When Little Boys Grow Up, What Makes Them Think It’s OK To Rape?

We have a responsibility towards our kids, to give them the right values that enable them to respect any human being, of any gender. How are we going so wrong that 17-18 year olds feel entitled to rape?

I came across a news item yesterday, that said, “A Class 10 student of a boarding school in Dehradun was allegedly gang-raped by her seniors last month and the staff tried to conceal the crime. The girl, who lived in the hostel, reportedly revealed to her older sister that she was raped after she fell sick. It was found out later that she was pregnant. The 16-year-old told her family that on August 14, a day before Independence Day, she was called to a store room for preps for an event and assaulted. When the sisters went to the school authorities, instead of calling the police, they allegedly threatened to throw them out of the school if they told anyone.”

There are so many issues here

A school is supposed to be a safe space. A 16 year old 10th grader is allegedly raped by senior boys from the 12th grade, probably not more than 18 years. The girl says that she had told the ayah at the school the same day, and her older sister when she began to feel ill, and they found out that she was pregnant. The sisters then did the ‘right’ thing, and reported it to the school authorities. Who proved to irresponsible, patriarchal, sexist bastards. Instead of taking the girl to a doctor and informing her parents, they try to suppress the incident, and pile insult upon injury by allegedly “trying to get the girl to abort by giving her drinks mixed with drugs.” Without medical surveillance.

The news item said, “The sisters stayed together in the school’s boarding facility. Their parents allegedly had frequent fights and rarely visited them.” Growing up in a society where your significant adults don’t really ‘hear you’, where unprotected sex and its consequences are not discussed in a very necessary sex education sessions and at home, where slut shaming is rampant and fingers are pointed at the victim rather than the perpetrators, where the ‘honour’ of a family resides in a girl’s vagina and is easily lost if she is raped…How could the girl have felt comfortable telling anyone of her ordeal?

But I have been thinking of those boys who allegedly raped her

News of rape and assault have become the norm – maybe because they are being reported more – and I am unable to put my finger on the reason this one really disturbed me so much, but it did, and I couldn’t sleep yesterday, thinking, what happens to little boys as they grow up that they feel it’s OK to molest, assault, even rape their schoolmates? The fog I went into won’t allow me to just let it be, so I had to put down my feelings.

At the outset, let me say that I am not talking about communities where education is at a premium, or where the girls suffer not just for their gender, but also due to a multitude of other factors – poverty, class, caste, low educational capital in which the parents have less than optimum education and awareness, political apathy that does not provide for the requisite basic facilities like clean toilets with running water at schools,…basically a lot of issues that beset a large section of our population. I do not really have an authority to speak of their actual life experiences, no matter how much I read about them.

Children of urban, educated parents

I am speaking of the environment I know very well – an urban, fairly privileged population, with a good to excellent educational capital (not just financial – there is indeed an abundance of misogyny in the really rich where the women are often voiceless), sending their kids to schools that are equally privileged in many ways. This is the socio-cultural demographic of the school that is in the news for this incident, as boarding schools in Dehradun are.

You go to drop off your kindergartener at school, and there they are – little boys, just as adorable. They have all begun on fairly even ground, with almost the same opportunities. Throughout the school years, you see these boys growing up along with the girls, friends with each other, not much to differentiate between them except in the obvious biology. Most schools of this nature even provide equal opportunities to all genders in sports and other extracurricular activities – my daughter played football right upto her 8th grade (a rare thing in most co-ed schools), after which curricular concerns took over.

Then middle school comes along, and the girls vs boys divide begins to erupt, expanding in alarming proportions sometimes. Biologically, but natural, given that these are prepubertal children, becoming aware of their gender and sexual identities, and defining themselves in relation to their surroundings, their peers and their feelings.

Disparate socialisation

But the socialisation of these kids is affected by so many things, that includes not just their common environment, the school, but also what they experience outside of school, primarily in their homes, and in the context of today’s school kids, their exposure to media and social media.

At which point do these boys begin to feel that they they are almost ‘entitled’ to the bodies of the other gender? That a girl is not to be looked at as a human being with her own agency, and autonomy over her self, but an ‘object’ to be had? What might be so wrong with the minds of 17-18 year olds, future citizens who will take important decisions in society, that they think it is OK to wield a power that often just higher physical strength gives them, never mind any other factors? That they can commit so heinous an act that will distort their psyches and the emotions of those they target forever?

Parents, teachers, mentors, are you reading this?

Teach your boys to respect others, to hold it in, just as most girls can ‘hold it in’. For make no mistake, even being the one in a supposedly more ‘power’ful position and acting on that impulse of a feeling of power, takes away from the innate humanity of these boys, leaving them less than they had been before – like Voldemort after he killed someone to split his soul to create a Horcrux, and the reason why Headmaster Albus Dumbledore wanted to spare Draco Malfoy from having to kill him, as “his soul was still whole and untouched.” (Pardon the Harry Potter reference – there is so much to learn from those books, but that is for another article!)

I’m not going to entertain any protestations of whatboutery or #NotAllMen here, as I am speaking of those who don’t understand that another human being is a whole and autonomous person whom no one else has a right over. And if you don’t get that, you are enabling those who feel entitled to do as they please. Having a sexual urge does not mean you can assuage it at the cost of someone else. Girls have sexual urges too, but very few of them become a rapist.

What can we expect of boys who grow up like this, when they are adults, and as I said, supposedly responsible citizens? What is it that we, as parents, teachers, mentors, are doing wrong that we cannot pass on humanitarian values to the next generation? It doesn’t do to say we’ll bring up our girls like our boys, if this is how we bring up our boys. I know of so many ‘woke’ parents who try to do their best towards their children, girls, as well as boys, who say they struggle against things beyond their control – peer pressure, for example, for the girls to be more ‘girly’ and their boys to be more of the ‘boys will be boys’ kind. Their softer feelings weeded out of them, leaving them with only anger and aggression as acceptable emotions, in a society that I feel is drifting along in the dark, with very faint, if any, light at the end of the tunnel.

Something we must all think about, and take responsibility for the children our thoughts and actions affect.

Image source: a still from the movie Rukh

In her role as the Senior Editor & Community Manager at Women's Web, Sandhya

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  1. I have two daughters and my sister has two sons. The difference in the upbringing is easy to notice. Boys are told don’t cry like a girl, how can you loose from a girl and so on. And we are talking about the environment being created by highly educated girls at their home.

    Be the change you want to see. If you have boys don’t forget when they grow up they would not respect you also. You will not be a part of important decisions being taken, your point of view will not be taken.

    A lot has been done most of us are now educated and many are working lets take this further and start educating our children both boys and girls.

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