A Deadly Concoction of Social Media, Patriarchy, and a Retributive Society
“No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity.”
- Whitney Houston
Not too long ago, in 1985, Whitney Houston boldly uttered these doubtful words of misplaced trust in humanity into a microphone that etched her voice onto a disc forever. Now, 34 years later, it seems as though her doubts and fears have materialised as harsh truths, fused into the very core of the new human race. A race that, whilst vocal about equality and rights and duties, tactfully acknowledging the existence of verbose vocabulary like patriarchy, misogyny and androcentrism, is, ironically, constantly exposed to the very threats they wish to pray away. While the idealistic utopia of a world devoid of discrimination and abounding in equality may seem like a far-fetched concoction of the mind, the last couple of years have seen a new trend emerge to the forefront; a trend which places impulse above reason, a trend which incinerates the very motive of enhancement, a trend which conveniently provides for a flawed rationale behind attacking misogyny with misogyny, opposing hate with hate, and countering an eye for an eye, plunging these idealistic fantasies down the waste paper basket.
An incident that encapsulates the ethos of this gradual movement towards hatred is the IGTV video of a middle-aged woman claiming that girls wearing short clothes must be raped. This clip, which surfaced on the 1st of May, garnered a tremendous support for the girls who were merely exercising their right to free expression through the way they chose to dress. However, in focusing on the harsh comments made by the ‘viral auntie’ one becomes oblivious to the bigger and more complete picture. The contempt and hatred, towards the ‘auntie’s’ comments, may have been justified as a fight against the inherent patriarchy, discrimination, and misogyny that is so deeply rooted in Indian society, however, the reactionary uproar was no better than what the ‘auntie’ did herself. While there is no doubt that the thoughts behind the ‘auntie’s’ comments were regressive and backward in today’s modern India, and incorrect on several levels, the question which remains is whether the reaction to the same was any better. A horde of online self-proclaimed ‘vigilantes’ coming together to shame the ‘auntie’, abuse her, and threaten her with rape, highlights a deeper problem that is prevalent in society. In the conquest of changing someone’s ‘primitive mindset’, one justifies the adoption of another primitive mindset to combat the former. As citizens of a country which remains pillared on Gandhian principles, we tend to ignore the very kernel of his ideology — non-violence or ‘ahimsa’. We may all verbally agree with Gandhi when he said “an eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind”, but the inherent hypocrisy lies in societal actions, which allows us to retaliate and justify ‘world blindness’.
Imbibed deep into our fallible human nature is the idea of retaliation and vengeance. One surge of adrenaline, or one angering confrontation, can render us puppets at the hands of these chemicals surging through our veins. While the fight or flight criteria have certainly evolved, it’s no wonder that our brain perceives social media too as a battleground in a dog-eat-dog world. The case of the ‘misogynistic auntie’ is certainly upsetting, dare we say deeply troubling — a clarion call for change — however, it certainly isn’t the first documented case of discrimination. While Social Media, thankfully (or not so thankfully) aired the incident, the threats she received, the complaints against Instagram, and the projection of her face across millions of mobile devices threw her life to the ‘mercy’ of a retributive society. Her identity was exposed, her face became the ultimate meme for a day, enraged activists acted as worthy clickbait for newspapers everywhere. Her life was a throwaway; the incidents sparked by this one statement, the inevitable judging by strangers who never knew her, rendered her existence as feed for hate-mongers to thrive on. The irony: a society that, not very long ago, upheld these very ideals now called for her blood.
While misogyny has been prevalent in various civilisations and can be dated back to as long ago as 700BC, the role of the internet in the aforementioned case cannot be discounted. In a democracy that stands for equality and freedom, social media has resulted in a devolution of power at the very grassroots, greatly increasing the burden of responsibility that lies on the shoulders of every individual. While this empowerment may sound great in practice the net result is a ‘lack of fear’ and ‘accountability’; leading to the creation of a whole new generation of trolls and online bullies. This responsibility must be taken seriously, for one sentence, one picture, one video, has the power to spark a paradigm shift in societal thinking. The hate-mongers, the enraged ‘activists’, the online ‘vigilantes', can cause a complete upheaval of one’s life and image in society. In a country where eight out of ten individuals have experienced cyber bullying, where almost 50% of women have faced sexual harassment on the internet, where over 70% of those with disabilities have received threats of physical violence on the internet, and where, in nearly half of the instances of women facing cyberstalking the perpetrator was a stranger, it is beyond imperative to recognise the role of social media. The case of the ‘misogynistic auntie’ is just an isolated incident showcasing this transformation — from empowerment to a widespread disempowerment.
It is this archaic thought process that is hindering our minds and preventing us from reaching, not a utopian society, but a fair and just one. Strengthened by the rise of the internet and social media, what has resulted is the resurrection of an evil far greater than what may have existed earlier (on both fronts). The solution to this is not anger, it is not an uprising, and neither is it giving the ‘wrong-doer’ a taste of their own medicine. This inherent misogyny and hatred must be tackled at the very foundation; it is not just a formal education, but more importantly an informal education that can make the difference. A good upbringing, a strong sense of morality, and an internal war against social evils may truly help combat these problems. It started off as “the pen is mightier than the sword”, but has now transitioned into “social media is mightier than the pen”, and while we are far from endorsing the views of the ‘auntie’ we feel that it is equally, if not more, important to stand by our moral code of conduct, and act responsibly in order to repress every archaic and outdated ideology in the long run. It’s time to change mindsets, not start wars.
To conclude we would like to reiterate the words of Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can.”