Sharanya Misra

The Thappad.

I watched the movie Thappad a few weeks ago (FINALLY) and almost immediately, like everyone else around me, I jumped on the judgemental wagon that has been doing the rounds – Did she do right? Was she justified? Would anyone in real life ever do this?

For the uninitiated, the movie is basically about a lady who, otherwise leading a very happy married life, is shaken up when her husband slaps her out of the blue. At a party. With 40 guests. At their home. And…that’s basically it. The protagonist decides she isn’t okay with even the “just one” thappad and moves out.

The movie created a stir, even among women (or maybe, especially among them??) as everyone wondered if such a drastic reaction to one slap was uncalled for. But then, with everyone busily slaughtering the reaction, who was actually raising fingers on the action itself?

Whether a victim of domestic abuse decides to speak up after years of putting up with it or puts her foot down at the first instance, the point that we need to focus on is the act of abuse itself, and why it happened in the first place.

By not raising this pertinent question, we were failing as an audience!

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The Bois Locker Room.

In this parallel incident, a group of teenaged boys in India got together on their group on Instagram to exchange compromising and morphed photos of minor girls (many from their own classes/schools) and pass lewd comments on them.

There have, obviously, been severe reactions to these chats from all sides. Parents of girls particularly (me included) were shaken up looking at the messages exchanged, wondering what kind of a world they had brought our daughters into. The police is involved and the wrong doers are being brought to justice.

But the fact is – the boys are teenagers who didn’t believe they were doing something wrong!

Why did these boys feel the need to reach out to others and pass vile comments about girls’ bodies? Clearly it was a case of misdirected pent up sexual frustrations that manifested in such conversations. Shouldn’t we be talking about why our teenaged boys think this way?

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Let’s get digging.

Learning at Home.

Boys in our country seem to grow up with a misplaced sense of privilege that allows them to treat girls and women with a casual, dismissive attitude.

Have a work problem? Throw a slap around and your wife would just have to take it quietly, because it’s her duty to be there for you, afterall she promised to stand by you through thick and thin. A girl at school rejects your advances? Call her a slut and bodyshame her in front of your friends. Afterall, how dare she reject you! The deep rooted problem here is a complete lack of respect for girls/women. And where do they learn this from if not at home?

We bring up our sons telling them to come back home, whenever, just as long as they are having fun. And in the same breath we tell their mothers and sisters to be back by 10PM. And what lesson do we give them indirectly? That women staying out post 10PM are not good.

We tell the girls at home not to expose and not wear shorts or to cover up with dupattas, right in front of their brothers. What message does this pass to the boys? That girls must dress a certain way to deserve respect.

Every other household has a husband ill treating his wife who continues to tolerate in silence. And what do the children learn? That the man says and the woman does.

Essentially, boys grow up learning that women deserve ‘conditional’ respect. They thrive under the misconception of their superiority because that is what they see around them. They are never taught to treat girls as equals.

Why the taboo around human bodies?

Another huge gap in the way we bring up our boys is the taboo we associate with sex and women’s bodies. Heck, we don’t even tell our boys about menstruation even though the women in their homes go through it pretty much all their lives! I remember in class 9, all the girls in my school were packed into a hall and made to listen to an expert speaking on menstruation. I wonder why it was assumed that boys didn’t need to know about it! These same boys would in the future probably work with women colleagues or marry women or be blessed with daughters. Why didn’t they need to be armed with this info??

No one answers their queries about women’s bodies. And with this conversation being missed out on, we don’t seem to even get to the more important conversation that women are

more than their bodies!

Objectifying Women.

A combination of these two issues results in the terrifying reality of boys objectifying girls. Women are no longer humans deserving respect, but mere objects meant to fulfil demands, either for satiating men’s sexual desires or for nurturing their fragile egos. No wonder, Vikram didn’t think twice before slapping Amu hard, and those teemaged boys thought nothing wrong in reducing the girls around them to simply breasts and vaginas.

We can chant ‘NotAllMen’ all we want. We can raise fingers at ‘Pseudo Feminists’ and scream hoarse about the girls who are at fault. And sure, those may be valid points that need to be discussed, but they won’t make any of this right.

The first step to resolving a problem is acknowledging its existence! Because the truth is, that be it a movie or real life, there is an urgent need for us to think over how we can bring up our boys differently. A need for us to put a stop to the chant of ‘Boys will be boys’ and recognise that maybe our very perception of what being a boy entails needs a change.

We can all play the blame game and put it on the gender and simply say “that’s just who they are”, or we can step back and analyse what we can do differently so that these young minds are brought up the right way.

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Gender Sensitivity.

Let’s begin at home. Gender sensitivity is a critical lesson they must be brought up with. Let’s read up more on how we can answer their questions on human bodies and sexuality without hushing them up, encouraging them to speak their minds with us could stop secret Instagram groups. Let’s bring in respect for women in our own words and actions, so they learn it too.

Pay the Attention they Need.

A HUGE misconception in our society seems to be the idea that boys just grow up on their own, while it’s the girls who need to be paid attention to. Oh dear God, no!! Let us give our growing boys the focus and dedicated attention they deserve, this is the foundation we can lay for a better society.

And most importantly,

Men, Speak Up!

In all of the movie Thappad, not one man told the husband that he was wrong, but for the boss (finally!). In fact, the guy was surrounded by men like his friend and brother, both of whom firmly agreed that one thappad was okay and that his wife was overreacting. I wonder why neither of them had the courage to put some sense into the man’s head, showed him his fault and asked him to show some remorse over his wrong doing. Now, I know it was a movie, but things are not very different in real life.

I strongly believe that in order to positively influence boys, it is very important for other boys/men to speak up!

How many men stop a friend leering at girls at a disco or bar and tell him he’s wrong? How many boys have the guts to stop a classmate ogling at morphed pictures of girls in their class on his phone? How many colleagues at work would call out a friend for saying a sexist joke at the lunch table? Just food for thought. Imagine the good that would happen if they did.

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Finally, the thing is, we could watch a movie like Thappad or read in the news about bois locker room incidents, tch-tch about the whole affair and move on in the blink of an eye. Or we can think. About what we are doing wrong and try to make the change. Because something is definitely not right. And that something may well be the way we are bringing up our boys.

**The author stands strongly against any form of abuse by ANY gender, as any feminist would. This post tries to delve into a pressing current social issue – about the need to pay attention to how boys are brought up – and in NO way implies that only boys can be the prepatrators of abuse.

**View my previous post in Social Lens category here.

**Image source – Ali Jouyandeh @ Unsplash

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