This story first appeared on Eyra Magazine on May 29, 2020
Context: This article was originally written in light of the Bois Locker Room incident. While this incident formed the basis for the article, it was not the linchpin in and of itself, but the incident was used to speak of certain pertinent issues that are as relevant as ever today.
In light of the recent Bois Locker Room incident, I just thought it made sense to speak a bit about everything that has happened, and the questions that have been raised because they have led me to reconsider a lot of things about our culture, especially with regard to the language we use, and the manner in which we convey our dissent or assent for a particular happening.
The minute I found the original post that summarised the screenshots of the vile and degrading language used by those specific boys in that particular group, I was immediately triggered, and naturally subscribed to the glorious clicktivism of our generation, where, in a fit of emotion I happened to speak out on my feed, and say what I felt regarding the boys involved in the matter, and those stories had me using certain strong words, to refer to the perpetrators. And naturally so, I felt justified in using those words to say what I said, because I assumed that an issue such as this involves the use of strong language to help move a point across.
A certain friend of mine, who I also happen to follow on the Gram, replied to that story, reprimanding my usage of one particular word, that isn’t really a bad word, but is used in a degrading manner by our generation. She would later go on to speak about the same kind of stuff in a later string of stories on her own account, changing a lot of how I perceived issues and tried to address them, especially the factor of using strong words to express intensity, which is what inspired me to write this.
Words are powerful things, and the freedom to use them is a grace bestowed on all of us. I happened to also witness an array of stories, an array of posts that spoke out against the matter, and I also witnessed different degrees of backlash against these posts, varying according to how strongly people in those posts had spoken about it. A certain video that was publicised largely, struck me the strongest. It was an IGTV video put up by a certain @moosejattana, where she addresses the most pertinent questions raised by the issue in a very dignified, specific manner, having made notes beforehand, and then referring to the things she wanted to talk about. Naturally, the dignity with which she addressed the issue struck a chord with not just me, but a million other people who shared the video on their own specific accounts.
At the same time, there was another post, which very interestingly, addressed the phenomena of the ‘notallmen’ hashtag, but this post took on the complete opposite of the manner in which @moosejattana handled the issue – it was angry. Very, very angry.
Now, generally, when you speak about something, there are bound to be people who disagree with what you’re saying, and more often than not, these people respond to tell you exactly that. Now, there were a similar array of posts, as I mentioned earlier, with varying degrees of moderation in both tone and language usage. Most interestingly, the dissenting responses, corresponded with the tone. The angry posts got angry replies, the less angry posts, got more civil replies – an interesting learning for me, someone that has always used his tone according to the intensity of the issue. A certain person in my life (Hello Dad!), since childhood, has told me the importance of tone in conversations you have with people, and how that can make or break a relationship, or can propagate healthy or unhealthy conversations, and all of this knowledge came barreling back to me.
So the whole point of this segment is to speak of how language and tone influence issues that need to be spoken about. It is mighty important to propagate civil conversation by using an easy to understand, easy to digest lexicon to make things clearer.
Now, this directly leads me to an entirely different issue altogether. Our culture is so interspersed with different usages of different words, that this in itself is perhaps the reason for how we have naturalised objectification of race, objectification of gender, and a myriad other issues. The best example is one of the women who spoke out against these locker room kids, who herself has been labelled a hypocrite, and rightly so, when we happen upon those screenshots which show her using the same sort of abusive language to speak to somebody else. The issue with this is, the very people against the cause she is fighting for have leverage against her, which they have naturally begun using to discredit the nobility of the original cause she was fighting for, which is saddening to say the least.
So language, and the generalisation of so many words that have seeped into our millennial consciousness, have resulted in our witnessing these atrocities, when we can’t even be sure what is black and white – making everything seem super grey. In many ways, language is a fault.
This directly leads me to the rape culture that evidently needs correction after these recent incidents.
