Speech Melba Columns

Boys R Us: on Bois Locker Room and the toxic masculinity raging in society today

Illustration by Mihir Balantrapu

Illustration by Mihir Balantrapu  

What is responsible for the toxic masculinity that’s raging in society today?

As the sordid story of a secret Instagram group unfolds, two teenage boys have been detained while many other students are being questioned. The members of ‘Bois Locker Room’, reportedly from four or five South Delhi schools, posted photographs of female schoolmates, many of them underage, with offensive comments and even suggestions of rape.

As I read the details, I am dismayed to find that I am not in the least bit surprised. I read with resignation, dread and complete recognition. It’s not as if it were unfolding for the first time. If not in details but in its essence, this utterly dysfunctional sexuality of our young men plays out over and over again. And we as a society are still clueless about how to respond.

Outrage is alright and lasts a few weeks. What after? Many of us remember the horror story of the student, also in Delhi, who videotaped a sexual act with a classmate and shared it with his pals. What has changed since 2004? Nothing except the medium.

Does that young man who shared the MMS feel remorse today? I don’t know, but the boys outed in the Insta scandal definitely don’t. Almost simultaneously with the exposé, they started a new group, asking members to use code names this time to avoid getting caught. One boy suggested circulating suggestive photos of the girls who had dared to complain.

Young, old, teenaged, the average male thinks he is entitled to be crass about women. It’s seen not just as a male prerogative, but a male necessity. Boys are ingrained from childhood to believe that being ‘male’ means expressing sexual power overtly, exaggeratedly and aggressively. A failure to do so is seen as putting one’s masculinity in doubt.

In these chatrooms, there is very little real desire involved. At stake is only male virility — the need to constantly brandish it and prove it. And ‘dirty talk’, which often becomes ‘violent talk’, becomes the way to establish virility.

To paraphrase Margaret Atwood, men are constantly afraid the world will laugh at them. The pressure to avoid peer ridicule pushes them from a very young age into gratuitous sexual violence — it starts with sexist jokes and comments, grows into active misogyny, and ends in abuse.

Each time these events occur, we demand harsher punishments — hang them, castrate them, throw them to the wolves. It’s pointless. Anger only serves to reinforce male insecurity and worsen the misogyny. Groups like Bois Whatever will continue to exist as long as men feel threatened by female sexuality and the enormous self-assurance of creation and nurture that it carries. Lacking this confidence, male sexuality remains the fragile thing it is, needing constant reassurance.

Society encourages this, demanding a concept called “manliness” that nobody really understands. From infancy, all men ever know are guns and cars, taunts of “sissy” for being sensitive, admonitions not to cry, and a constant push to win, trample, triumph. Growing up, they’re forced to keep up the performance, laughing at vulgar jokes and sharing crude photos. Not doing so will immediately “unman” them.

When the film Kabir Singh was received with fury by women, it actually puzzled many men because they saw nothing wrong in the hero’s violent passion. Like the film’s director, his fans were incapable of distinguishing between loving and trophy hunting. They asked why women weren’t grateful to be the object of such overwhelming desire, not realising that women don’t want to be objects at all.

Their bewilderment was genuine. That’s why it is education and not retribution that’s required today. Every boy out there knows the mechanics of sex, but is ignorant about caring, empathy and mutual respect. They need lessons. On the importance of desire and how to express it. On the unimportance of masculinity and femininity. On how to give love and receive it. On how to handle rejection and move on. On how to nurture relationships. On how to be vulnerable and not be afraid of it. These are more vital to sex education than the mere biology.

These are life lessons. And if we don’t want to see more and more Bois clubs, this is what we need to teach our young men. We imagine that carpentry and quantum physics need to be taught while living can be learnt — it’s actually the other way round.

Where the writer tries to make sense of society with seven hundred words and a bit of snark.

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Printable version | Jun 6, 2020 11:29:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/on-bois-locker-room-and-the-toxic-masculinity-thats-raging-in-society-today/article31534388.ece

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