How is anyone surprised by the existence of the “boislockerroom” Instagram account, which shared private images of girls and women and was filled with violent fantasies? Run by teenage boys from an elite Delhi school, it is but one such account in an ocean of obscenity. Every woman and girl in India who uses social media knows this. While teenage access to smartphones is a marker of privilege, the larger picture of misogyny in India, even online-based expressions of it, cuts across class, caste and other divisions.
These teenagers did not become practicing misogynists in a vacuum. They aped behaviours that were normalised to them, and were portrayed as aspirational. Let us remember that immediately after the 2018 rape and murder of an 8-year old child in Kathua, the top search term on pornographic websites was for her name. This is a country where too many people hoped that there was footage of such a horrific incident, and sought it for their pleasure.
As I write this, #girlslockerroom is trending on Twitter, with screenshots that allege that the person who exposed the boys’ Instagram account was herself a part of a private group that objectifies men. I’m unable to wade through the misogyny of the tweets to verify where this information originated from. The new hashtag was clearly initiated primarily in a retaliatory fashion, to absolve the male students.
Those who truly care about men and boys address toxic masculinity, issues relating to transmen and other queer people, mental and other health-related concerns, and socioeconomic challenges such as how class marginalisation and capitalism burden male breadwinners – every day of the year. Just like how feminists talk about the issues that matter to the communities they support, constantly. Those who become advocates for men only when it gives them a chance to criticise women are invested only in taking women down, not in making anything more fair for anyone. If there is to be a similar conversation about male objectification, it needs to be led by feminists of all genders. Not by misogynists.
What we know for certain is that at least one of these “locker rooms” existed. Among the hundreds of participating students will be some who could respond to an opportunity to change, and deserve that chance. No one who has experienced emotional or mental violence through these accounts is obligated to forgive them, but the murky work of moulding better human beings asks that we, who are not directly involved, don’t stop at admonishment and disgust. Otherwise, we’ll be trapped in cycles of outrage, forgetting the tedious work of ongoing resistance when there’s nothing that spikes our anger.
So when we’re done fixating on this group of teenagers, treating them like an anomaly when in fact they are the norm, here’s hoping that more people will trace their shocked “How could this happen?” to a logical conclusion: the hidden malignancies of the institution of family, and the inadequacies of the education system when it comes to teaching empathy and ethics. The blame rests somewhere bigger than on any one kid or the people who raised him. There’s so much more to fix here.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on May 9th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.