In the past 48 hours, screenshots of chats from an Instagram group called the ‘bois locker room’ have flooded social media platforms and peppered Instagram stories. First exposed by Nishka Nagpal, the chats were immediately forwarded and shared by women and men who felt outraged and disgusted by their contents. From threatening to share girls’ nudes to making lewd remarks about posts by girls as young as 14, the group chat is now being discussed as a startling but unsurprising manifestation of rape culture and the notion of a ‘boys’ locker room’. It has clearly triggered an insanely overdue conversation, but at last – let’s have it.
Women’s bodies, for centuries, have been viewed as properties of public ownership. Whether through weak legislation, cultural dynamics or societal beliefs – their bodies have been little more than objects for mass consumption, open to scrutiny and constant critique. We’re fooling ourselves if we think today is any different. While many of us inhabit grossly privileged spaces, the idea of women and their bodies as ‘fair game’ flows far deeper than we would be comfortable acknowledging. Despite growing up in a progressive household, studying in an elite school, and attending a private university, I have constantly witnessed an enabling and propagation of rape culture.
However, given the magnitude of violent crimes committed against women in this country, none of these instances of a subtler nature seemed to matter. What is the point of policing small, forgettable comments made on the daily when there’s real problems out there? It was a perspective generated out of my sheltered environment, and a guilt at comprehending the extent of my privilege in matters of safety and security. However, if there is anything this group chat should show us, it is that ALL manifestations of rape culture matter. Small things matter, because they normalize bigger ones.
The trendiest and contemporary excuse for men to say whatever they please, no questions asked? The bois locker room. Dusted off for its use during the peak of the #MeToo movement, this analogy is little more than a free pass. Pussy-grabbing Donald Trump and his band of egoistic co-conspirators were speaking the way men do, the way men should. After all, a man sharing his opinion is his birthright. Women have to claw their way towards impossible standards of success for even a chance at deserving to share theirs.
But for men, the locker room is just one of the many places where their voice matters. Specifically, in relation to women and their bodies. We term it ‘locker room talk’ as if men are genuinely sitting in cramped spaces, up against metallic cupboards, whispering their thoughts. That isn’t reality. Men have, and continue to, speak whenever, wherever, however. It isn’t as much a locker room as it is an open invitation to all public and many private spaces. There are no lines drawn.
This free-pass facilitates rape culture in countless ways. Expectations of how men should speak determines the conversation, and all those included contribute whatever they need to in order to gain social approval. It’s an easily identified herd mentality, and no one is willing to resist being a sheep. Risking social ostracization for an abstract moral calling seems too high a price to pay. It’s unfair of us to assume that women would be exempted from this pattern of behavior. We have seen, time and again, that women are often fierce propagators of the patriarchy themselves. The girls in the chat screenshots trying to protect their male friends and request that they “make a locker room on snap next time” are small parts of an enormous culture of women historically defending, legitimizing, justifying this kind of behavior.
Often, it’s easiest to pin the blame for occurrences such as the bois locker room upon lack of education. Here, with all the boys coming from privileged, educated backgrounds, that simply does not hold. Of course, the influence of home life, society and larger cultural trends is undeniable in crafting a broader problematic mindset, but we cannot shift the responsibility from where it primarily rests – on the individual. While men are treated with a disturbing lack of accountability for their words and choices, women are expected to constantly be responsible for what happens to them.
Especially concerning are attempts to harness this conversation to warn young girls against posting photos of themselves on social media. Victim-blaming has never been the solution, but that hasn’t stopped significant numbers of people from indulging in it. It is the same logic that prefers to keep women indoors at night time rather than combat the obstacles to their freedom. It is the same logic that considers a victim of sexual assault’s clothing before it considers her assaulter. It is the same logic that prioritizes men and defending their ‘weaknesses’, rather than supporting women and their strengths.
I too must have done my part in contributing to this culture. I’m certain of it. Calling attention to it or making my discomfort visible has hardly triggered self-reflection in those I was with, and rather prompted a bevy of comments about my lack of a ‘sense of humor’ and uptight nature. Rather than reinforce my desire to call this out, it shut me up and I’m ashamed of it. Calling out ALL, big or small, comments that objectify women, place their worth in their physical appearance, and degrade them at any level, is vital. There is no redemption without it. We cannot expect to wake up one day in a sunnier, more compassionate and equal society if we aren’t willing to take action ourselves.
The latest round of ‘who-can-post-the-most-stories-to-prove-they-care’ is perhaps the most ironic of all. Why is it that we must wait until a situation extreme enough to shake off our lethargy takes place? Men who have been known to make derogatory remarks about women, and sit happily in rooms while their friends do the same, are posting stories calling for others to ‘stand up for women.’ This is not another opportunity to play the tempting role of male savior. Women do not need your pity – they need your action.
Your Instagram story display is worthless without it being followed by real, focused efforts to regulate yourself and those around you. Do not DM women saying you are there to protect them. You play as much a part in this ancient, suffocating atmosphere as the rest of us. Want to know how to help? Try to be as much a part of the solution as you are of the problem. Everyone understands the difficulty of looking in the mirror and being honest with yourself. It isn’t easy. If it was easy, we would have done it generations ago and achieved the utopia we sit idly by in anticipation of.
Once we accept our own role in creating a more unequal society, it is all the more important to call out those around us. Hold your friends to higher standards, and ask for better. If no one is willing to ask for more, we are unlikely to ever get it. The way the ‘bois locker room’ is not an excuse for you to comment on someone’s breasts or thighs, the difficulty of this confrontation is not an excuse to avoid it. Living in the same world as the rest of us, walking the same streets, breathing the same air – it’s impossible that we are not all culpable.
So, if you want to really, truly help – put the sharp, keen want for change above the needy pining for acceptance. You are not the exception, and neither am I. We should not always need a reckoning to acknowledge it.
Featured Image Source: @Diaanand.art