The entire country went into a state of shock when an Instagram Group Chat which callously objectified and directed rape threats at minor girls was leaked.
Social narratives frame individual and collective actions and determine the levels of acceptable behaviour in any community. Deviances from acceptable behaviour generate a shock amongst community members since they contradict their core shared values. However, deviances are reflective of underlying and subtle forces in discourse that we usually ignore, invisiblize or dismiss.
Toxic masculinity and rape culture are rampant in Indian society. It manifests itself in the form of victim-blaming in social and legal discourse, rape and molestation jokes in movies and television, subtle social narratives that lead to the acceptability of predatory behaviour on part of men and finally the higher burden of purity and virtue on women. These complex narratives shape individual thoughts, ideologies, and action from the early stages of psychological development. Masculinity is characterized by many as the measure of a man’s strength and his ability to dominate those around them. Premium is attached to men’s ability to exercise control on those around them without even paying heed to its impact on women, and even other men.
Passing problematic behaviour off by claiming that ‘Boys Will be Boys’ is just the tip of the iceberg.
The fact that the members of the ‘Bois Locker Room’ group belonged to the same circles as the targets of these conversations added to the shock value and public condemnation. Whilst public support for survivors and victims is a progressive marker, this group chat does not warrant shock or surprise since it is reflective of the misogynistic culture that we have all grown up in. It is reflective of the movies that we have popularized, the ideologies of the politicians who we elect to power, the religious scriptures that we have internalized through rituals and by the levels at which we accept and pass off rape culture and violent behaviour on part of men.
Patriarchy has crept into all walks of life and its greatest impact is psychological. It frames narratives, ideas and even actions to such an extent which makes people ignore not just legal but also humanistic values. In the absence of accessibility of schoolboys to conducive and positive feminist counter-narratives, they continue to perpetuate and even become victims of toxic masculinity. Feminist counter-narratives can be introduced at the school level through positive sex education, facilitating the understanding of consent, strengthening anti-bullying regulation and introducing empowering and progressive tropes through media and curriculum.
The ‘Bois Locker Room’ conversations are reflected in our everyday behaviour and conversations. Even if they are not as explicit as the level of outright threats and objectification – they are also manifestations of toxic masculinity. The acceptance of this level of misogynistic behaviour (even at the level of sexist jokes) creates a culture that promotes more harmful behaviour. Passing problematic behaviour off by claiming that ‘Boys Will be Boys’ is just the tip of the iceberg.
Blaming a few young boys and making them scapegoats for larger social problems is an easy but ineffective solution.
Toxic masculinity benefits nobody. Not only does it yield significant levels of physical and mental harm for women, but it also does so for men in the long run. There is a need to challenge preexisting social narratives around masculinity and gender roles that are presently taken for granted. Feminist discourse has come a long way in creating legal provisions for the protection of women in educational spaces and workspaces.
Sexual harassment laws in India (including the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act and The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act) have already provided protection to women against more implicit forms of harassment as well. However, the actualization of legal rights demands a change in social narratives and behaviour. It is the responsibility of parents, teachers and anyone who controls social narratives to promote feminist discourse to an extent that it brings about a positive change in the thinking and behaviour of young Indian men.
Blaming a few young boys and making them scapegoats for larger social problems is an easy but ineffective solution. True change can only occur when we take up the difficult task of changing social narratives that have existed in our communities for centuries and have created a culture of oppression and violence against women.
Featured image used for representational purpose only. Image source: Mashable India