Have You Ever Shut a Boy Who Made a Sexist Joke? I Haven’t. And That’s The Problem


Have You Ever Shut a Boy Who Made a Sexist Joke? I Haven’t. And That’s The Problem

When I looked at the insensitive and crass messages from the “Bois locker room” group chat, I instinctively gave myself the benefit of doubt. “We never did that, ugh… school kids these days!” I put the blame on a “spoilt rich bunch” and moved on. But truth be told, this was nothing but some sort of self-defence mechanism to alienate myself from this “all boys club”, to convince myself that my friends and I were nothing like them, and that this new generation has regressed. Maybe it’s Snapchat’s fault.

But were we really nothing like them? There was no conversation about rape, even as a joke… but am I guilt-free?

I think back to the time when I was in school in the early noughties and we had a lot in common with the boys from Delhi barring one thing – the cellphone. We went to affluent schools, had “boys’ only” groups, said obnoxious things about women within our closed circles when no one was listening. We got away probably because there was no girl who complained and possibly because there wasn’t a device on which our derogatory conversations were recorded, stored, and later broadcast on an online platform for the whole world to see for perpetuity.

Back then, all the “talk” remained confined within the boys’ group, at most a parent would overhear and warn her son to stay away from such company. A teacher would reprimand someone, we’d hang our heads because we had to – not because we were ashamed, giggle about it later, and then move on. Yes, we are guilty and so are most of our fathers. Much before the virtual “bois locker room”, versions of it existed as we gathered in corners in schools, under our houses, and outside coaching classes. And today, even as we outrage over the Delhi schoolboys, there exist WhatsApp groups where pornographic clips are shared, lewd remarks are passed about women and their bodies, and sexist jokes are received with Lols and laughter emojis.

“Male bonding” to quite an extent is premised on talking about women, where anything goes and everything is sacred. And that these groups continue to exist is proof that #MeToo has done little to change that. Yes we are afraid, which only means men today might think twice about how they behave in public, but when no one’s watching or when they feel “safe”, they don’t hesitate to make a rape joke here and pass a misogynistic comment there.

How did we get here?

“Bro culture” that we know of today is little about brotherhood and more about tolerating each other’s worst traits.

TBH, we got here because we did nothing to get away from it. There have been numerous conversations I have been privy to where lines were crossed, chats that made me feel uneasy and at times even angry. But I let it pass, be it in school, college, or at a workplace. I either ignored a WhatsApp message or muted the group; I chose not to hang with a group of boys or worse, I faked a laugh. Because I didn’t want to be branded a “sissy, an “uncle with no sense of humour” or be mocked for “suddenly becoming the feminist type”. How could I risk a childhood friendship over a loose comment? What’s the point of having a difficult conversation with that pervy relative? How can I be a party-pooper and leave an informal boys’ group? What will be the consequences of calling out a sexist boss? The excuses are aplenty.

That’s the problem and I am part of it. The Delhi “bois locker room” exists today because there was no one who stood up and said that conversations about rape and morphing images of classmates was not to be tolerated. They believed that is all part of growing up. They were raised in the same environment as I. So when a school senior introduced them to this toxic culture, there was yet another senior like me who probably kept mum knowing that it was wrong. It all starts with a seemingly benign joke and soon escalates to bullying. Each of these individual moments can seem harmless at a time but every comment only propagates this culture further.

It will probably stop when men stop using the “boys will be boys” excuse. When they realise that the “bro culture” that we know of today is little about brotherhood and more about tolerating each other’s worst traits.

This is a pandemic that has existed for far too long. The only cure is that more and more men begin to draw the line. Say “enough” when the first sexist joke is cracked. It takes 20 seconds for your hands but it takes 10 to shut someone down. Or even less to exit a WhatsApp “boys only” group. That’s where I am going to start.