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Let’s call them out

Sayantan Ghosh | Updated on March 10, 2018

The more the scarier?: Too many men have been conditioned to believe that unless they are revelling obnoxiously and creating a hostile environment for everyone else, they’re not having a good time.   -  Reuters

Why the invisible brat boys’ clubs around us must be pulled to pieces

How many times have you seen your father mock your mother’s indifference towards cooking and noticed he and his friends have a good laugh about it? How many times have you stood at an office party and heard one of your “superiors” shame someone for being fat? How many times have you been around old buddies from high school and heard one of them recalling an “unattainable” female classmate, calling her a “whore”? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. But you know who you are. You could argue that a lot of things when taken out of context sound offensive. You’re right. A lot of things do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a propagator of offensive humour. My own morality has been skewed and I have never shied away from questioning it. I have no shame in telling you that I hate so many things about who I was a couple of years ago. And if I go back a couple of years, I know I would hate who I was two years before then. So this isn’t a lecture in morality.

Here’s the thing. Do we never find ourselves in situations where inappropriate thoughts crowd our heads? We do. Are we never tempted to say something crude because we think we have thought of something funny and deserve credit for originality? Maybe. Have I ever said improper things and made people laugh? (Or even cringe?) Hell, yes. Have many of those people been women? Obviously. But who are these people? Will I walk up to my mother and read out an explicit joke I have received on WhatsApp forward? Definitely not.

I am generalising, but my bet is that most men reading this won’t either. Why? Certainly because it’s your mother and it’s awkward to talk dirty in front of her — because it’s not too hard to imagine how visibly uncomfortable that would be for her. Then why do you presume that you have that licence when in the company of someone you work with? Why is it suddenly science fiction to you to see the girl sitting next to you in class wince when your male professor drops a butt joke bomb in the middle of an economics lecture?

When I’m sipping beer at the house of two of my closest friends in Delhi, I say certain things which I may not repeat in the presence of strangers or acquaintances. So I’m certainly taking some liberties there, in that environment. It’s because I know that when I’m walking out of that house the next morning, none of us will be adversely affected by what was said the night before. We may argue, even fight, and often call each other out because we are all learning something new about ourselves every time we open our mouth. But while I’m sitting in their house, we have all chosen to be a part of that moment. And what we may say to draw a laugh out of somebody wouldn’t transform our futures in a way, say, bullying or abuse does. Does that mean there are no boundaries in environments where we are most comfortable? There are. Would you crack a child abuse joke even when you’re alone, in your head? If your answer is ‘yes’, then I have news for you, buddy. That’s not a joke in any universe. And you’re not my buddy. The theory is rather uncomplicated. If you share a wisecrack in front of one or more people and they don’t seem to enjoy or encourage it — stop, and back off.

This is where I bring the brat boys’ clubs back into the picture. The ones referred to in the very first passage of this essay — men who noticeably succumb to a false sense of entitlement in the company of other men they consider like-minded. And I say boys’ because there’s a kind of ruthlessness which is specific to the male species. Sometimes, of course, it’s just authoritative power; like in the case of the office senior. More often than not it’s simply men who have been conditioned to believe that unless they are revelling obnoxiously and creating a hostile environment for everyone else, they’re not having a good time. Our uncles get the courage from other uncles cheering them on; the boss gets nerve to humiliate when he knows that sycophants will laugh at anything he says because they need that increment to pay off car loans. These brat boys’ clubs protect, shelter and nurture a philosophy in which everyone who is unlike them — mostly women — can be mocked, ridiculed and even dismissed.

These clubs exist in offices, homes, car parks, school buildings, university campuses, and airports; at political rallies, water cooler gatherings, football matches, reality shows, and family WhatsApp groups. Seemingly harmless groups wearing scented clothes and Gucci watches that systematically target, attack and damage people. And those doing it are often just regular people too; I am ready to give them that benefit of doubt. Most of them, I have observed, when away from their herd are reasonable people who respect boundaries. Whether you’re part of such a group and an abuser or a victim of it, fundamentally most of us are similar folks who wouldn’t intentionally harm another person. And therefore it’s our collective responsibility to dismantle every such manic group we encounter.

If we are the subject of such a ‘joke’, we walk out. If we are privy to such a ‘joke’ we walk out. If we are in a college WhatsApp group where someone is being derided, we exit. And if we are expected to be on the side of the one telling the joke, even if it’s the all-powerful Weinsteins or VICEs of the world, we still walk out. And once we do, and we see the offenders standing alone, in the absence of an audience, we’ll notice how powerless they are.

Sayantan Ghosh is a Delhi-based writer

Published on December 29, 2017

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