One big men's locker room

Updated: 08 August, 2020 04:16 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

When casual misogyny is excused and accepted as harmless, we end up damaging the very nature of our society itself

representation piC/getty images
representation piC/getty images

LindA stand-up comic was made to apologise for a joke that offended India's thin-skinned trolls. This wasn't surprising because we have long given up on civilised discourse. What came as a shock nonetheless was the hate towards that woman that arrived in the aftermath and overwhelmed Twitter timelines and Instagram stories for days. Thousands of us watched, in horror, as young men casually reduced the women of India to commodities, discussing their violation the way some people discuss produce at a grocery store.

I stopped watching after a few seconds because I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that these videos were real. They were not filmed candidly, but uploaded by the makers themselves, to platforms that guaranteed they would be disseminated far and wide, without fear of consequence. I don't know if all the men were arrested and don't hold out hope for that happening, but couldn't quite understand how we had arrived at a place in our country's history where something like this could be broadcast with impunity.

Think about it: These were threats of rape made by young men who proudly declared their intentions, advertised personal details about who they were and where they lived, and then shared these videos to anyone and everyone with access to a smartphone. They didn't care about how these threats would be received, or who would see them, which made me think about their friends and family members. I couldn't imagine no one in their immediate circle not having access to these threats, but they stayed online nonetheless, which meant they were accepted, ignored, or condoned.

For men, examples of what we dismissively refer to as 'locker room talk' abound in most of our lives. We have WhatsApp groups with school or college buddies that often deteriorate into an unending stream of graphic images or memes, all of which starts to seem normal after a point because of how desensitised we have become. These groups exist because we have made it seem okay for them to exist, in much the same way that messages of hate and bigotry have been allowed to invade our group chats.

What I saw when those videos began to spread, wasn't just evidence of wayward young men who didn't know better; I saw evidence of the fact that something has broken in our society and culture because we collectively decided to look away from the cracks. There were signs for years, from the gradual degradation of female actors in our cinema to the crude remarks against women in public made by men elected to represent us in government. We saw it all play out in front of us, on screens that were small as well as gigantic, and chose to laugh it off. What those boys showed us was a mirror, a reflection of who we had all become.

A few years ago, I remember calling out colleagues at work for comments that were sexist. They laughed, so I filed a complaint with that firm's HR department. Nothing happened, and I am ready to bet that the people I worked with back then haven't changed at all. If there had been consequences at the time, even via minor warnings issued by email, I believe those men would hesitate to post anything hateful or demeaning again. They were given a free pass instead.

We have a deluded way of looking at India and constantly pointing to outsiders that ours is a country where women are treated with the deepest respect. We conveniently ignore the fact that India today is one of the most dangerous places for women in the world, which ought to horrify us into action, but does nothing. It's why men think it perfectly acceptable to threaten women, describe their bodies, then post these comments in public with the belief that they will be inundated by likes and messages of support.

One of the boys responsible for that video was arrested soon after, not because the police chose to do this of their own accord, but because they were shamed into action. He then put up a perfunctory apology and promised to discuss this in further detail in his next video. He continued to have access to the platform, as well as a receptive audience that had no qualms about forgiving him and allowing him to move on.

When people we know get away with shameful behaviour, we don't just let them down; we betray the coming generations of our country in the process.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira
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First Published: 08 August, 2020 04:15 IST

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