Ravina, a 23-year-old student from the western Indian city of Mumbai was least surprised to see a Facebook livestream of a group of women confronting a YouTuber for his derogatory remarks..
Indian voiceover artist Bhagyalakshmi and activists Sreelakshmi Arackal and Diya Sana, were reacting to a YouTube video posted by a vlogger named Vijay Nair or Vtrix Scene based in the southern Indian state of Kerala. In a video posted in August, he said “feminists do not wear underwear because they like having a lot of sex.”
The women felt they were left with no option as the police did not take any action on their complaint, they said in the FB livestream.
“I think it’s unfair to assume the police would take action. We clearly don’t have equality in online spaces,” Ravina, who is pursuing her masters in women’s studies, told VICE News.
In India, content directed at women, particularly those who have strong views, is gaining traction and revenue. These videos regularly criticise feminists for being “men hating feminazis” and refer to them as “toxic” and “fake”. On the face of it, social media seems to be conducive to men. Platforms take down misogynistic content only when there is pressure from users and their policies are questioned. A study by Amnesty International India found that 95 female politicians in India received about 1 million hateful comments on Twitter during India’s 2019 elections.
Nair, a YouTube vlogger, regularly made pseudoscientific and sexist videos that targeted and made vulgar comments against female activists like Bhagyalakshmi.
While police cases were filed against Nair as well as the women, the outpour of support for the women activists led to Nair being arrested on September 28.
The incident has sparked outrage and debate on social media. Kerala’s Chief Minister and women's rights activists have condemned Nair’s sexist content. However, netizens questioned why the women had to take the law into their own hands instead of waiting for police action.
Some social media users have also questioned why YouTube did not take down the video for violation of community guidelines. VICE News reached out to YouTube for a statement, and will update the story accordingly.
For Ravina, it was normal to express her feelings online about lack of women-friendly public spaces, gender pay gap, and casual microaggressions that underestimated women’s capabilities. Last year, she put out a tweet saying, “I know not all men are guilty, but they should apologize anyway for how their gender has made us feel, and promise us they’ll never do that.” Within a few hours, her Tweet was spammed with replies plastered with the hashtag #NotAllMen, with multiple men hurling abusive statements at her, calling her a “feminazi”, and “man hater”.
“I was bullied and harassed so much that I had no choice but to quit social media,” said Ravina.
Her profile picture was morphed into vulgar memes, and circulated on social media. She had anxiety attacks and has since been concerned about facing backlash for speaking her mind online.
In July this year, YouTubers named Shubham Mishra and Imtiyaz Shaikh were arrested after their videos issuing rape threats to a female comedian went viral.
Content creators keep making videos that use vulgar slang to look down on women, especially those they considered feminists. These videos argue that some feminists are “fake” because they buy expensive bras, wear bright lipstick or advocate liberal attitudes on sex and drug use.
And it’s not just men propagating these ideas. In May this year, an 18-year-old girl named Divyangana Trivedi received more than 1.7 million views for an IGTV video in which she said that “today’s feminism” was a “fake agenda” that some women use to bully men.
“The lack of empathy comes from a place of privilege, and maybe even insecurity of empowered women,” Dr Falguni Vasavada-Oza, a communications professor and gender equality social media influencer, told VICE News. Vasavada-Oza stressed that the discourse against feminist views on social media is only an extension of people’s offline views, which ignore the inequality meted out to women because they haven’t personally experienced it. “They have no interest in uplifting women because their privilege is their power, and it blurs their vision on what is happening [to women],” she said.
Her statements echo the conclusive findings of a study conducted by the Internet Democracy Project in 2013 titled ‘Don’t Let It Stand! An Exploratory Study of Women and Verbal Online Abuse in India’. The study was conducted by speaking to 17 women who actively voiced their feminist opinions online, informants of police crime cells, including bloggers, journalists, academics and acitivists. The report stated that “online gendered abuse becomes an extension or mirror of street sexual harassment: a way to tell women that their voices are unwelcome, and that their presence in public domains – both online and offline – can be reduced to their gendered bodies.” The study also found that women often experienced unfavourable experiences while seeking legal redressal against online abuse, pushing them to counter trolls through non-legal methods.
Shanaya Singh*, a 20-year-old media student from Pune city in west India, faced backlash when she voiced her opinion on her Instagram story about feeling unsafe by creepy men at a club on social media. “A male friend of mine replied saying it was difficult for men as well, because they have to ‘control their gaze’ at clubs so women don’t feel uncomfortable,” Singh told VICE News. She explained how he took a screenshot of their chat and put it up with a poll on his story, asking his followers to judge whose opinion was correct. “Suddenly, my inbox was filled with messages from random men who had the audacity to tell me I was wrong for feeling uncomfortable.”
India is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for sexual crimes against women. As per 2018 data, one woman is raped every 15 minutes in India.
*Name changed to protect identity
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