While the ‘Bois Locker Room’ scandal has exposed the lack of healthy sex education among Indian teenagers, it has also ripped apart societal hypocrisies, gender stereotypes and the systemic fault-lines that lead to sexual violence.
School-goers and college students from prominent schools in Delhi reportedly shared nude pictures of their girlfriends, morphed photos of their female classmates, and chatted casually about gang-rape on a social-media account with this handle.
Unfortunately, it was only one symptom in a malady that includes regressive filmmaking, toxic TikTok videos, and virulent trolling on social media.
How are Indian parents dealing with these rude wakeup calls? Parul Ohri, founding member and chief editor of Momspresso, a user-generated content sharing platform driven by Indian mothers, has a few theories.
A former communications professional, Parul took a break from her career to raise two daughters before co-founding Momspresso where fellow mums can share their unique perspectives. She is also the talk-show host of Let’s Talk with Parul, and has anchored over 200 panel discussions, live social-media sessions with other mothers and experts, and interviews with celebrities.
We spoke to her about the state of sex education in Indian institutions and homes.
What were your first thoughts when you heard about the Bois Locker Room incident?
Of course, there was shock at the graphic extent of objectification and threats of sexual violence by such young boys, but I cannot say I was entirely surprised. My work brings me in touch with people who are working actively on gender issues, survivors of gender-based violence, bullying, and so on, and each story has given me a true reality check of the world we are living in. Being a mother of two teenage daughters makes it imperative for me to be aware of that reality, so that I can help them to negotiate it.
What is the state of sex education in Indian educational institutions and homes?
If parents and teachers are talking to children about sex, it is mostly about safety. There has been a lot of messaging that has been created around “good touch bad touch” and propagated widely through schools and at homes. That is a wonderful starting point, though the idea of having a child take a moral judgement of what is good and bad is being questioned now.
However, I still feel at least it has given parents and teachers a comfortable-enough language to start the talk with very young children. Parents almost never bring up any conversation about sex beyond the safety talk and perhaps some basic answers about how babies are made.
Schools are supposed to have mandatory sessions on sex education, which are unfortunately treated as a box to be ticked and delivered ineffectively. When it is treated as an uncomfortable issue, it will come across as just that to the students and will never achieve the purpose intended.
So where are our adolescents and teenagers getting most of their sex education from?
If we take sex education as a broader topic that includes gender dynamics / relationships, then children are learning from every aspect of their lives, but certainly the Internet tops the list. Almost every teenager has a personal digital device these days and they can get the answers to all their questions anytime, anywhere. Porn is nothing new and every generation has viewed it, but what is worrying is that children are starting so much earlier now – as early as eight to 10 years!
At that tender age, when they have very little understanding of what they are watching, it is yet another message about how women are ‘supposed’ to be viewed in an already misogynist society. Every single raunchy film song and aggression-laden movie just adds strength to that message, as does observing how the adults in their lives behave towards women.
Are schools in India doing enough to educate boys about respecting girls and the idea of consent?
With the focus of sex education being on safety, the concepts of respect and consent are mostly missing. If you look at it from another lens, it is a difficult concept for adults to teach because most of them would never have experienced or practised respectful behaviour towards women in their own lives and homes. This is a lesson that has to be seen and observed at different levels, including but not limited to schools.
Should Indian parents and schools inform their teenage children (both boys and girls) about rape, sexual harassment and assault, and how to protect themselves?
Yes, and we should make it clear that the onus of this information dissemination does not fall solely on the mothers. In fact, fathers have to lead these conversations and help their children understand that sexual aggression – verbal or physical – is not a measure of masculinity.
In schools, the sessions should be held with both boys and girls present together so that gradually the awkwardness goes and they can discuss these issues comfortably.
Whether it is at school or home, the concept of respect must be explained as well as the concept of safety. Given that we live in a digital world, our children need to be taught how to behave and protect themselves online as well. Let’s give our children enough credit – when given the right support and messaging, they will get it.
What is the biggest fear that an Indian mom has about her children, and how can we – as a society – fix this issue?
Safety, of course. We have always feared for their physical safety but now there are alarming attacks happening online as well. We curtailed our daughters’ movement in public spaces in the name of safety, we told them what to wear, when and where to go, where not to go… Now how do we do this in the virtual space? No space will be safe for our children while we still have debilitating patriarchal mindsets.
The change will not happen through a government directive, it has to begin with each one of us. Change starts at home – in the way we view and treat our daughters vis-a-vis our sons, in how divisive gender roles are in our house, in how the men in the family behave towards women, not only the women in the family but also strangers and those economically less privileged than us.
And the messaging has to be consistent. It includes rejecting songs and films that objectify women or portray men getting away with misogyny. It also means shutting down jokes and conversations in peer groups that are offensive to women.
What is lacking in Indian parenting and policing that leads to sexual and gender violence? What is your suggestion to correct this?
The reasons for gender-based violence are many but if we just talk about parenting, what has been lacking is open conversation and not ‘walking the talk’ about respectful behaviour.
Sex is still a taboo subject or at least intensely uncomfortable and therefore is just never brought up, in fact, is shut down abruptly. So instead of healthy conversations that can encourage a positive and gender sensitive mindset about sex and sexuality, children are only exposed to regressive ideas from all corners that normalise the message that it is okay for boys to talk about girls like sexual objects.
My suggestions to make a change in rape culture are in the image below. This is recommended action that has been put together by women on the Let’s Talk with Parul platform.
First published in eShe magazine