Dyuti Sudipta - Senior Advisor Gender Equality Program
It has been three weeks since the #BoisLockerRoom controversy took the internet by storm. The discussions on consent, sexuality, rights, and justice crowded the various mediums of cyberspaces and heated discussions broke out. The significant aspects of these discussions ranged from the accountability of these boys engaged in overt and covert sexism, the accountability of the victims, the idea of consent in the age of social media, and the involvement of parenting, the education system as well as the accountability of intermediaries such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.
My analysis of these aspects will consist of insights gained from my experience as a queer woman as well as my many years of experience of having worked with school and college-going sexual violence survivors. The school system and the people who are part of it play an active role just like the rest of the society in enforcing gender roles and ensuring that the children are “doing gender” (West and Zimmerman, 1987). In their seminal essay "Doing Gender," Sociologists West and Zimmerman introduced the idea of gender not as a characteristic or trait but as a social accomplishment, wherein performing specific roles and behaviors according to one’s gender manifests the gender binary as natural, and grounded in the idea of biological essentialism (Gaunt, 2006). This idea of adhering to the suggested gender behaviors in order to pass as an ideal man/woman as per the biological sex is enforced in schools.
We learn gender roles in schools through the stories we hear, the games we play, the extra-curricular activities we take, and the most through the uniforms we wear. The continuous policing of women’s clothing in schools often translates into blatant sexism and slut-shaming of teenage and pre-puberty women by school authorities and teachers. In 2018, there was a news report where girls studying in one of the prominent schools in Delhi, DPS Rohini were instructed by their teachers to wear only skin-colored bras and white slips over them to maintain their modesty. Various versions of this continue almost every day in schools where the girls are reprimanded for not hiding their bodies enough, the slut-shaming of girls over the length of their skirts, their hairstyle, the faint sign of their underwear beneath their uniforms brings a barrage of insults and hardly ever is reported in the paper.
This practice also teaches the boys that the modesty and honor of a woman lie in her body and the onus is on her to safeguard it. This is the foundation of rape culture where the victims are held more accountable for the crime committed on them than the perpetrators. A large part of the victims of sexual crimes and gender-based violence consists of women and trans people. We need to recognize how the massive lack of adequate sex education and gender-sensitive curriculum is contributing towards furthering a society that considers women and trans people as lesser beings and justifies violence on them.
Like every instance of sexual violence, many people questioned the victims’ characters and their decision making of sending nudes to the people who later got circulated. One part that was consistently overlooked was that the #BoisLockerroom group did not only discuss and circulate nudes that the women sent, but a large number of photos in that group that were circulated, discussed, and morphed were also sourced from the girls’ public Instagram profiles. In one of the screenshots gone viral after the news of its existence, a member proposed to leak nudes of the women who broke the news, he mentioned he had access to some of their nudes. He was going to send some more nudes of them to the other group members for circulating and suggested that the ones he has sent already can be circulated in the meanwhile. There was also anger on why the decision to act “feminist” and why they spoke out. And the end of the screenshot has one of them say after the suggestions of the releasing the nudes, “Now they will know the consequences, everyone wants to be a feminist now, they’ll know, they won’t be able to show their faces anymore.” The absolute lack of remorse or reflection is what signals to the moral bankruptcy that rape culture brings in.
There if women speak out about the violence they face, they must be ready for the consequences, and the said consequence is more violence. Patriarchy and rape culture dehumanize the idea of masculinity by making it completely divorced from basic humane qualities such as empathy, respect, love, etc. The masculinity propagated by rape culture and patriarchy becomes toxic, at every instance of men being held accountable for their actions, it reverts, “ Men will be men”, thus completely removing the scope of reflection, introspection, and unlearning of the concepts of patriarchy and secondly holding the victim responsible for the violence they are subjected to, victimizing and vilifying the same population, simultaneously. In her book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, author Sohaila Abdulali discusses rape at length, in different countries, by different people, in different scenarios ranging from academic institutions to areas with political conflict. Her own experience as a survivor of gangrape comes again and again. She mentions a very interesting aspect of the discussion that follows rape and calls it the “Lose-Lose Rape Conundrum”. Abdulali writes,
"There's a subversive little thread that often weaves itself into any discussion of women speaking out and taking space to claim their histories of sexual violence. It's an insidious thread that has choked us for far too long. I call it the Lose-Lose rape conundrum. It unwinds like this. If you talk about it you are a helpless victim angling for sympathy. If you're not a helpless victim, then it wasn't a big deal, so why are you talking about it? If you're surviving and living your life, why are you ruining some poor man's life? Either it's a big deal, so you're ruined or it's not a big deal and you should be quiet."
