It was a shocking moment for parents, educators, and young people alike when on May 3, the unfortunate and rather disturbing “Bois Locker Room” screenshots surfaced. The Instagram group chat was allegedly used for sharing photographs of girls—including underage girls—objectifying them and conducting trash talk about their bodies, and promoting rape culture.
In a separate incident, some Snapchat screenshots had also gone viral which featured underage boys “planning gang rape” where many crude and gruesome statements were passed. It was later discovered that the person who had initiated the conversation about gang rape was a minor girl. While fraud and assuming a false identity are wrong notions, it made everyone sit up and question why an underage girl had to pretend to be someone else just to see if the boys she went to school with and interacted with daily would talk about raping her. This not only goes to show how insecure these girls must be feeling in educational institutes like schools which are places that are considered to be a safe growing environment but also how the male youth is thinking and processing things about the females around them in such an unhealthy and derogatory way.
Whenever we read about such issues our minds automatically go to the societal norms of “masculinity” and the conventional defending phrase of “boys will be boys” to pin blame to—but we too are equally responsible. As youngsters, we all interact with different types of individuals regularly and we sit with people in groups where one or the other person passes a comment or cracks a joke that is either sexist or some other form of judgment on females. Most of us say nothing, accepting it as a part of the “bro culture” talk and do not object to it. Now while it seems that small incidents like these within friend circles hardly matter, they do. When a young person hears something all day and does not see anyone objecting or standing up to it, they think that it is okay and is acceptable. This encourages unhealthy thinking habits and promotes male privilege at the grassroots level. Shaming somebody based on their bodies is not okay and is not something that can be taken as casual fun, nor should it. How many of us today correct our male friends when we see them acting in a harmful manner? How many of us even had a conversation about this when the whole bois locker room issue came to light? How many of us thought over our actions instead of attacking people with the “you’re a pseudo-feminist and you think all men are trash” dialogue?
Women have been the oppressed gender for centuries and have led suppressed lives and that is a fact. I believe that every man today should be responsible for breaking that trend. Watching passively is just as bad as actually participating in the heinous acts. No matter how much we try to defend ourselves by saying we are very sensitive and how we do not indulge in such activities, each one of us who has even at least once in our lives rated either boys or girls based on how they looked as part of a game or a joke, are to blame. I do not mean to attack the reader by asking these uncomfortable questions, but these questions are imperative and need to be addressed. This is not the time for proving that you are morally better behaved than everyone else around you but is the time for re-educating ourselves and thinking about the things that we have been taking lying down and accepting as normal teenage behavior for years and years.
Every time a story of assault, virtual or real, comes to light, there is a period for which the hype lasts and then we all go back to our patent ways. When we talk about change and blame society, we must also realize that we are a part of society. If we pay attention to something for that brief hyped out period of ten days and then go back to our lifestyles without thinking about what we need to change, then the whole movement is meaningless.
On the other hand, I also think parents have a huge role to play here. Most teens lead parallel online lives which their parents have no idea of. Talks about sexual education, sexual orientations, assault among many others are still considered taboo in many households. While these are things that will take time in changing we can still, however, reach out to the younger population and educate them. Children should be taught how to use social media responsibly. There are cases where the parents themselves do not know too much or are inadequately equipped to guide their children in this front which is where schools come into play. Educators have to pay attention to the needs of the students and guide them accordingly. One cannot simply hand a child a cellphone and internet access and expect him/her to not go wrong somewhere. Maybe if the parents of the boys involved in the bois locker room group chat had been aware of what was happening, they would have said something, done something to stop it, or maybe they would have had a stern talk with their kids, sparing multiple girls the pain they are having to deal with at such a young age.
I agree that what pictures one posts or sends to someone in confidence is their own free will and something they cannot be judged on or held accountable for. However, there should be some sort of awareness about data usage online as everything that we do, every like, every comment is recorded and will outlive us. The internet is a vast and unsafe space, digital footprints cannot be erased and the idea and promise of privacy could not be more misleading. When an individual puts out their pictures or their data, there is no guarantee that it won’t be exploited or used unfairly. Hence, these decisions should be informative and not taken just to follow trends of “everyone is doing it, why shouldn’t I? “.
Creating a safe space online and in real life is not a job that can be assigned to just parents, or schools, or organizations. It is a collective effort that each one of us must undertake by not just solely creating awareness, but more importantly, standing up strongly against what is unjust.