Boys will be Boys…or will they? Asks a mom who is raising a teenage son

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This is my second piece as the mother of a teenage boy, and I never thought this would be the context in which I would find myself writing it. Raising a Feminist Son connected me to strangers who didn’t know me, but reached out after reading the article. Parents shared their concerns, challenges, societal pressures. A series of conversations started. 

Conversations are what we need today. More often. More openly. 

The recent incident of #boislockerroom is not a standalone incident. This got caught, came to light and reminded us of a generation growing up with distorted moral values, distorted understanding of personal space of an individual, distorted understanding of culture which has been highly misogynistic. 

The tender age of 16… or is 16 really a tender age any more? It’s a question to which I don’t have a clear answer. I have caught chats with unfavourable language, the tone of which would be unacceptable to me as a mother. The F word and other cuss words are part of common lingo. And this is not about gender. This is across genders.

Also Read: Teenage Wasteland, Why rape culture begins in locker rooms

What’s appropriate? What’s not? At what juncture is it a harmless F word and when does it  snowball into heinous conversation like normalising rape? When does verbal aggression start supplementing physical aggression?

This is not to say we don’t all use strong language. The same strong F word that morphs into something ugly in these “locker rooms”, is the same F word girls are punished for using. Is it the word itself? Or is it the scathing tone and privilege that is hidden behind its use? Is it that a boy who enjoys the power trip of spitting the F word at a girl lives in a society where a girl who uses the F word “deserves” whatever bad happens to her? 

Our kids are confused. We are confused. Confused about the right and wrong, confused about where to draw the line, confused about what is casual conversation and when does it tread into a dangerous zone. A 16-17 year teenager finding a girl sexy – is it right or wrong ? Thinking of sex – is it right or wrong? How do we know the morality of safe expression of sexuality when we don’t discuss sexuality with our children. When will they know the difference between attraction and abuse – safe sex and using sexual violence as a punishing weapon. 

We are not sure. What we are sure about is that harassment is wrong, thinking and discussing rape is wrong. Violence is wrong. We as adults have set our moral compass. Our parents had their own moral compass. 

A generation growing up on Sacred Games, Game of Thrones, Kabir Singh, how do they set their moral compass? Patronising your girlfriend is cool. Marrying your rapist is no big deal. Violent sex is fun – even expected. The living rooms are normalising the screaming screens of television sets, inundated with aggressive body language and dirty display of power. This is witnessed by our kids everyday. They say media is art – but art cannot be consumed in a vacuum, and viewers cannot learn to separate fiction from fact if their own belief systems are not strongly in place.

Culture, behaviour, mindset do not operate in silos. They are interconnected and like a virus, highly contagious. A culture of violent language, violent behaviour is normalized through media, social media, celebrity role models. This culture slowly converts into a strong belief system. A recent survey mentions that amongst teenager boys, 1 in 3 resort to abusive and violent behaviour towards the girl that they date. This is an extremely disturbing number. Disturbing not only because the teenager boys are doing it but that the teenager girls are made to believe that they deserve it. Moreover, these are numbers they are not aware of themselves. Hundreds of thousands of abusers abusing their partners, not knowing it’s abuse – hundreds of thousands of victims not knowing they’re victims.

We know where the problem is. We have known it for years. We still haven’t been able to find a solution. And that’s because we have a locker room hiding in our homes. In our schools. On the street. Everyday Sexism, as Laura Bates talks about, is something we need to notice. Every message, every word, every action which is misogynistic, which encourages patriarchy, which is deep rooted in bias needs to be called out. Do we have the courage to do it? It is a social failure. And we are collectively responsible for it.

So what do we do besides sharing our shock over the incident. The incident which repeats itself every few months. We still had not overcome the Bombay Boys case. Or did we? Memories short lived. Lives are busy. We are in a  cocoon thinking but that’s not my boy. 1 in 3 is the statistics and we still want to believe “but that’s not my boy”. 

They are our boys. We need to stand up, call out what’s wrong, create safe space for voices. We need to hear more voices to aid young minds to set their own moral compass. We need sex education that teaches consent over abstinence, boundaries over stigma. As individuals, perhaps we can’t always control the external factors,  but we can make small initiatives. Let’s take initiative to have conversations with our kids, expose the locker room in our own homes, be independent and courageous to make tough calls. Our boys are watching and so are our girls.

We’re creating a new generation of young girls who have the courage and confidence to call out if something wrong is happening. But we also need to create a generation of young boys who do, too. Boys who can stop their friends in these locker rooms, boys who can tell their friends when they are offensive or wrong, boys who don’t keep quiet because “chalta hai”. These locker rooms need to be dismantled from inside out – and it starts with the boys in them.