(What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, pp. 61)
This rings true in all cases of sexual violence varying in degrees. In the case of #Boislockerroom, we see the same people who cheered with joy at the hanging of the rapists in the horrific Delhi Gang Rape case of 2012 blaming the woman, the same people who were celebrating when the Hyderabad police encountered the five Muslim men accused of rape of a doctor without any investigation asking for proof. If nothing else, it exposes to us which men we are okay with being convicted, and which women are we okay with being raped. The members of the #Boislockerroom group belongs largely from rich upper-caste backgrounds, their victims are also from the same class of people. The reason for this case garnering so much response on social and national media also lies in the caste class component of the people involved. Interestingly, there has been hardly any discussion or uproar on the massive sexual violence unleashed on Bahujan women like Delta and Jisha, whose names were not even concealed with terms like “Damini” and “Nirbhaya.”
We hear cheers when Bahujan and Muslim men are executed in judicial and extrajudicial processes for their crimes, often unproven. We see upper-caste sexual offenders like Chinmayanand get bail while thousands of Dalit, Muslim, and tribals continue to be undertrial in Indian prisons. A 2018 report by Prison Statistics shows that two-thirds of the undertrial prisoners are Dalits, Muslims, and tribals, whereas they are massively underrepresented in the judiciary. An Outlook report dated Feb 3, 2020, mentioned that there have been only 8 women judges in the Supreme Court in the last 70 years, and only one Dalit Chief Justice of India, whereas there are only 11% women judges in the high courts and no Dalit Chief Justice in high courts. We also need to see how immediately after the arrest of the admin of the group, who belongs from a very influential family, all the national news portals reported Delhi police’s revelation of an unrelated Snapchat screenshot where a woman allegedly pretended to be a man and talked about raping herself to test her friend’s character with #Boislockerroom in the headlines to make it appear that the boys involved in the case were innocent. When every news media in the country runs a deliberately misleading headline, we need to understand the weight that is backing the boys in the locker room.
We cannot look at sexual crimes and gender-based violence in isolation, they are related to multiple other aspects of our society and the state types of machinery. The idea of the #MeToo movement and the idea of taking accusations to social media arose from the inefficiency of the due process. In India, the conviction rate of rape cases is 27.2% according to NCRB data. Marital rape is not criminalized, with lackadaisical evidence collection, the inefficiency of the justice system, and the massive social stigma attached to rape survivors.
Due to these factors, a tremendous number of sexual crimes go unreported. With the arrival of social media and the internet, the inefficiency of the due process is, even more, out in the open, and young women are losing faith in the system. The only place they feel they are being heard is social media and thus the use of this medium in talking about their experiences of facing sexual harassment from people they are unable to get convicted in real life. In a world where a man publicly accused of sexual harassment by multiple women can attain a prominent position in the ruling administrations or judiciary in countries such as the U.S, where political parties ,in India, are filled with members accused of multiple cases of gender-based violence, it is understandable why women would not have adequate faith in the due process. It is these factors that women opt for alternative ways to address their experiences of sexual harassment however, these need to be used responsibly.
The last aspect of the discussion, the accountability of the technological platforms, needs to be discussed in detail. Social media sites monitor their content relentlessly, especially in case of Instagram, they monitor nudity of the female body extensively, however, the enormity with which illegal sexual content is dealt with in the inboxes, is not satisfactory at all. Mr. Pawan Duggal, chairman of the International Commission of Cyber Security Law mentions in a BBC report that the social media company has to be more liable. "Instagram cannot say they don't know this was happening. They have to cull out such content voluntarily. The police can go after them if they fail." He also added that this group was the result of India being "too soft" towards intermediaries like social media networks. We have seen multiple times now that social media platforms allow images and content calling for or projecting violence against women and girls, and these contents even after reporting often seem to cross the loopholes of the community standards.
I would like to conclude not with an opinion but a few questions that I would urge the readers to search for the answers. We all need to ask ourselves these questions to reflect, to introspect. Whose future do we care for? Whether we as human beings are turning a blind eye to the violence that is becoming more rampant by the day? Who do we want to punish? Whose honor matters more? Which bodies are worthy of respect? Where is this thinking from?
Dyuti is a feminist researcher- writer based in Delhi. Her work has largely been centered on women and health, violence against women, feminist internet, sexuality and mental health. She is a graduate of TISS with a masters in New Gender Studies.
All the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article solely belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C.R.R.S.S, as an organization or to other groups of individuals belonging to C.R.R.S.S. Assumptions made in the analysis are not reflective of the position of any other entity other than the author(s) - and, since we are critically-thinking human beings, these views are subject to change, revision, and rethinking at any time. Please do not hold them in perpetuity.