Blame patriarchy for a BoisLockerRoom.
It should be worrying that, rather than shock, the BoisLockerRoom scandal has elicited either moral outrage or the usual duplicitous assertions of ‘boys will be boys’, ‘not all men’, etc. In an ideal world, an Instagram chat group where teenage boys from elite Delhi-NCR schools posted pornographic content (often morphed pictures of underage girls without their knowledge or consent) and casually engaged in misogynistic conversations ranging from body-shaming to rape-talk should have been quite abnormal. Instead, the reaction that has come—including the ‘girls locker room’ posts—is a symptom of how patriarchy has normalised sexual violence and misogyny.
There have been calls for strict punishment for the group, even stray talk of action against schools for failing to wake up to this in time, but all this misses the wood for the trees. In a way, all it really implies is that while the group members violated a law or two, the exigencies of sexual awareness and curiosity among teenagers, especially boys, makes the concept of a “locker room”, and the gamut of activity it is syonymous with, inevitable. The fact, however, is that it is social systems that foster a BoisLockerRoom. The sense of entitlement embedded in the teenage boys’ behaviour in the present case is a product of the culture that allows, even makes it “cool”, to reduce human beings to sexualised objects.
From “banter”, where expressing discomfort with sexist humour is to risk social rejection, to a faulty approach to sex education at school and home, sensitisation to nebulous issues of desire, empathy, and consent is virtually non-existent in most societies, let alone among school students dealing with peer pressure.
These are systemic issues that can only be overcome with continuing educative efforts, often beginning at home. This becomes even more crucial given the amplifier effect of digital platforms in causing damage, and the anonymity they offer in doing so. Inevitably, the debate, at some level, becomes that of safety versus privacy. For instance, it is difficult to argue, as many are doing, that Instagram be held responsible for not flagging content that clearly violated its strict community guidelines as these were private conversations, not public posts.
Even without end-to-end encryption on its messaging service, to expect Instagram to review every message is not only a licence to all communication platforms to invade users’ privacy but also a slippery descent into censorship. Laws could perhaps be framed to ensure that cases of user-flagged content are taken up within stipulated periods—currently, there are internal policies to this effect, but these extend only to government requests for content review or take-down. Another failure to recognise deeply entrenched patriarchy and its offspring, toxic masculinity, as the root cause of sickening scandals like “Bois Locker Room”, as happened in the aftermath of the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case, will only lead to making the country even more unsafe for half its population.