Whispers of Misogyny

When instances of rape occur, most people assume that this is an inevitable fact of life which women and girls must continue to face. But the more you scratch this premise, we begin to understand that this is not a critique of rape, rather it stems from the misogyny that normalizes a culture of sexualized violence against women and girls.

 

Rape culture is a culture where sexualized violence against women and girls is regarded as the norm, and the victims/survivors of such violence are blamed for being assaulted. It is not just about the act of sexual violence, it is the socio-cultural norms, the institutions that promotes impunity for abusers and rapists, shames victims and survivors, and demands women and girls to make unreasonable choices or sacrifices to avoid being sexually assaulted. When a culture of rape is so normalized, it renders itself invisible and serves itself for women to internalize the terror of having their autonomy bounded by the fear of men’s sexual aggression. Ironically, this fear restricts women’s capacity to feel safe in public or private spaces and further pushes them to be dependent on men due to their seeming need for male protection.

 

But this normalization of rape does not just happen with explicit restrictions on women from leaving their homes — it begins with the trivialization and sexual objectification of women and girls. And it can begin as early as childhood. Young boys and men pick up on these attitudes because our culture perpetuates these dehumanizing narratives of girls and women, where their personal autonomy is constantly seen as less than. If these conversations are had on our national televisions by elected officials for the world to see, why is it so surprising that these conversations occur in closed rooms or group chats — and the fact that some of these online arenas that allow for anonymity facilitates some of the more violent conversations about women and girls?

 

In Warwick University, students had a Facebook group called “F*** women. Disrespect them all” where they exchanged racist and misogynist slurs and fantasized about raping other female students, where they even say “rape her friends too, sometimes it’s fun to just go wild and rape 100 girls.” A WhatsApp group that was used by the defendants of the Belfast rape trial spoke about women as “Belfast sluts” and “spit-roasting”.  The “Bois Locker Room” Instagram chat in India had hundreds of boys swapping images of underage girls without their consent, objectifying them and discussed about gang-raping them.

 

As a defense, boys and men in these conversations often classify this as “locker room talk”, claiming that these conversations are had in jest and that it is all just banter. However, it has a multi-pronged purpose and impact; the purpose is that it becomes a competitive sport amongst boys and men to showcase their sense of masculinity (and power) against each other while women and girls bear the brunt of these actions. The impact is that it facilitates a culture that desensitizes boys, men, women and girls to a culture of violence and abuse against women and girls.

 

The real-world ramifications of this so-called private “locker room” banter is that objectification of women desensitizes our culture as a whole on conversations of rape and sexual abuse. It does not realize that the sexualization of women and girls can lead to hostile school and workplaces where harassment, discrimination and the devaluation of women and girls is normalized. It does not take into account that there are men and boys who are emboldened by these jokes to actually take actions to sexually assault someone. What it also does not understand is that women and girls have to wonder with terror on whether she is being sexualized, objectified, dehumanized and threatened by the boys and men in her life, whenever she is not present or listening.

 

The point of “locker room” chats is the ability to create spaces where boys and men can engage in misogynist rhetoric, and can then exit that space without having their actions interrogated. They continue to deny that rape culture exists; but the thing is, they do know rape culture exists, and they do know that they are misogynists — it’s why they hide it in private “locker rooms”.

 

Private spheres are hubs of misogyny, and it’s where it thrives. The more casual or explicit these narratives become, the more it becomes the foundation wherein more egregious forms of violence and abuse is normalized. Locker rooms are where boys and men can objectify and normalize fantasies of rape against women and girls, and dismiss their humanity. WhatsApp groups are where people can share videos of rape. Online spaces are where boys and men can encourage other men to enact sexualized violence against women and girls (or degrade other boys and men if there is some resistance, to the cheers of other boys and men). The offices become sites of sexual harassment or where women are devalued and paid less. The home, a private space, is a locale of domestic violence and sexual abuse against women and children. The bedroom is as private as it can get, and is also a space where women are sexually assaulted every day.

 

All these so-called “private” spaces are connected when rape culture is normalized. The private is not disconnected from the public. Rape culture whispered into ears in private, inevitably shows up in public.

 

If you are a misogynist in private, you are a misogynist everywhere.

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