While coronavirus has slowed most aspects of our lives, misogyny and sexism are alive and kicking.
After the leaked screenshots from the ‘Bois Locker Room’ Instagram group, several students from Jadavpur University (Kolkata) have come forward exposing yet another circle of upper-class men who have been indulging in similar “locker room” toxicity for years now.
Twitter user @Aiyoobrows revealed the existence of a Google Drive folder, allegedly created by an ex-student from JU containing nude/semi-nude pictures of women. Several other men, belonging to the same social circle, have reportedly had access to the folder.
What south Delhi boys do in the form of #boyslockerroom, Kolkata men take it a step further and create a Google drive account using pictures of women.
— Aiyoobrows (@Bratmatcat) May 4, 2020
After @Aiyoobrows’ tweets garnered attention, many confirmed that they had heard of this folder. Several women from Kolkata came forward with their own experiences with the person who allegedly created the folder, and others like them, and painstakingly recounted details they’d rather have forgotten in the face of constant denial, invalidation and false apologies from abusers who continue to bulldoze their way out of the accusations levelled against them.
Being a student of Jadavpur University myself, I have known most of the people who have been called out. I too have heard about the folder in question. So many of my peers have known about the kind of harassment these men had subjected multiple women to. So many of us continued to associate with them – professionally and otherwise – despite a growing number of stories about their misconduct.
But none of us could really muster the courage to do anything about it. We didn’t have “evidence” to prove any of it – just stories of women who were made to feel violated and unsafe. And stories have rarely ever been enough to bring down abusers. At the time, it was easier to look away and brush it off as ‘men being men’.
These events have made me question my position as a feminist. While these may not have been my stories to tell, I can’t help feeling like I was complicit in upholding the status quo. I’m guilty of not fighting hard enough when someone I was close to decided to shelter a man who had sexually harassed multiple women. I’m seeing so many women struggle with similar ghosts from their pasts. It’s disappointing to see that many men have still not begun to have this conversation.
One way or another, we have all been enablers. Every time we’ve let a sexist joke slide, every time we’ve turned the other way when women decided to speak up, every time we chose to side with the abuser, whether actively or through our silence, we have contributed to this problem. But it’s not just on women to shoulder this responsibility. Men need to remember that the patriarchy affects them not just when they’re trolling feminists, but in every step of the way.
What happened at JU is very much an extension of the ‘boys locker room’ incident. This is what happens when we don’t teach our boys to respect women, when we teach them that they have free reign to abuse the privileges bestowed upon them. When we fail to push our boys into unlearning gender norms and toxic masculinity, we are complicit in the harassment they will eventually subject women to. Sure, it may be a bit of a stretch to say that every boy from the ‘boys locker room’ will grow up to be a rapist. But they will be misogynistic enough to shield their abuser friends, to never let a woman speak her mind, to think that women wearing revealing clothes are “asking for it”, to use their privilege to exploit others.
Having said this, I also understand the complexity of social media callouts. While it is an important place to start, it ends up achieving very little in terms of a structural dismantling of rape culture. All it takes for an abuser is some tweaks to the privacy settings or a deactivated account to shirk all accountability when they’re called out.
These public trials often end up being reduced to mud-slinging and victim-blaming. They shift the focus from the structural problem, and reduce it to targeted hatred towards a single person.
We forget that we are the system that creates these abusers. A dead rapist does not solve the problem of rape. Capital punishment in India is awarded for the rarest of rare crimes – sexual violence against women is an everyday phenomenon. It is no longer a deviation from social norms – it is the norm.
Rape culture exists in the way men talk about women’s bodies with their friends, it exists in the media we consume, it exists in the mindsets of adults and children alike. We need to accept the fact that ‘boys locker room’ is yet another example of how rape culture permeates every aspect of our lives, and we need to learn to condemn this phenomenon in ways that go beyond reactionary hate speech and death threats towards the accused.
An abuser is neither an anomaly in the system, nor an outlier. The perpetrators from JU are not monsters. They’re just men who were reassured that the system would always let them get away with anything. This is exactly what we’re teaching boys when we say their locker room toxicity is harmless banter.
There are no grand gestures that will end this horrifying reality once and for all. It’s an everyday battle that needs to be fought by all of us. Men need to be the ones outing their sexist friends, they need to stop shielding abusers in their social circles, they need to be the ones calling out misogynistic behaviour in their locker rooms, they need to be the ones unsubscribing from rape culture. We need to strengthen our systems of restorative justice. Feminism is not just about women, neither is it about hating men. It is about building a better society for all of us.
Sanjukta Bose is currently pursuing a Masters degree in English, and, yet, is terrible at writing bios.
Featured image credit: Liz Weddon/Unsplash