For the last few days, people around the globe have been sharing stories of sexual harassment and different other forms of abuse on various platforms of social media. Many people I am acquainted with have come out with incidents of abuse and a few men have come forward to give confessions of the times when they had willingly or unwillingly tried to inflict abuse upon someone. This has got me thinking about many things including how men react when they hear an incident of abuse against women. Twitter has been abuzz with reactions to subsequent hashtags like #NotAllMen. Everything has been pretty much laid out in the open for all to see. A teacher I know posted something on Facebook yesterday which has prompted me to sit down and think. I want to type all these down for everyone to know.
I don’t exactly remember when it began; I guess it became visible after the onset of puberty. I also do not remember the first time when my peers made a vulgar remark against any of the girls in our class. I was in a CBSE government school for the entirety of my school life and the atmosphere after I turned a teenager was one which bred all sorts of negativity towards girls. With the knowledge of pornography and sexual organs came the realization of lust and objectification of women. It seemed like a fun thing to do, commenting about how a classmate’ breasts were suddenly growing large or how her buttocks were starting to become more prominent. It escalated to things like how it would feel to spend one night with the “hot” girl in the next class and how one would actually want to do “things” to her, discussions about female and male genitalia. Things like menstruation disgusted everyone. There were a lot of graphic details involved in all this; enacting everything was one of them as we had a few people who went over the top with things like this. Everything was taken in a very casual manner. Things were said and forgotten in a manner of seconds. None of us gave a second thought about where all this was actually heading to. None of us, for one second, gave a thought that things like this when said aloud can hurt someone, that these things are demeaning. And to be honest, this is how the average teenage life of boys is. After I passed out of school, I used to meet my juniors every now and then and it didn’t take me long to realise that even they were obsessed with the same things as we were.
We never knew the reason why but until 9th grade, we had little to no interaction with the girls in our class. In 9th grade, a class project brought us together as the entire class had to work as a team. I had seldom spoken to girls properly until then. This period of null interaction with the opposite gender created a sort of animosity towards them. We thought them to be egoistic, talkative and irritating in general and hence, best be avoided at all sorts. All of us were borderline misogynistic. In a few years, some of them got girlfriends but they continued to find titillation in the conversations we had.
In a matter of days, phone numbers were exchanged and some of my friends became friends with some of the girls. This didn’t mean that we stopped making lewd jokes among ourselves. Although I was expected to be a part of all this, considering I was in the “gang”, I refrained for most of the time. There were instances when I laughed at the jokes that were made, laughed when comments about body image were made, laughed about the many things involving sex and pornography and while slut shaming someone. If a girl didn’t reciprocate against a guy’s propositions, she was automatically a slut. During this time, a few stories started circulating about a certain girl in school who had engaged in sexual activities and had to get an abortion. To this day, I don’t know what the actual story was nor have I ever made an attempt to find out. In my opinion, it is a completely personal matter and I never wanted to do investigative journalism in this. What appals me now is the amount of slut shaming everyone did against this girl. Stories were narrated in class as to what happened, who was involved, how it happened. Now when I think of it, I see how dangerous we were as humans and I am glad that my mentality has changed. I don’t know about my classmates’ though. My classmates had fun talking about all this without an iota of shame. Even teachers were aware of the comments that were passed against the girl but nobody said a word. I remember her not seeing for the longest time in school and once she came back, people saw her as the example of committing the most disgusting of all crimes, which is to have sex with someone in high school. She was seen as an example of all things wrong with children who aren’t supervised by their guardians. We didn’t even talk about sex; nobody taught us the very definition of it! It was a school which skipped the chapter of Human Reproduction in its entirety. What more can one expect? There was another girl who was called a slut just because she had dated a few boys in our school. She was in a relationship with a control freak and the abuse inflicted upon her was visible. She was ignored by girls while boys slut-shamed her on a daily basis. I have seen my classmate call her a “randi”, right before my very eyes. Abuse was normalised. The bottom line is the guy never even realized that it was abuse. Boys felt that they were entitled to say things because they were boys.
I have been part of all this for many years without realising anything. I have been equally guilty of being silent and not drawing the line between what can be accepted and what cannot. How could I? Nobody ever told me what was right and what was wrong. Parents, teachers, siblings, friends, nobody told us the basics of human compassion. I blame every one of them. Things like mutual respect and gender equality were not part of the curriculum. What we were made to believe was that girls and boys were two separate entities and the more they don’t mingle the better. This was the image that was projected to me by people who were my elders. We never sat with girls, we never shared our lunch, we didn’t talk to them properly for years and we stopped playing with them after 3rd grade. We never understood them and all we learnt by growing up in a small town with limited knowledge about things was that women were objects of desire, like the way popular media and pornography portrayed in front of us.
I am apologetic for the things I have been a part of and for the so-called people I had as friends. I am ashamed for laughing at those demeaning, sexist jokes which we perceived as something normal. I am ashamed of being a part of a population which objectified women, a population which thought about fucking every girl that seemed pretty to them. I am ashamed of being quiet at times when I shouldn’t have. I have realised that I was once a part of the problem but I am glad that things have changed. I cannot speak for my peers but I am speaking for myself.