Boys Will Be Boys, If We Stay Silent About ‘Locker Room’ Talk

Trigger warning: This article contains details about sexual harassment which may be triggering to survivors.

This week, screenshots of the private Instagram chat group ‘Bois Locker Room’ made their way online to much outrage.

The group is seemingly full of male students who study in Classes 10 and 11 of  prominent schools in Delhi. The shared screenshots show the boys talking about their underage classmates, the way they look and their dressing sense in a derogatory manner. There’s talk of rape and gangrape – “we will together gangrape her” is one of the comments that could be seen in the screenshots shared. Some photos of girls were even morphed for entertainment.

The replies and tweets to the various posts exposing the group were revealing. Some social media users also identified a few of the boys involved in the group. They were people they knew. In the aftermath of the leak, some of the women sharing the stories have also allegedly begun receiving threats that their nude photos would be leaked.

Reports have it that some members of the group have been arrested for cyberbullying under Section 66 of the IT Act.

‘Boys will be boys’

Looking at the stories and reading the leaked comments, I was mortified – but hardly surprised.

Why was it unsurprising?

Because phrases like ‘boys will be boys’ are still very much a part of our vocabulary. That ‘adage’ has been bandied about for decades and has long been used as the perfect excuse for toxic masculinity and behaviour that stems from it.

Unless kids learn better from their parents or other influences in their life, when young boys hit puberty, this kind of locker room talk is bound to continue.

Internet chat groups, from time immemorial, have indulged in similar, and often even more repugnant behaviour. Such groups allow for the exchange of misogynistic ideas that would otherwise be frowned upon by creating a space where no one needs to be on their best behaviour.

Essentially, it’s a safe space for hormonal teenagers to let out their inner creep.

This attitude only makes it harder for men to have healthier relationships with women – abusive mindsets are internalised, as are thoughts that it is natural for a man to make demands of a woman.

Just last year, an IB school in Mumbai suspended eight students for making sexually explicit comments about their classmates in a WhatsApp group. Words like “gang bang” and “rape” made appearances. The boys called some of their classmates “trash,” based on their looks. The students also made lewd comments about classmates that they considered were lesbian or gay.

There are those who will trivialise such situations as young people just engaging in “harmless” banter. But they mustn’t forget that such talk is a product of rape culture – a culture in which sexual violence is treated as the norm and victims are blamed for their own assaults.

Why is it normal for men to sexualise every woman? With roots in long-standing patriarchal power structures that were created to benefit men, rape culture has put the onus on women to stay safe. Even online.

Girls and women are told constantly that it’s their responsibility to be safe. As if boys and men have no responsibility to keep themselves in check.

For women, such comments are so much more than vile talk – they make for the very foundation of a society wherein men can objectify and harass them, while invalidating their ambitions and achievements. They take a toll on mental health, cause anxiety and even panic attacks.

The butterfly effect

Some will be quick to point out just how sexualised the accounts of the girls on Instagram are. Some will even go as far as to say that some girls and women take it too far when it comes to ‘revealing’ their bodies on the internet in the name of feminism.

But it is their right – even if we may disagree on whether this is appropriate behaviour by teenagers.

There’s also several factors at play – the lure of social media fame in this age of influencers, of building followers to ensure popularity at school, and of simply wanting to show off their bodies and be bold is a strong one.

Perhaps it’s a level of self love that more of us should aspire to – but are unable to.

There are a lot of women with ‘revealing photos’ on the internet, all of them widely available – from porn stars to influencers of all shapes and sizes. For some, it’s a means to earn, for others it’s about body positivity.

So why aren’t these particular boys obsessing over all of these more famous women? There is an obvious answer, and it is a disconcerting one – the girls who have caught their attention are much closer when it comes to physical distance.

Let’s talk about it

To say ‘these boys are terrible and have to be cancelled’ is also not the right path to take – they are, after all doing exactly what they’re being trained to do – as the girls are also by performing for an internalised male gaze by sexualising themselves from a very early age. As it is, the criminal justice system is a terrible recourse for correcting the bad behaviour and mistakes of teenagers who are at the very first leg of their sexual lives.

But what’s missing in the entire narrative – despite it being about life on social media platforms – is the lack of communication at play. The problem isn’t just the objectification and the hormones on display – it goes far deeper.

If you’re complicit in such behaviour, talk it out, perhaps with someone you trust so that you can navigate the pitfalls with some help. And maybe the next time you hear something that makes you uncomfortable, try to bring attention to it. The bottom line is that we have to stop normalising rape culture.

If we all stay silent, nothing will ever progress. It’s been 16 long years since the infamous DPS MMS scandal in Delhi. Let us not forget with time.

Featured image credit: Unsplash