By Mansi Singh
A large number of people took to social media after the recent Boy’s Locker room incident to express their rage and anger and to play their part in confronting the problem. But a question of concern here is, “Is this locker room incident a standalone problem in itself?” The answer to this is a big no. This is neither a sole nor a standalone concern; rather the problem is with the reasons and causes that lead us here. The problem is with the normalization of these causes and reasons.
Before moving further, let’s just briefly describe the incident that has sparked this outrage. In the last two or three days, an Instagram group chat named as ‘Bois lockerroom’ (Boy’s Locker Room) which had about 26 members, all boys, came into limelight after their chats became public. These boys, who are minors (16-18 years old), would share morphed photographs of minor girls and talk disgustingly about their bodies, faces and particular body parts such as breasts. The comments body-shamed the girls, and talked about what what they want to do to them including gang-raping the girls. The chats were utterly disrespectful, ridiculous, misogynistic, a reflection of an extremely patriarchal mindset, and thus extremely condemnable. Not to mention that these constitute offences under various Indian laws. A similar incident was reported in Mumbai where eight students of a school got suspended for having indulged in explicitly sexist WhatsApp chat about their female classmate.
Yet, it cannot be considered as a standalone issue. The society in itself is a Locker Room?
We have been used to living in a society where body shaming women, disrespecting them, objectifying them, making mean comments and discussing whether a woman’s body has sex appeal or not, has been normalized. Women with some distinct body features would be prone to be ‘judged’ by men.
This has been made normal by many social forces, be it the upbringing of the child, be it the atmosphere she/he grows up in, be it Bollywood and its songs, or be it certain advertisements popping up on our television screens.
In one case, an advertisement for a deodorant shows that if you use it, then you’ll get laid. It is just normal to treat a woman as an object. The impacts of this generalization and objectification can be seen in shocking data of crimes against women. The number of cybercrimes increased dramatically by 77% in 2017 as compared to 2016, and nearly every fifth cybercrime in 2017 was committed against a woman. A total of 4,242 (19.5%) cases were committed against women and were associated with cyber pornography, cyber blackmailing or threatening, or with hosting or publishing obscene sexual materials, cyberstalking or cyberbullying of women, defamation, or morphing and indecent representation of women, etc.
Bollywood too never fails to disappoint us with such content. The hero is shown as a Macho who can freely slap the girl in the middle of a road just to express his frustration against the family of the girl. On top of this macho male image, there are plenty of songs that portray such horrible acts against women as a part of the instinct of a man.
We have been so habituated to misogynistic behaviour that whenever something outrageous happens we never fail to criticize the other side with a ‘high class’ curse word that is related to the word sister or mother.
In one of the innumerable such cases, after the Pulwama attack in February 2019, a hashtag ‘pkmkb’ was trending on Twitter in India – which made fun of Pakistani women’s private parts. And nobody showed rage back then because it was against Pakistan. Just last week, another hashtag, quite similar to the previous one, targeting an opposition party leader’s mother, trended on number two all over India. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, it didn’t generate such a buzz of criticism as it is happening now.
During August 2019, when the central government revoked Article 370 in Kashmir, several people were celebrating. One way they were celebrating it was by treating Kashmiri women merely as an object and celebrated the revocation because they believed that they could now marry them.
A very recent example of this phenomena are the comments being made against a student activist Safoora Zargar of Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) who has been booked under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for her alleged role in February 2020 violence in North East Delhi. After her arrest, the teacher’s body of JMI released a statement stating that she is 3 months pregnant and should not be arrested or kept under police custody. Even though she is married, Twitter was abuzz with misogynistic and potentially catastrophic tweets claiming that she is unmarried and got pregnant during the protests. People also started sharing objectionable graphics about her. Yet, there was no rage against these tweets. This is symptomatic of the fact that a section of society is indulging in doing these wrongs and another section is supporting the former with its taciturnity. Therefore, turning the whole society into a Locker Room itself.
The locker room incident is indeed shameful and derogatory and must be criticized, but this anger against misogyny should not be selective. The voices that are rising now should also rise with intensity when any girl suffers from eve-teasing in a metro or on the roadside when any woman suffers slut-shaming because of her clothes and when anything with even traces of misogyny or patriarchy happens.
Mansi Singh a student at Aligarh Muslim University.