A few days ago, late at night, I saw someone reposting a bunch of Instagram stories and asking the followers to read the full thread. It was captioned ‘when will this objectifying of women ever stop’. My normal reaction to that rhetoric would have been to skip it. But at that boring night, I decided to read through every screenshot, googling the meaning of each word in it since I don’t understand Hindi.
As a 22-year-old woman, I felt numb. As much as I was disgusted at the words used in that chat, I was not surprised. The next day, I woke up to find this story plastered across almost everyone’s social media accounts, opening up many conversations on rape culture, sex education, patriarchy, #NotAllMen, etc. The epicentre of all the topics, however, was ‘objectifying women.’
I was finding it hard to process all the shocked reactions because they did not seem to shake me as much as they did to many others. Seriously? Are we all going to pretend that this was unprecedented? Wasn’t objectifying of some level always prevalent? Are we all going to lie that none of us was an accomplice to at least one such incident in all our lives?
We may be in denial of it given the current ‘woke’ culture or the need to be politically correct, but we cannot deny the fact that objectification, irrespective of genders, is something all of us have indulged in at some point.
One of the guys in the screenshot had said, “We could together gang rape her.’ Now, people may argue with me that they had never been a part of such conversations that are criminal in nature. Agreed. But the fact remains that somewhere along the way, we have all normalised the concept of sexual objectification, though the degrees may vary.
The impending question, however, is when did the language change? How did comments on body parts mutate into discussions on horrifying acts like rape? Neither of them is acceptable. As a schoolgirl, the maximum objectification I had done is, “OMG he is so hot!” Having been someone who was so naive at that age, I am unable to fathom the usage of certain terms in the ‘Bois Locker Room’ chat. These made me ponder if gender was a factor in the crass vocabulary used.
I spoke to someone from the opposite gender to see if any parallels could be drawn to the chatroom conversation. Twenty-two-year-old Ganesh who had graduated from one of the top schools in Chennai five years ago told me that he could not relate to those screenshots at all.
“I was, in fact, a part of an all-boys group. I admit that we passed comments on girls and their bodies, but they always ended there and we drew a limit. Even that is not justifiable. The worst thing we had done on the group is discussing the details of a friend’s sexual encounter with his girlfriend. Terms like rape and gang rape are something we wouldn’t have even imagined using,” he told me.
I thought maybe the language — the grave nature of the words used — changed over time. Maybe using such terms is how you show off your macho in current times. I figured it was best to ask a teenage boy who could shed more light on it.
Shyam, a Class 11 student from a popular boys’ school in Chennai told me, “I study in an all-boys school. People on our WhatsApp group mock other girls’ appearances like she’s too short or fat. We don’t talk anything so abusive as those in the screenshots as we were taught by our parents and teachers to discuss such issues openly.”
Having spoken to boys, five years apart in age, of the nature of their ‘boys talk’, I was convinced that time had a very little role to play in altering the type of the conversations. So, I decided to explore the next factor — the silent encroachment of the media and technology on our lives. Many in my age group had no access to phones in my schooldays. Even if they had one, it used to be a Nokia 1100, in which the maximum rush one could feel is by playing the snake game.
Fast-forward 10 years, I strongly protested in a fit of jealousy when my Class-10 brother was given a smartphone. But I feel the problem begins here. Children get access to smartphones too early. Even parents justify it concerning the safety of their children. The easy access to the internet coupled with little or no parental supervision makes a dangerous combination.
In addition, hormonal changes lead teenagers to various outlets. From watching porn to googling certain terms and scrolling through explicit images, children have it all at one click these days.
Well yeah, I admit that having Indian parents, your conversations with them are unlikely to be similar to the ones shown on English movies. But, such conversations are a good way to direct your child’s sexual inquisitiveness in the right direction. Besides, the absence of sex education in the school curriculum leaves children having misconstrued opinions on how to perceive women or sex.
Armed with these opinions, when they are given unsupervised, unlimited, unregulated access to social media, it ends up in unwarranted situations like this. I was not allowed to create a Facebook account until I turned 14 and was restricted to use it only for an hour a day. I used to be extra careful before uploading any picture or accepting friend requests.
But that hardly is the case now. Children are being given a freehand to use social media with no parental supervision. With the internet being a dark and secretive forum, it enables them to post, say or do whatever creepy stuff they want and hide behind an anonymous account.
I am still figuring out how the minds of these people work. But in the case of the ‘Bois Locker’ chatroom, they weren’t even anonymous. It was a bunch of boys caressing each other’s male ego by sharing pictures of girls, rating them on disgusting parameters and letting out all their deepest, darkest sexual desires which they wouldn’t be able to reveal outside.
My theory of anonymity, unleashing the id — the instinctual part of the mind containing sexual and aggressive desires as defined by neurologist Sigmund Freud — was substantiated by Praharsh, a teenager I spoke to from Bangalore. “These are people they would never meet in their lives. So, they think it is okay to discuss all these crazy ideas and get away with it,” Praharsh told me, as he seemed shocked by the screenshots.
Be it a woman or man, anyone reading those chats goes immediately into thinking who or what do we blame for this? Do we blame it on society? On education? On the abundance of technology or peer pressure? Testimonies say “blame it on the parents.” This was a recurrent observation from the many I spoke to.
One of them, Anirudh, in his first year of junior college in Bangalore, told me the dangerous sense of entitlement was fed to boys from privileged backgrounds by their parents. “It lies in the kind of upbringing. Some boys in my class used to pass objectifying comments about women too. They were all part of the cool, rich kids gang. They used to have Blackberry messenger groups and pass crass comments on it, solely because they felt they were entitled to it,” he told me.
By the end of talking to several school boys and men, my understanding is still intangible as there seems to be no justifiable explanation behind a bunch of teenage kids discussing something so criminal and dismissing it off as normal. Or were they aware what they were doing was wrong and got a kick out of it? I think I should save my ‘Mindhunter’ type investigation for some other time and acknowledge the glaring fact that good, rational parenting would have not only prevented the boys from disrespecting women but also from taking pride in their masculinity.