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Miss Universe Australia sparks a new reckoning for brown women facing sexism

Maria Thattil speaks up against the “boys will be boys” trope

When Miss Universe Australia Maria Thattil was added to a misogynistic group chat of teenaged boys, she did the bravest thing any of us could think of – she exposed them. Thattil posted screenshots of sexually degrading messages about women on the group on her Instagram stories as well as a video with the message ‘call it out- misogyny and hatred towards women, it thrives in the shadows.’ The result? Hoards of young women around the country coming forward with their experiences and stories about harassment and taking a stand against these acts.

But the incident reveals the question: is it time we do more?

As a result of Maria’s own background and many of the boys in the group chat, the issue was discussed heavily within the South Asian community. This is not the first time young South Asians have addressed the subject of sexism; the trends of toxic masculinity within our culture have continually plagued South Asian women, from lingering assumptions of women’s role in society to cases of rape and assault.

Teenaged girls were particularly affected by Thattil’s video, revealing stories of their own experiences at school. They were soon encouraged to go to school administrations and principles, which encouraged conversations about gender in many schoolrooms. The fact that teenaged girls are involved in the first place is incredibly concerning, as many women know that the experiences in high school are carried with them throughout the rest of their lives.

South Asian girls being able to turn to Thattil and being further inspired to speak out is a positive outcome of this situation, but unfortunately, that’s not the only outcome of this story. 

Inevitably, Thattil’s stand was met with backlash from those who viewed her stance as making men into villains.


Some brought up climbing rates of men’s mental health, which Thattil addressed on Instagram as an important issue while highlighting that men’s mental health shouldn’t only be brought up when men face accountability for wrongdoing. Furthermore, it is notable that the environment that leads to adverse mental health outcomes for men is characterised by the same toxic masculinity that people like Thattil are standing up against.

Others responded to Thattil by calling her a hypocrite since she is speaking out against the objectification of women while also being a contestant in the Miss Universe pageant. The problem here is twofold. First, being a model consists of someone having agency over their sexuality, while in unwanted sexualisation, a person is being degraded and sexualised without their consent. Secondly, while Thattil is an adult woman, the teenaged girls who are also affected by this unwanted sexualisation are not and that they are being exposed to this is unacceptable.

When engaging with South Asian women in the online community about how to handle this problem, law student Srishti Bali, stated she “[doesn’t] think our communities are doing enough to make young men accountable”. Stating that more needs to be done than just explaining why something is wrong, as men should understand this by now. Furthermore, youth advocate, Mehak Sheikh, stated that “generations of women are tired” of trying to educate men on these issues to no avail and suggests ‘calling-in’ the men in our lives to take accountability. These ideas regarding the need for us to adjust the attitudes in our culture and include men in the change were reflected by Thattil in her video.


It would be naïve to claim that the young men who engage in this conduct are unaware of what they are doing. In the contemporary age, with international movements like #metoo and the recent instances of men in Australian politics being held accountable for sexual harassment, they know sexual degradation of women is unequivocally unacceptable. This is true even as a ‘joke’ and even in a private group chat, the latter being a problem that Thattil stated was important to dismantle. The culture that festers within these group chats, the modern-day version of ‘locker room talk’ is part of what creates rape culture and contributes to violence against women. 

When searching for solutions it’s clear that while people who are not men should continue to advocate for themselves, the men in their lives should also be taking part in changing the behaviour. It is not enough for ‘good’ men to be silent on the sidelines. To remain a spectator is to remain complicit. 

All genders, especially cishet men, should fight against toxic masculinity as all will benefit from dismantling it. 

At the end of the day, it is heartening to see so many people engaging with Maria Thattil and witnessing the positive consequences of her standing up against the harassment that she was exposed to. The shifts within the South Asian community have already begun and hopefully Thattil’s call to “change our ideas of gender and also masculinity and femininity” will be something we continue to work through in the future.                                                                                                                                                                            

About the author

Madhuraa, also known as Mads, is a Tamil person, born in Sri Lanka and raised on Dharug Land in Australia. She is a writer, performer and activist who seeks to bring a voice to LGBTQIA+ individuals of South Asian descent. Instagram:@madhuraasp | Twitter: @mads_sp



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