most importantly, pleasure. The right kind.
How do we get there? Well, clearly, not by NOT TALKING about it. For adolescents, sex is like the forbidden fruit. The smuggled item. The candy on the shelf that you’re not supposed to eat until you’re explicitly allowed to. Naturally, they’ll try to jump at it the first chance they get. Instead, sex education, which has hitherto been shown the same enthusiasm in India as talking about religion, needs to be normalised.
Now, I am not saying this delectable forbidden fruit be turned into your garden variety lauki ki sabzi. No, that’ll never happen. It is too idealistic to hope that sex becomes nonchalant dinner time conversation between kids and parents. What it can become is a topic that children don’t feel shy or awkward to talk about with their parents. This can only happen if the parents, first, aren’t shy and awkward when talking to their kids in the first place.
With a decent and understanding support system at home, the children are now confident enough to talk about it in school, a place where sex education should become a compulsory part of the curriculum. And no, not in a way where girls and boys are taken to different classrooms, shown a picture of the female and male reproductive system and told to not have sex until they get married. Reproductive systems, menstruation, PCOS, sexual gratification, contraception, fetishes, female pleasure, homosexuality, STDs, gender spectrum, something as basic as good and bad touch, need to be talked about.
Schools need to be equipped or at least have referral programs for sexual guidance counsellors who can educate the youth from a young age. You have to catch them young, yes, because kids these days are maturing faster than you can say ‘old’.
Let’s admit it, it is never going to be possible to monitor your child’s every move. The more technology and security you employ to keep them subdued, the more hacks they’ll find to outsmart you. This is the digital generation that knows more than you do. Ironically, this overpowering over-smartness has been unable to help them differentiate between right and wrong when it comes to a lot of things, including sex.
So you don’t have to prohibit porn or shame them for reading Fifty Shades of Grey. They’re going to do it anyway, and they’ll make sure you never find out they did it. Instead, as a parent or counsellor, or even an adult sibling or peer, what you need to do is teach them that porn is unrealistic and fake, and that BDSM is a fetish which is completely okay to have. Don’t stop them from sexting; instead, educate them about all the privacy controls, precautions, and consequences, so they can make informed decisions. Teach them about male and female pleasure, about how important explicit consent is, and even when that is given, things can be tricky. Don’t repress their sexual needs, instead teach them to channel it correctly. Cultivate in them respect, body positivity and a curiosity to seek the right information from the right sources. Most importantly, assure them that they can come to you, no matter how perverse they think the situation is.
Alas, in India, this is a practice that is going to take undoing years and years of patriarchal moulding which puts men’s pleasure above everything else, and gives them a right to treat women as mere objects for their gratification. When cases like Bois Locker Room pop up, and women muster courage to speak up against it, their voices are stifled and muted. We let these ‘boys’ go scot free or with a rap on the knuckles when they should be given a mixture of punitive and reformative education to truly ensure this doesn’t happen again.
As parents born out of and giving birth to a new generation, we have the chance to rectify the course we as a society are on. But if we, in our arrogance and attitude and denial keep to the same collision course we’ve been on for all these centuries, it is all going to crash and blow up into our faces. Our ‘Bois’ will never be ‘Men’. And our girls will never be the women they fully want to be.
And then when rape, sexual assault, molestation, and eve teasing are reported, we will wonder in all our naïvette, “Yeh kaise ho gaya?”
Cover Artwork: Dhaval Punatar