Bois Locker Room: When your friends can imagine raping you

The hope for change lies in the attempt to sensitise the men to look at girls and women as fellow human beings rather than as objects of prey.

 |  6-minute read |   05-05-2020
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Trigger Warning: The following account contains description and imagery which some readers may find distressing.

I was one of the 'popular' girls in high school. Not because of conventional reasons like looks or beauty, but because I was the Head Girl, used to win a lot of academic competitive events, was one of the best debaters of my batch, and in hindsight, because I just happened to have a lot of male friends. In hindsight again, I think I was happy about the popularity coming out of my talents and intelligence, but I coveted something beyond the cerebral popularity. I wanted to be liked and appreciated, even desired, for my entire personality, including the way I looked.

We end up internalising a lot of complexes precisely at that age, precisely at the moment when certain desires remain unfulfilled or only partially fulfilled. We want a certain someone to like us the way we like them, to be desired for not just our brains or achievement, but in some way for our beauty. The desire for such desires is also, of course, encouraged through peer pressure, media representations, songs, and almost every single element of popular culture that glorifies external (and conventional, standardised) beauty.

My friendship with people irrespective of gender, my medals and awards, my academic achievements, therefore, were not sufficient. While struggling with all these enormous questions and concerns for a 15-year-old, I thought it fit to ‘date’ the first guy one of my friends suggested and helped me meet. Back then, the process of dating involved an indirect proposition being sent by or through a friend, and going on dates in groups of three, since the third wheel was the alibi.

I couldn’t have imagined, therefore, that one of the many third wheels, for whom we played third wheels too, would want to be at the centre of every dating equation. I still wonder what gave him that sense of entitlement, to details of every male friend’s dating life, and by extension, to all the girls they were dating. It was as if he had built a ‘locker room’ where all his friend’s girlfriends were also going to be his; and when they were not, they would be punished. I must also mention that his male friends did not show (even if they had) any problems with this entitlement, this ‘right’ he had assumed over their extremely private and intimate lives.

main_violence-agains_050520061025.jpgThe worst shock came from the realisation that your ‘friends’ could be your violators, that they could even imagine raping or molesting you. (Representative photo: Reuters)

It was precisely that sense of entitlement that led to not just many break-ups and heartbreaks, but also something way more violent, abusive, and traumatic. I am not sure if it happened with others or not. Especially since I did not get a lot of support from most of my friends, and I didn’t witness a lot of empathy. However, I was made to go through planned and sustained abuse for at least a few months. Not only was the beginning of my break-up orchestrated in an extremely vile and vicious manner, but my right to break up with someone was also questioned. The boy I had started dating was made to believe that I was of ‘questionable’ character because I was friends with too many boys. Not just friends, but ‘too friendly’.

Faced with such a situation, he chose exactly what has been celebrated in popular culture for perhaps centuries — the 'bro-code', 'bros before hoes', 'yaar before maal'. I am not sure what terminology was used, but I was definitely made aware of my precarious situation in such an equation. I did what most young girls are told to do — I panicked, promptly dumped the boy in question, and deluded myself into believing that things would soon be back to 'normal'.

At that age, I don't think any girl knows or wishes to believe that 'normal' is something completely different from what she might imagine it to be.

Boys that age, on the other hand, are willing a 'normal' into existence by forging bonds that years of internalised misogyny and sexism have made them believe in. Their ways of forging a masculine identity involve not just dating 'the most popular girl' (a nebulous category that the boys have themselves created), but also showing her place, assuming rights over her, and of course, abusing a girl (emotionally, psychologically and possibly physically) if she doesn’t allow any of those.

Most stories of trauma begin from such early assertions of not just individual masculinity, but a masculinised community which is unforgiving (on both boys and girls) and relentless in its pursuit of superiority.

main_women_gettyimag_050520061221.jpgI am not sure what terminology was used, but I was definitely made aware of my precarious situation in such an equation. (Representative photo: Getty Images)

From there on, the story plays similarly in most cases. A group of boys decide to support their friend/yaar/bro by demeaning, insulting, humiliating, ostracising and cornering the girl who has 'hurt' him, and by some weird stretch of the imagination, 'hurt' them. They need to plan and strategise ways of doing all of the above, even if it involves a nefarious plan of calling the girl to a secluded spot and molesting her, possibly raping, or gangraping her — meaning of words they probably don't even understand. They do know though, through all their patriarchal training, that these could be the worst possible 'punishments' for a girl, that there is no worse humiliation than rape, and there is no better revenge than rape.

Whether they are able to act on such plans or not, whether such 'rapes' or cases of molestation or abuse are ever reported, whether there is any way out of the social stigma for the girls, are questions that remain disturbingly unanswered.

In my case, some of the more extreme plans remained plans and couldn't come to fruition precisely because two boys decided that they didn't want to be a party to such a 'code'. While the ostracisation meant that I lost almost all my friends (girls and boys), and the verbal humiliation continued for a while, these two friends made sure that I not only survived and fought it, but also escaped the horrendously violent part of it. Although I was petrified and disturbed to the extent of not being able to invest my faith in them either, I was somehow thankful for their presence. I was thankful for the fact that they considered me a human first — a real person worthy of the same respect and care as the rest of their family and friends, instead of treating me as a sexual object, a trophy, or an inferior who needed to be shown her place.

That was an early lesson on sensitivity. Not just gender sensitivity, but sensitivity in general. The worst shock came from the realisation that your 'friends' could be your violators, that they could even imagine raping or molesting you. And that was the most significant lesson of all.

Rape is something girls and women are often threatened with. It is the easiest threat, in fact. While women shudder at the thought of it, boys and men often encourage each other to make it a part of their regular vocabulary. Any hope for change lies exactly therein — in the attempt to change that vocabulary, the attempt to sensitise boys and men and enable them to look at girls and women as fellow human beings rather than as objects of prey, and finally to take them out of the discourse of the masculinity complex that expects violence of different kinds from them.

Also read: Delhi court asks victim to prove rape. And you wonder why encounters are hailed?

Writer

Dr Yamini Shaista Dr Yamini Shaista

The writer teaches English literature at Dyal Singh College (M), University of Delhi.

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