Last week when #WeHaveLegs was trending on Malayali social media pages, I saw countless memes trolling all the Malayali actresses who had put up their photos in shorts or short skirts. There were many with supposedly “funny” quotes about how Malayali actresses were suddenly interested in what is called “thuni pokki kanikkal” (translated to lifting clothes and showing what is underneath). Then there were serious “analysts” who started a discussion (yet again) on how feminism was nothing but a platform for women to gain the freedom to show their skin and how that is not what truly empowered women look for. No one really bothered to think for a minute why something as trivial as posting a picture showing legs had to be taken up as a campaign by these women.
It started when an 18-year-old actress had to face absolutely shameful trolls and moral policing “cyber brothers and sisters”, simply because she shared a picture of hers in a pair of shorts. But what became a campaign showing solidarity with that young actress is not just about that incident. This campaign that might look meaningless to all the culturally and morally superior people of our state, and country in general, is more an outpour of the frustration of being looked at as nothing but objects, to be ogled, to be passed lewd comments on, to be chastised, to be looked at with shame. If you think I am exaggerating, go through the comments section of the pictures or posts uploaded by any female celebrity. Not that male celebrities have an easy time online; but at least they do not have to face the sexual objectification that their female counterparts face every single day. Any picture uploaded by these women, no matter how much it conforms to the standards of decency set by the morally superior folks I talked about, will have innumerable comments underneath, from fake and real profiles, questioning the character of these women, abusing them using the filthiest of words, saying everything obscene that can be said about a woman and basically making any sensible person who reads through them want to puke.
I have tried reporting such comments on Facebook so many times, not subtly obscene ones, but the blatantly vulgar ones that contain words which cause no confusion as to whether they are appropriate or not, because they are that filthy. Every single time I have received the same response:
“Radhika, we reviewed the comment that you reported and found that it doesn’t go against any of our Community Standards. For this reason, we didn’t take the comment down. We keep our review process as fair as possible by using the same Community Standards to review reports. While we’ve decided not to take this comment down, we understand that you don’t like it. We recommend that you hide the comment or unfollow, unfriend or block the person who posted it.”
It is the same across social media platforms – Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, everywhere! It is almost like they are openly and unapologetically saying “See, our job is to give people a platform to post what they want. We don’t care what they do here as long as our customer base keeps increasing. It’s not our responsibility to ensure a safe platform for you; it is yours. So, if you ‘don’t like it’, please turn off your comment box or do what you have to, to avoid this person.” Yeah right, I didn’t ‘like’ it – that is the problem. Definitely nothing wrong with a comment that is about an actress’ breasts and how they have grown bigger because of the number of men who are ‘using’ them every day. Certainly harmless – this and countless other similar comments according to your ‘Community Standards’. I wonder what these standards really are.
As Alia Bhatt’s sister, Shaheen, rightly posted after her complaints about comments with explicit rape and death threats were turned down with the same kind of response by Instagram, such a response from these social media giants “is the equivalent of telling me that if I go out at night and get assaulted “I was asking for it””.
Now tell me, am I right to be infuriated? Half of you, no, more than that, would say “They are celebrities who take the benefits of social media for their PR work. So, they should be ready to accept the negatives that are ‘part and parcel’ of the whole thing.” I was shocked to see that some of my most educated and respectful friends felt the same way. I believe it is this constant normalizing of cyber bullying and sexual attacks from people that has made all the social media platforms believe that they need not worry about taking responsibility for what happens there and put the burden and the shame on the victim.
Add to that our pathetic cyber laws that do not even give a chance for victims to seek justice and we have the perfect recipe for an extremely toxic environment. I happened to see a post from a Vlogger who had shared screen-shots of the kind of sexual slurs and comments his wife had to face in the comments section of their videos. Just like the one I mentioned earlier, there was nothing left to imagination in these comments – they were outright obscene. But they couldn’t even file a complaint with the Cyber Cell because apparently there is no ‘section’ that deals with such things. I couldn’t believe it! But it’s true!
No wonder perverts of the highest standards run public YouTube channels and post public videos abusing women in the most horrific ways possible. Because they know they have nothing to worry about – not from the platform itself, not from people who will happily view the videos and make them ‘viral’ and definitely not from authorities for whom women’s safety is child’s play and nothing to be taken seriously. When an unbelievably crass video, naming even women celebrities in their 80s, from a first-class pervert from Kerala went viral on his YouTube channel a few days back, two women activists took the extreme step of going to him, pouring motor oil on him and slapping him. And the Internet stood divided, one section saying he deserved what he got and the other section slamming the women for ‘taking law into their own hands’, using extremely abusive words in talking to him and for being hypocrites who did not condemn several other incidents of attack against women. I am personally not a huge supporter of either of these women, and have never really believed in their genuineness as activists for women. But in this incident, I couldn’t help but laugh reading through the comments against them.
