Invisible ‘Locker Rooms’ in Liberal Academic Institutions

With the conversation around boys locker rooms and unlearning destructive patterns synonymous with masculinity taking centre stage, it has become seemingly clear that there are still nuances that have yet to be explored. This process, however, becomes arduous, especially when you are at the receiving end of patriarchal violence – which has been the case with me.

While we have been talking about locker rooms and how women are objectified in those spaces, we hardly talk about the invisible ones in so-called liberal educational institutions. Maybe this is because they don’t adhere to the conventions and the glaring norms of what or rather, who these locker rooms comprise of.

After spending nearly two months in one such college, I can safely say that men in these invisible locker rooms don’t crack stereotypical jokes, aggressively talk about men’s rights activism or typically pose as edgelords. The whispers of microaggression echo in classrooms, canteens, and debating corners, where progressive men pose as allies and proponents of feminism, veiling the perversity of their misogyny behind closed doors.

On one hand, these men are found advocating for women’s liberation and lauding queer affirmative action on their social media accounts. On the other, these very men are found casually making women the butt of their jokes, objectifying women in languages foreign to them, and justifying their subtle homophobia under the garb of them being self-proclaimed allies – as if by merely calling yourself an ally makes you one and therefore absolves you of any accountability.

The only difference between these so-called liberal educational institutions, and others, is that the elite savarnas in the former know how to hide their problematic patterns, and they know it quite well. Therefore, this blurs the lines between the locker rooms out there and the locker rooms self-entitled men have built for themselves on the inside, the ones that appear harmless from the outside. Typical displays of camaraderie, the homo-erotic culture of men vouching for other men, no matter how abusive or wrong, the propensity of ‘brotherhood’ – all euphemisms for the lesser-known ugly cycles of misogyny that are often not talked about. Yet the harm this does is inversely proportionate in nature to the noise (or lack thereof) they make while engaging in these toxic patterns of masculinity.

The point I am trying to make is that the conversation is much larger than locker room culture, much more than infiltrating these selective spaces to break the cycle of viewing women as mere objects, tools, devices, vessels, extensions to the male fantasy. As long as the conversation relies on the idea that there are locker rooms ‘within’ the four walls of our society that can be dismantled if we try hard enough, the movement for emancipation is a lost cause. It is highly telling of how extensive and inescapable these structures of violence are when I am met with first-hand instances of male chauvinism in the purgatory of a rather urban liberal institution.

If I have learnt anything from being exposed to subtle but glaring misogyny in and around me on campus, at regular intervals, it is that there are no isolated locker rooms. The world we live in is the echo chamber of ostracisation in itself and the locker room culture we speak of is simply a symptom of the life-size squeezebox that is built around us. As cynical as it sounds, material change can only be fully realised once we take a good hard look at the open spaces around us, the conversations bearing sexist connotations that we dismiss as banter, misogynists we excuse as harmless men and more importantly, bigotry laced with deliberate malice that is brushed off as a mere difference in opinion.

After all, the personal has always been political.

Featured image credit: Sammy-Sander/Pixabay