Bois Locker Room: Going Beyond Boys’ Talk
We all are a small part of a big problem when we decide to let it go because “boys will be boys” and silence our voices.
Social media was shaken on 3 May 2020 when screenshots of a chat among a group of boys aged 16 -18 years were leaked and they went viral. The screenshots were of an Instagram page called as ‘Bois Locker Room’, where they non-consensually shared pictures of teenage girls and engaged in sexually explicit conversation. According to social media accounts that posted the screenshots, members of that group even threatened to leak nude photographs of the women who reported them. They Cyber Crime Cell, Delhi Police and Delhi Commission of Women took cognisance of the matter and filed an FIR against the members of the group. Another screenshot from a Snapchat conversation was seen among these viral stories where the two participants talked about gang-raping a girl. However, later it was seen that the participant who suggested the idea of gang-raping was actually a girl.
The term ‘locker room talk’ is associated with male-dominated humour and prejudice, sexist, racist and homophobic so-called banter. Such males treat the locker room as a form of off-limits territory, a backstage sphere in which views and behaviours might be expressed, which otherwise would be condoned in public spaces. The locker room does not only constitute of the literal place but also actually refers to an archetypical masculine space and the discourse that arises out of that social milieu.
For most of us, the term ‘Boys Locker Room’ did not have any other meaning than its literal sense before the Instagram story went viral. However, the locker room culture has been deep-rooted and prevalent in our society. One such recent incident is of a top ranked IB school in Mumbai which came to light when its students, aged 13–14 years, were suspended for making violent and sexually explicit remarks about their female classmates on a WhatsApp conversation. Words like “rape” were used in the chat while body shaming them and making homophobic remarks. The matter came to light when the mother of two got their hands on the contents of the chat as some of the girls had refused to go to school because they were too scared.
After the leaked screenshots from the ‘Bois Locker Room’ Instagram group, several students from Jadavpur University, Kolkata also came forward. They exposed yet another circle of men who have been indulging in similar “locker room” toxicity for years now. An existence of a Google Drive folder was revealed, allegedly created by an ex-student from the college, containing nude/semi-nude pictures of women. Several other men, belonging to the same social circle, have reportedly had access to the folder.
In 2016, the word “locker room talk” became synonymous with the infamous recording of the US President Donald Trump talking about kissing, groping and making other extremely lewd comments on women. He used this phrase to trivialise the weight of his words as if he wasn’t trying to boast about assaulting women, but it was just the way men talk in presence of other men. The defense that Trump made, after his video got viral, was that it was just “locker room banter”, and “just talk” and the same response is seen many a times at such incidents. This just points out to the fact that people often forget the power of words.
Words are a source for us to communicate ideas – ideas that resonate with others, alter perspectives and create a lasting impression.
These words form the basic building blocks that create reality for people around them. More than often we come across statements such as, ‘You are what you think’, ‘I think, therefore I am,’ etc. These emphasise on the power of the mind and its ability to shape our actions. What we need to realise is that the way we speak in private is bound to reflect in our behaviour in public. Our thoughts and words gradually start seeping into your personality and sooner or later our words turn into actions. One of the studies focuses on how words have an impact on actions and how biases impact the thought process of an individual. It was noted that when Asian women were asked questions about what prompted them to think about their ethnicity before taking a math test, they performed better than when in a neutral condition. When they were asked questions on what prompted them to think of their gender, their performance was worse. We see that a person thoughts, words and actions are all interrelated. Yes, a sexist comment is not equivalent to actual violence, but it does create a vision of the world where exchange of misogynistic ideas is okay.
A Facebook group called ‘Blokes Advice’ was also created in Queensland where screenshots of posts about rape, revenge porn and violence against women have been exposed. Fans of the group defended it saying that it was just a place where men can bond, share jokes and was harmless. However, locker room talk can never just be harmless exchange of words because reducing any individual to the sum of their body is regressive, demeaning and offensive. What the locker room culture does is to objectify women to an extent that it colonises women’s identities and dehumanises them. The clear-cut difference between admiration and objectification is often forgotten. When women are objectified, the dynamics of male–female equations get limited. We could possibly be looking at a world where chances of having healthy socialisation between the two genders and platonic connections between them could be ruined forever. The toxicity of objectification was pointed out by Oxfam India’s research study on portrayal of women in mainstream Hindi and regional films. The study showed that 88 per cent of the female characters were objectified and 58 per cent movies had a sexist and voyeuristic camera work. The movies institutionalise stalking and sexual harassment of women in the name of courting them and completely ignored concepts of privacy, personal space and consent. The boys who were interviewed reported that they looked upon movies as an important source of education and sexual maturation, and more than half of them felt that stalking girls was not objectionable.
Another attention-worthy product of such talks is rape culture. Rape culture basically refers to stereotyped, false beliefs about rape that justify sexual aggression and trivialise the seriousness of sexual violence.
The consequences of rape culture start from people being desensitised about the seriousness of sexual violence and alienation of survivors leading to less chances of them reporting their assault and an environment that breeds a culture of victim blaming. A 2009 study in the journal, Violence Against Women, observed, after surveying 944 narratives written by female survivors of sexual assault, that one in five survivors justified their attack, largely by drawing on social vocabularies that suggest male sexual aggression is natural, normal within dating relationships, or the victim’s fault. The findings of the study clearly point out that cultural language and rape myths have an impact on the victim’s mind and in fact delimits victims’ recognition of sexual victimisation. Hence, the phenomenon of rape culture is a misogynist cultural guide and it cannot and should not be a part and parcel of our culture identity.
The recent Instagram viral stories also make us address the nuances of privacy. It really makes us question how many set of eyes will see our posts, does an individual’s consent hold any value in a place where you can screenshot and forward anything within seconds and most importantly is there any safety on the internet.
It is true that we live in a highly sexualised world. Sexuality is naturally and important part of a teenager’s life, but we need to start addressing it in a healthy way. When parents and educators don’t talk about consent, empathy and respect offline, the conversation will take different colours online. Children need to be taught about gender sensitivity. Let’s not forget that it takes a village to raise a child, so we all need to start punishing toxicity and looking at our own actions. It has to be an everyday battle fought by us where we need to stop shielding abusers in social circles. Violence against women is a human issue and requires all of us participating to address it.
Alexis Jones, an author and an activist, rightly said and I quote- “Men aren’t simply the problem when it comes to violence against women but they are also the cure and we have never needed them so much.”