While I do not normally encourage or condone acts of anarchy and chaos, I wonder if any of these critics have thought about why these women, even with their ‘influence’, had to resort to taking law into their own hands and do what they did. Forget these women, have these critics wondered why any woman would have to resort to something like this to survive in this country? Sexual offense is such a commonplace thing in our country that unless it is rape or murder, it isn’t even considered a crime most of the times. Just like in the plight of the Vlogger couple I mentioned before, and that is only one of the so many examples of women not even getting a chance to file a complaint. And it isn’t only in cyber space. It is the very same in real life too. Out of the thousands and thousands of perverts who pass lewd comments and grab us in public places, how many get any sort of punishment, even if the victim is brave enough to stand up against the blind or judgemental bystanders? In fact, how many of the very few rapists who are caught get the punishment they really deserve? If at all, in the rarest of rare cases, they do, how long is that wait and what all does the victim go through in that time? So please, don’t give me the sanctity of law and trust in judicial system as reasons to speak against this incident. It is only because women’s safety is unimaginably low and there has never been any real support from the authorities for the majority of women seeking justice, that we had to see this day where women are forced to take matters into their hands.
The other issue these saints had was the abuses they used. I really am not the right person to say anything about it because I know that if I am pushed to the edge by a pervert, my response will be laden with cuss words, not necessarily the ones they used. Not that I go ahead and abuse anyone with cuss words. But I am not going to pretend to be a sanctimonious ass who would show decency to a pervert of the highest order. Whether it was right or not is a different story. What made me laugh out about the comments on this was that these very critics would be ones who use some or the other kind of abuse, even in a situation that is much less intense than this. But suddenly they were overcome by righteousness and decency BECAUSE these words came from two WOMEN.
The most hypocritical and hilarious response to this incident came from a Kerala MLA, PC George, one of the most foul-mouthed morons to have ever walked this planet, someone who uses filthy abuses on live television because he doesn’t like the question from the anchor, someone who goes to government offices and call the officers there bastards, someone whose beloved followers hail him as a hero for being able to abuse non-stop without flinching. And his problem was that “These cheap ladies behaved like women from local markets. And abused a man, whatever the crime he committed.” Let’s not forget that this ‘braveheart’ was the guy who called a helpless nun fighting for justice against a Bishop who raped her, a prostitute on national television, because he couldn’t take an accusation against his religion and its keepers. He was fuming about how the YouTuber in question in this incident, a sexual predator, could stand getting slapped by two women and how he should commit suicide out of shame since he didn’t even slap them back. Because toxic masculinity is any day a higher concern than actual crimes! According to the dear MLA, if it was the men from their families who had done this, he would have supported them. But two women daring to abuse and assault a man who sexually abused them in a filthy video??? No way that can be accepted in our society where a woman’s response to something like this should be to ignore it or cry at home!
And then there were people who only saw politics in this. “She didn’t condemn some other sexual assaults against women because the culprits were from a particular political party. So, she doesn’t have any right to speak here.” Yeah right, you give a list of all the sexual attacks that happened in the country in the past year and see how many she has condemned on her social media page. If the number doesn’t meet your standards, then she definitely deserves to be sexually assaulted too and not speak about it, right? It is not an obligation anyone has towards you morons to speak when you want them to, say what you want to hear. Yes, people are hypocrites when it comes to politics. Yes, not everyone speaks about everything because if you take the sheer number of sexual crimes from a single week (and that is the minute percentage that actually makes news), you would end up writing only about them every day, because the number is that high! If a woman does not speak about any other incidents of sexual assault and only reacts when she is affected, she is still justified in doing that. Because in this cruel world, where no one is ready to help others, if we can stand up for ourselves, that is still brave enough.
These idiots are in no way different from the others who say celebrities deserve to “take it” because they enjoy fame, or even worse, the ones who say, “What she did or said was not right, so it’s okay for her to get rape threats or obscene comments.” Hear this, no one, and I mean no one, no matter how wrong she is, deserves such comments. It is not a justifiable angry reaction that you ignore or applaud if you don’t like the woman or her personal and political views.
If you go out, you have to “take” any obscenity that is thrown at you – stay home if you don’t want that. If you go online, you have to “take” any obscenity that is thrown at you – deactivate your social media accounts if you don’t want that. So where should we go? What should we do? Is there anything we are free to do without having to worry about “getting what we deserve”? Just remember one thing – even a prostitute who chooses to sell her body for money is still her own master. And she is definitely better than all the assholes who hide behind their computers and type obscenity against women, giving themselves a self-attested license saying “She’s a loose woman, so I can say anything I want about her.” Maybe the authorities won’t give a damn. But if there are women brave enough to stand up against it and give you back “what you deserve”, don’t cry foul! Beware!!