New Delhi, Vidya Iyengar(TOI): Is Alok ‘Sansari’ Nath’s “Jail the bitch” a the clarion call for the next phase of women’s movement in this country? Are women becoming tired, slowly but surely, of being abused into silence in the cyber world?
The minute a woman decides to express an opinion online that’s ‘different’ or ‘feminist’ or protest against sexism — people want to “Jail the bitch.”
When 27-year-old Aishwarya Subramaniam expressed an opinion on the internet, a faceless troll responded: he wanted to kick her in her buttocks and throw her off the cliff. Another said: you need a severe bashing and bullets in your vagina. Increasingly, the internet is becoming no place for a woman with a different opinion. But the woman is no longer willing to hit the mute button. Or at least not all the time.
On the internet a woman can talk about babies, dogs and cupcakes, post photos of holidays with her family, talk about roses in her garden, her love for ShahRukh and Salman Khan, and express her hope and love for the Prime Minister. But the minute she expresses an opinion that’s ‘different’ or ‘feminist’ or protest against sexism — people want to “Jail the bitch.” Faceless (and spineless) strangers want to do unimaginable things to different parts of her anatomy.
Sometime ago, when a senior journalist expressed her opinion on Twitter about “Internet Hindus” she was told that she’s a “bitch who needs to be stripped and raped publicly.”
The internet is a space where people who love to hate thrive. Abuse on the internet is the new weapon of repression — of the bold and different voice.
Especially the female voice. And the abuse always boils down to ‘stripping’ ‘raping’ ‘shoving things’ into her body, using choicest abuses. And justifying it all with a “the bitch deserves it.”
Most women prefer not to respond to unwarranted comments or block the troll. However, women are beginning to think maybe we shouldn’t hit the mute button when the Dark Tetrads come out of the woodworks to ‘shut them down.’
Subramaniam, a communications professional, is used to a “fair share of abuses on a daily basis” for her views on women’s rights and LGBTQ issues.
Earlier this week, she questioned the veracity of Mancrimination, a campaign to end discrimination against men; the campaign posters have used images of male celebrities including actor Jude Law.
She posted her comment: “Is there a way to report the magazine for copyright infringement, because the celebrities would have never consented for the campaign”. That’s when a faceless Arash Kare wanted to kick her and throw her off the cliff. “This comment has taken abuse to a whole new level. I just said I hoped that the magazine gets sued by Jude Law. Did I deserve to hear what I did in return?” asks Subramaniam
When she talked about “bigger problems” in India — rapists being married off to the victim, child marriage and more, Subramaniam was at the receiving end of more abuses from other trolls: “You Indian women don’t need women’s rights. All you need is severe bashing and bullets in the vagina. Indian women hardly face any discrimination compared to women around the world in Middle East women can’t even vote or drive cars. Now that is discrimination.”
Social media consultant Ankita Gaba says social media trolls are usually “from tier-2 or tier-3 cities, who are male chauvinist and don’t believe in gender equality.” Kavita Krishnan and Shruti Seth might disagree with that statement. And they wouldn’t be wrong. However, Gaba says: “Over the years, the problem has increased with masses getting on to the platform. When these sites initially came in, the early adopters were a mature set of audience. And trolling hardly existed. That’s the case with any new platform. However, they have constantly been on the rise. Netizens should make an informed choice when to respond and when not to. If you have a good response and support, it might be worthwhile to respond. She compares it with being followed in a dark and lonely spot versus being in a crowded area. ”
“In the first case you’d just want to get out of the lonely spot, and in the second you might take on the person. That’s the same with digital space. You have to make an informed choice. In most cases, trolls just continue with their comments, and it may not be worthwhile to spend time on them. It’s best to block or ignore them,” she says.
Ignore. That’s what Subramaniam usually does. She has been trolled several times in the last three years. Initially, she “laughed off Kare’s comments. But then I realized that you need to put the spotlight on scum like this who think they can say anything to women,” she says. Subramaniam reported the troll, blocked him and shamed him on Facebook — till his profile was removed.
In the initial years, when Subramanian received abusive comments, she admits that “my entire system would go cold. It is never nice to have someone say incredibility nasty things about you. But I was younger back then and it was hard for me to separate my emotions,” she says. Even though she does turn blind eye to comments by simply blocking them, the recent ones with “violent imagery has slightly freaked me out”.
Arundhati Ghosh, executive director at India Foundation for the Arts, who is known to express her opinions boldly, often finds abuses being hurled at her on Facebook. But she is hardly surprised at it because she feels that it is a reflection of “the abusive society.” Sometime last year when she posted an article by Romila Thapar, after a match between India and Pakistan, which was won by the latter, the response she received was “mauzi loving paki bitch”. She often gets messages like: “I know where you live.”
“What else can we do besides ignoring these messages? It’s sad that we just have to leave things as they are. But if we start reacting at every step, we will stop living,” Ghosh says. There are times even people she know or knows of send nasty comments. “In that case, I send them a message telling them that their comments are uncalled for, and that I will be blocking them. I really have better things to engage in, rather than meaningless conversations,” she says.
Subramanian says the problem stems from the fact that trolls, mostly with fake accounts know that they “can say whatever they want” and get away with it. Early this year, she stopped tweeting for a bit, because she says, “I was so tired of the abuses. When you talk about gay rights or women’s rights on Twitter, the chances of getting attacked are huge. When I tweeted about the need for equality, I was asked to fuck off and called a moron and other things. Women gets bashed up on twitter especially by those who call themselves meninists. But I try not to let it affect me.”
“I was called anything from crazy to a cunt. I used to be shaken and angry,” says Subramaniam. Now, I have made up my mind — on days when the bad outweighs the good, I will step away. Because it can drain you emotionally.” But on days when she feels it is important to stand up for her rights – she boldly steps up. Because you have to.
Agratha Dinakaran digital strategist From rape threats to acid attack threats, I’ve got them all. Two-and-a-half years ago, when I posted about Shah Rukh Khan’s speech having lifted off from JK Rowling’s work, the post went viral. I was getting 22 mentions in one minute.
Rape threats, acid attack threats and then being told by a troll that he knew where my mum and sister lived is what finally got me off Facebook for while. It’s a personal challenge for women to express their opinions. And the threats that are exclusive to women.
Amulya Nagaraj photographer I wrote a blog about uniformity in religion about two years ago. I still get mails occasionally with graphical descriptions about what they think of me and what they’d want to do to me.