By definition, rape culture is propagated when people normalise rape and sexual advances because of gender norms in a particular society. How bad is the issue at home? Now first there were the screenshots showing the boys off for their depraved language, immediately after which, there were posts labeling the women who called the men out as hypocrites, and now there are posts showing screenshots of women ‘bitching’ about other men and other women, comparing this to the original boys locker room, sending a ripple effect across social media. So, this rape culture is a lot more entrenched than we think it is.
We have gotten so used to hearing sexualised sentences, sexualised conversations, all of which unbeknownst to us, have created an invisible rift between genders, questioning how we can hold anything sacred in all of this mess, which has finally, today, resulted in an amalgamation, a breaking point, that sort of broke with the first screenshots that appeared on Twitter.
It is interesting that what we are labeling as wrong, what we are labeling as ‘locker room conversations’, seem to be everyday conversation for such a large chunk of our generation, that any single screenshot of 80% of the conversations you’ve had, has the probability of being perceived and labelled as a locker room type of rape culture.
We first have the patriarchy, instilling hetero-normative ideals, after which it goes on to assign gender roles, which already create labels that have stretched apart our understanding of what we consider right and wrong, with human response time, or rather, the level at which we get offended, being super low. And then we, the super illustrious GenZ, blame religion, blame society, blame all the uncles and aunties and the movies we have watched. All of this we blame for having ‘socially conditioned’ us, but then, we go pick up our phones and talk about the same stuff using all the f words and the b words in all languages, and that leaves us even worse off than before, because of how we’re normalising things. These are merely words signifying their meaning, but the way we use them have made them bad.
Never has peer pressure created such an atmosphere of fear, such an atmosphere of chagrin among our social media platforms that so many of us stay silent when we watch stuff like this happen.
This is an indelible reason for rape culture having been extended to the extent that it has, but of course, it wouldn’t be possible without one other reason, a culture shock that has gripped our wonderful generation by its throat – meme culture.
Now, you know what this is already about, even if you wouldn’t openly acknowledge it. Well, I wouldn’t want to not talk about it simply because it is dear to mine and your hearts, but it is, in many ways, the invisible elephant in the room.
Is there a definition for it? In recent times, it is perhaps the strongest instrument of protest, of expressing dissent, the strongest way of making an actual difference – and with great power comes great responsibility, as Uncle Ben (God rest his soul) once said. Memes have been used to discredit brutal dictators, memes have been used to sing protest songs, memes have photo-shopped favourite ministers onto the faces of favourite actresses, memes have utilised irony, sarcasm, better than William Shakespeare could ever have dreamed of doing, but the extent of this sarcasm is such that it has normalized our conversations that touch upon these specific topics, which, while not directly a bad thing, are mixing sense of humour into topics that are tense, albeit inappropriate, and we’ve morphed into a culture that laughs it off for its dankness or nonsensicalness, but that, my friends, is where the problem begins, because, you see, we’ve already started laughing it off.
Now the majority of us (I hope that’s the case) recognise a meme for being a meme that is intended to poke at something, make us laugh, and forget. But a twin tower meme shown to a 9/11 first responder; or a gas chamber meme shown to someone that’s a Nazi sympathizer, only tends to create a feeling of animosity, or anger, or in the worst of cases, a feeling of identifying with a particular meme (such as a meme about genocide or mass murder), which encourages wrongdoing, because those of us – the majority of us, that laugh at these particular memes, do so without knowing the entire historical background, or even if we do know, we simply label the meme for what it is, a meme, and we, once again, laugh it off.
The whole incident that’s cropped up on Instagram, is perhaps a wake-up call of some sort, that we have to think twice before we do things, but that is perhaps the least that we can do because at the end of the day, the memes cannot be stopped. We will continue to witness them; we will continue to hear, and understand, and process them; we will continue to laugh them off. The least I can do, is perhaps tell you to be aware of who you’re exposing a particular meme to, especially when they have gender based overtones of bigotry, which, while funny to most, will be ‘relatable’ to some. And it is that ‘some’ that we have to worry about.