Over the past week, we have looked slightly away from COVID-19. The nation has been gripped by the disturbing story that came out of Delhi on Sunday, 3 May.
An Instagram chat group called ‘Bois Locker Room’, with hundreds of boys from south Delhi was allegedly used for sharing photos of underage girls, objectifying them, body-shaming them and propagating rape culture.
Many of us raged on the toxic masculinity, the normalization of violence and the threats of "gang-rape" given so casually.
But what went so wrong? How can we protect our girls and raise our boys better? Is jail the answer? What should parents do and how can schools help?
To help you grapple with these issues, FIT spoke to Dr Shelja Sen to shine a light on the way forward.
Is Jail Time for the Boys the Answer?
The way forward would be restorative justice, not tribal justice. “There needs to be an acknowledgement that a wrong has been done and some action taken. It could be in terms of community service or an apology letter. The school, child and parent can work that out.”
When a transgression occurs, it is important to focus on dealing with it collectively, without shame and with the purpose of learning.
Of course, the gender inequality in play must be spoken about. “We need to have more conversations. In my work with boys who have transgressed, I always bring in the girls perspective. Even if the girl is not present I need to talk to the boy, ‘Okay so there has been a transgression, what do you think she went through?’
What About the Girls? ‘No, #BoysLockerRoom is not equal to #GirlsLockerRoom’
Talking of gender, while #BoysLockerRoom blew up, screengrabs of a girls chat - #GirlsLockerRoom- made the rounds as well. In it boys were objectified and homophobic slurs were used. Are these equatable?
“The power dynamics in this very important to understand. They are not equal. Boys and girls, no matter if they are 14 or 15 or 16, they are not equal because the gender politics is something very difficult,” says Dr Sen.
All this points to a need for more honest, open and comprehensive sex education. Children are curious, she says, and it is up to parents and teachers to channel this curiosity into thinking of concepts like consent, abuse, inequalities and more than just the mechanics of reproduction.
How do parents raise their girls, who are already being objectified, with the self-confidence to say no and to deal with these sorts of things? And how different is it from how we raise our boys, who need to stand up to their peers who are objectifying women? One of the most important takeaways from the discussion on social media was that it is up to boys to end this culture of gendered harassment, have those tough conversations within their circles and change mindsets.
How do Parents Help? How Can You Raise Self-Confident Girls and Empathetic Boys?
Change also begins at home says Dr Sen. “We as parents need to reflect that how does the dad talk about the mother, how does the mother talk about the dad? How do we refer to boys and girls?”
How Can Schools Help to Create Better Cultures?
“We need to start a separate subject around mental health,” says Dr Sen. And it needs to start early, from when the child is about 4 years old. “When the child starts understanding, ‘Okay this is my body, what is safe touch, what is unsafe touch? Who are the people who can touch me and who cannot? And when I feel unsafe what can I do then?”
Talking and explaining concepts of mental well-being, feelings, consent, sexuality all need to begin weekly from when the child is young. Change will not be easy, but it must be sustained and long-term.