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From a "ruined kiss" to a disturbing group chat: Why Maria Thattil is making a stand on Instagram.

Maria Thattil has taken a stand on Instagram. 

Earlier this month, the current Miss Universe Australia shared exactly what happened when she was accidentally added to a group chat with 19-year-old men. 

In a series of posts on her Instagram stories, Maria said she was "disgusted" to see messages of men talking about women "like we are pieces of meat". 

"The comments included remarks from a man claiming to want women purely in the context of sexual gratification to defend himself when his friends joked about him falling for women easily," Maria told Mamamia. 

"There was another comment from a participant asking the other men to send images of women through so that they could ‘bring them back to reality and hop them off their high horse’... and other comments discussing the appearance of women whose images were being passed around the group, mine included."

Image: Instagram @mariathattil But when she called them out on their "sexist" and "misogynistic" messages, only one responded. 

"I was disgusted to be added to that group chat, I was disgusted to read those messages and disgusted that nobody had anything to say when I called them out on it. Apart from one of the people in the chat," she said in a video on her Instagram Stories at the time. 

"I asked them did you realise you added me to a chat where I can see you talking in a sexist, misogynistic way about other women? That you are objectifying us and giving irrelevant opinions that's nobody's asked for, talking about us like we are pieces of meat with no other purpose than for men to cum in?"

In response, "They said that they were sorry and they would have a stern chatting to each other".

The messages left Maria with a sinking feeling in her stomach. They reminded her of a poignant experience when she was just 14 years old. 

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"I was catapulted right back to high school. When I was in high school, I had my first kiss at 14 years old," she tells Mamamia. "It was awkward, but soft and sweet, exactly what you would expect from a 14-year-old who only just fit her first crop top and was finally allowed to go to a party that started after 6pm."

However, things took a turn when the boy asked Maria to do something she didn't want to do. 

"He asked me to perform oral sex on him - the freeze of excitement turned into the stifling, choking of a dry throat. The air left me and I couldn’t even find the word ‘no’ – I just shook my head scared; I wanted to leave. So we did leave, with nothing but a ruined kiss between us."

"The next day, he told everyone at his school that I did what he had asked anyway including sordid, fabricated details about how he wore a banana flavoured condom the entire time. I was a child."

"Within a week, everyone at school said they believed that I was much more advanced than I truly was. It hurt, and my god it made me sick to my stomach – but who would believe me?" 

Maria said she decided to be silent so the conversation "would die down". 

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Video via Mamamia.

Seven years later, she had a similar experience when she was travelling in Europe and ran into someone she knew from Melbourne. Maria, who was 21 at the time, kissed him at a party but he tried to initiate more. 

"He persisted in his pursuit and tried to initiate sex, but I said no. I left after that kiss, our interactions never extended further. It was only two years later that I learned from a mutual friend that he told everyone we had slept together - again, sharing with his friends false details about me, sexual preferences he said I had and how it went." 

"When I discovered this at 23, I felt winded and like that 14-year-old again. I was robbed of my own decisions. In both instances - and many beyond these - I have been nothing more to these seemingly harmless guys than a ticket to gain popularity amongst their peers and to the people they spurted their lies to. I wasn’t worthy of the benefit of the doubt."

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It was these feelings that made Maria want to stand up and call out the toxic and misogynistic attitudes women are subject to. 

"Triggered, angry, sad, disappointed and intolerant is how I felt. An unwillingness to be complacent is what I decided upon."

So she shared the experience of the group chat on Instagram. And comments from other women came flooding in. 

Many of whom praised her "for speaking up for us".

"Why haven't these women not been able to speak up for themselves? Because our culture does not allow it... In many spheres of our life we are told to be quiet and deal with it. But I think we need to stick up for ourselves and each other," Maria said on Instagram. 

Others had even recounted similar behaviour or "degrading attitudes" that the same group of men expressed towards other women, and in particular, women of colour. 

It was also alleged that the group previously sent nude photographs of women in the chat and had made some sort of commentary. 

"It made me sick to read messages from a number of women who have had experience with this exact group. I'm tired of society protecting people who behave like this - the behaviour is perpetuated because of a lack of consequence," she said on Instagram. 

Image: [email protected] 

Fed up, Maria contacted the former high schools and universities that the men attend to understand what they are doing "to protect women from attitudes like this". 

"For too long, this behaviour goes unchecked, people are not held accountable for the misogynistic and sexist things they say and do. Living in a society that allows institutionalised and systematic sexism to prevail creates a sense of security that such behaviour will be excused, justified, shaken off and buried," she told Mamamia

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In an email sent to the high school, Maria wrote, "I want to ask if we could have a conversation about what is being done to educate your students on consent, rape culture, toxic masculinity, sexism and misogyny - and how are you preparing your male, female, transgender and non-binary students to enter life after school in a peaceful, respectful way?"

She also asked the universities: "What do you plan on doing to address this behaviour amongst your students to ensure that women are safe and protected and won’t be subject to these attitudes?"

Maria said she is now working with the principals of the high schools "to create opportunities for education and open conversation to challenge attitudes that allow things like the group chat I was added to, to exist".

It's just one of the changes she wants to see to ensure women are not treated or spoken to in such a way. 

"We know that sexism and misogyny are directly linked to physical, sexual, psychological and socio-economic harm to women. Challenging this requires us to acknowledge, address and act against deeply ingrained cultural attitudes and power imbalances between people of different gender identities. There are many things that need to change for women to no longer be spoken to or treated in such a way."

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So what's the plan? Maria has mapped out the action that needs to take place.

"It starts with a group chat, but these group chats are on a spectrum of behaviours and attitudes that create a climate of discrimination, inequity, limited opportunity and violence against women. 

"It will take conversations happening in every sphere - in homes, in classrooms, in workplaces - where no-one is shamed into silence or gaslit for speaking about their lived experiences. 

"It takes a no-tolerance culture. 

"It takes challenging the social hierarchy in these spheres that create a sense of entitlement, allowing men to perpetuate this behaviour. Being popular or ‘cool’ in schools or ‘powerful’ in organisations should not equate to a pass when being held accountable.

"It takes challenging toxic ideals of masculinity and re-educating men on what it is to ‘be a man’ in line with values for emotional intelligence, empathy, respect and equality. 

"It takes empathy from our leaders so that they prioritise the safety and respect of women."

Listen to this episode of Mamamia Out Loud, where Mia, Holly and Jessie discuss the mood swing amongst Australia's political leaders. Post continues after podcast. 

"It takes shifting the focus from women in our language and perceptions and re-aligning it to the men who perpetuate this behaviour - changing headlines like ‘Woman raped,’ to ‘Man rapes victim’. 

"It takes tangible action to hold people accountable and invest in education when people do think and act in sexist or misogynistic ways. 

"It takes reminders that women are deserving of respect, safety and dignity, not just because of their relationship with men ('she’s someone’s daughter, wife, sister etc.') but because she is just SOMEONE.

"It takes silence so deafening you can hear a pin drop, when these remarks are made and quickly supported by ‘we were just joking’. That pin drop should be followed by the voices of women and allies who will interrupt harmful dialogue.

"It takes understanding the link between disrespecting women in the shadows, and the fact that one Australian woman is murdered per week at the hands of a current or former partner.

"It takes calling out the group chats, so people can change - because the boys in the group chat grow into the men in our boardrooms, the politicians governing our societies, the leaders in our communities, the managers in our businesses, the fathers raising children.

"Women are tired of speaking to everyone, and being heard only by other women who share their fear and frustration.

"It takes a lot, and it takes everyone."

Feature Image: [email protected]/Mamamia.