What it Takes to Dismantle Locker Room Culture: A Personal Story
In the last week, private group chats called ‘Locker Rooms’ were exposed on social media. As the news spread, multiple Instagram posts and stories spread condemning ‘Locker Room Talk’, the perpetrators and the bystanders.
While there has been endless discourse about perpetrators, this incident pushed bystanders into the spotlight. Suddenly, being a passive participant didn’t dissolve your role in the issue.
I can almost hear the chorus of “Stand up for what is right!”, “Fight the culture!”, “At least walk away”, and a finale of “If you are a bystander, you are part of the problem.”
Initially, I was overjoyed. This was a huge step in the right direction. After all, on a virtual chat, leaving the conversation is one click away.
It’s in the real world where matters are complicated.
This is where it gets personal.
Before I begin, I’d like to clarify that my friends, to my knowledge, have never blatantly objectified a person. They have also never reached the level of indecency present in the ‘Bois Locker room’. The things they had said are unfortunately common-place in our language.
I would also like to clarify that this is aimed at people of all genders. Anyone can be a feminist, anyone can be sexist, regardless of gender.
As for me, I have been a feminist for as long as I can remember — before I even came across the word. By the time I reached high school, I knew the meaning of terms like ‘Casual Sexism’, ‘Rape Culture’, and ‘Victim Blaming’.
I had a large group of diverse friends, which exposed me to a particular problem. When one is considered to be “a part of the gang”, all social filters dissolve. ‘Locker Room talk’ becomes a part of general conversation and the casual sexism and gender disparity of teenagers is put on proud display.
Admittedly, I let some of the smaller, initial incidents slide. I took the easy way out and removed myself from the situation. After all, everyone did it anyway. Surely there were bigger issues than what a bunch of teenagers said, right?
But these were my friends, and I thought I could change the world.
So, I began to fight for what I thought was right. I was armed with real-world examples, well-crafted arguments, and the views of countless feminists. How hard could it be? My friends were educated and kind, they supported women; surely they would see the light.
Oh, how wrong I was.
Each person reacted differently. Some played ‘Devil’s advocate’, others brushed me off saying it was ‘just a joke’, some even told me I read too much into things. Very few spoke up with me — to them I am eternally grateful.
For each sexist joke I didn’t laugh at, for all the casual sexism I called out, for every feminist stand I took, I was ridiculed. I couldn’t even ‘just leave’ anymore — they knew what it meant. The problem, apparently, was with me. I couldn’t take a joke, I was too serious, I was a buzzkill, I was a party-pooper, I was just too much of a ‘FemiNazi’.
I was just a teenager. It hit me hard.
Eventually, it went too far. The argument had been going on for hours on our group chat. Someone has casually used the word ‘rape’ instead of destroy. Most of the group got involved. I was trying to make them understand the consequences. What the normalization of rape meant for society, for us, for the girls in the group, for me. And it didn’t change anything at all.
I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t see my point. I couldn’t understand why they were arguing so vehemently against me. I couldn’t understand how they could be so indifferent.
That night, something inside me gave up. At one point, I was sobbing on the floor. I was afraid of the people my friends were. I was broken.
I realized that my best efforts weren’t good enough. I realized that I couldn’t get them to change. I realized that it was all for nothing. I was done.
After that, I seemed to have lost my voice. I’m ashamed to admit, I let a lot of incidents slide. I had to put a lot of myself at risk to fight and I couldn’t see a point anymore.
It took me a while to realize why the fight was so personal. For me, as a girl who has to live in this society, as someone who knows the consequences of our cultures, there is too much at stake. My freedom, safety, and life depend on it. I depend on it.
It’s exhausting to argue with people who do not realize what they have at stake. Themselves, us, humanity. We are all at stake.
This is the reality of trying to dismantle a deep-rooted culture. You are bullied for it. You are mocked for it. You are ridiculed for it. You could be physically harmed for it.
How can we blame someone for standing by?
It is not something you can do in an unsafe environment. It is not something you can do without risking your friendship. It is not something you can do without consequences. It is not something you can do without support.
Still, we must try. Even after understanding the risks, we must try. We are on the front-lines of a fight that has raged for centuries. We are carrying forward the legacy of the feminists before us. We are forging a better society for everyone.
I cannot control the rest, but I can offer you my support. You have it all.
I cannot say it will be easy, but I can give you hope. Today, most of those friends are fighting for the same thing.
Most important of all, we cannot do this without you.
Every little bit counts. This fight is bigger than any of us, and it affects us all. It’s time to be fiercer than ever. We have an entire culture to dismantle, after all.