If we want to stop violence against women, we have to bring change in attitudes from the bottom up, and that means speaking up, says Sampurna Sarkar.
It wasn’t the first time that women had been humiliated and objectified and I know for certain that it won’t be the last. But I will never forget the rage I felt, on the 3rd May 2020, when I found out about the ‘Bois Locker Room’ Instagram group. It was the same rage I had felt when the Nirbhayas of the country were mercilessly raped. The same rage I felt when my aunt had asked me to sit and dress ‘appropriately’. The same rage I feel every time a woman is denied the opportunity and the freedom to live a life similar to the one enjoyed by the members of the opposite sex.
The Bois Locker Room group was created by 16- 17 year old boys, in Delhi, India, to share nude pictures of women and underage girls without their consent and to comment on them, to casually talk about raping them.
In India, and throuhgout the world, violence against women is perpetuated as a result of societal beliefs, cultural norms, weak legislation and the inadequate actions of governments. Patriarchy weaves a safety mesh for inequalities, using violence, harassment and inaction, and nurtures misogyny and toxic masculinity which normalises the inhuman and abusive actions against women and all other ‘inferior’ genders.
Patriarchy enables the demarcation and differentiation between the private and the public spaces. The name of this group is indicative of the idea that such conversations conducted without hesitation in private spaces. It is such a belief that justifies domestic violence against women. The drastic rise in the number of domestic abuse cases all across the world, at the time of the pandemic, provides proof of the same. Even as we make strides in the public sphere, patriarchy carves out refuges for gross inequality.
Prejudices, born out of patriarchy, play a major role in the commitment of violent and sexual crimes against women.
Ashley Fairbanks’ pyramid theory maps out how rape ‘jokes’ justify and encourage rape and abuse. The first manifestation of prejudiced beliefs, and the base of the pyramid, are sexist, homophobic or transphobic jokes and gender-centric terms of abuse.
As a result of this discriminatory verbal expression, in the second stage, preconceived ideas related to the traditional roles of sexes and genders are strengthened and stereotypes reinforced. The rise of such stereotypes and prejudices lead to the male misogynist enjoying a grossly invalid sense of entitlement. It is out of that entitlement that he begins to regularise the dehumanization of others through harassment, threats and verbal abuse. As the offender continues to move up the pyramid, he begins to feed off his social status and power and begins to believe in his right to control the victim, whether through the medium of sex, money or emotions.
The comments sections of social media platforms like Twitter, discussing the ‘Bois locker Room’ demonstrate the continuing prevalence of male chauvinism and sexism. While an individual has justified such a gory incident by comparing it with the ‘provocative’ videos made by women on TikTok, some others have questioned women’s positions on the issue by questioning their paternal relationships. Some other comments have suggested all men are perpetrators of violence and misogyny. I personally do not believe in generalisations of any sort. It is important to recognise that men too suffer because of toxic masculinity, that their expression is limited by society’s perception of masculinity.
Today, I realised that all those who do not speak out against such inequalities also help to perpetuate patriarchy, strengthen its hold and hold up the bloody pyramid. I also realise that the rage I’m feeling and expressing is proof of my privilege; safety, security, sound socio-economic circumstances and a protective support system. I realise that such privileges aren’t enjoyed by a vast majority of the population.
It is evident that punishments offered by the executive bodies in India have not been able to curb the violence and harassment perpetrated against women. If we wish to stop these tragedies, it starts with us, at the bottom of the pyramid, before it’s too late. It is essential to break the hold that patriarchy has over all of us, to speak out against the atrocities committed, to take the risk despite the heavy cost that can be incurred as a result of speaking out. It is essential to strive towards a society which prioritises humility and equity over stereotypes and where 16-17 year olds act as defenders of equality and equity.
Change in attitude can be brought through introducing modules discouraging the patriarchal model and promoting gender equality in the sphere of elementary education. It is also time that we normalise the topic of ‘sex’ in families to ensure that inquisitiveness doesn’t bring out the worst in children. It will take time for society to evolve but it’s an evolution worth the wait.