Cyberspace – An extended diabolic arm of patriarchy

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It is often said that women’s rights are the true indicator of how developed a nation is. Today, the world has come to the understanding that any system, culture or establishment must treat its fair sex the fairest way possible.   

The influence of women’s rights movements has grown leaps and bounds, thanks to all the great feminists (men and women alike) history has produced. A plethora of changes have been ushered in in every part of the world. Slowly but steadily girls are taking the path of empowerment. From suffrage to education to world domination, women are breaking the glass ceiling as a result of hundreds of years of struggle, resistance and perseverance.  

However, we all know that the situation is not all hunky-dory. Hundreds and thousands of women are awaiting to break the shackles of patriarchy. From eve-teasing to marital rape, the human kind has managed to keep women under control in the name of honor, pride, heritage, religion, tradition and what not. Basic human rights are still being violated and many women literally live the life of a slave in several parts of the world. On one hand, we are making strides in bringing women to the fore. On the other hand, we are still dealing with problems unheard of in the recent past.  

New world, new problems 

The internet has made the world smaller. We are connected like never before. We are a generation powered by the marvels of technology. But we are partially engulfed and handicapped by the same technology.  Virtual revolutions have brought down rulers, made careers for billions and have given each and every one of us a medium to express. But it also brought out the ugliest, cruelest side of human minds.  

According to the latest statistics, more than half of India’s population is under 25 years of age. We are a young nation. Incidentally, the increase in the country’s cybercrime is proportional to its mobile phone and internet penetration. We are successfully diminishing the digital divide. But we are giving the powerful tool of the internet into the unsafe hands of a young population who are already wrongly conditioned and misguided by patriarchal norms. 

 Not surprisingly, women are at the receiving end here, too. From slut-shaming to sending across rape threats, the cyberspace now reeks of gender-based abuse in its most devilish form. 

Blinded by misogyny  

Why are we not bothered upon seeing a shirtless picture of a male actor? Flexed biceps, sweated abs or even lustful stares, be it on reel or on social media, never disturb us. But all hell breaks loose when a female actress posts an image in shorts or tank top. We, both men and women, frown upon seeing the same. We mock women leaders more than their male counterparts. We never think twice before making unsavory remarks about female artists than men. Nothing stops us from booing female criminals harder than other usual suspects. We resort to body shaming women more than men.  

Why so? Because all of us expect women to be conventional, motherly, subservient, meek and mild! We are brought up to think this way. We cannot just stand the sight of a woman who has gone against the societal norms put in place by our ancestors who were blinded by misogyny. This very behavior is reflected on social media as well. In a country where sex education is still a taboo, patriarchy continues unhindered and it has been rearing its ugly head in the cyber realm as well.  

India’s cyber abuse instances are a result of patriarchal culture coupled with voyeurism and sexual frustration. Also, the anonymity internet promises give the power to the masses to say and do unimaginable things to their fellow human beings.  

Abuse knows no limits  

Any woman is first adjudged for her moral confirmation and she is readily objectified based on her physical attributes. Cyber space is no different. Only that the users show their more rude and cruel side on social media platforms. Closet chauvinists and abusers bare their real selves on social media.  

According to a latest report by Firstpost.com, “Studies suggest that women are more likely to be cyberbullied than men. It is especially a problem in India with 8 out of 10 teens saying that they have been victims of some form of online harassment. India also has the highest amount of cyberbullying in the Asia-Pacific area.”* 

Harassment, doxing, flaming, bullying, stalking, trolling and masquerading are different kinds of cyber abuses women are vulnerable to. Men and women are subjected to these, but women as in real life are mostly the victims. Cross-platform harassment and Google bombing have become routine. Putting out private images, sharing sensitive information, group bullying using foul language have become the norm of the day. We no longer are taken aback. We have grown used to distasteful comments. We are used to waking up to nasty crimes against women. Movies and series that depict explicit rape scenes or societal stigma fail to disturb us. This is the pathetic state of affairs we have come to. 

The solution prescribed for cyber abuse is staying off cyberspace! How ridiculous?! This is exactly like asking women to keep indoors to avoid getting sexually assaulted. Women are turned away from social media in the name of cyber safety. Many are not keen on even putting up a profile picture due to fear of misuse of the same.  

Depression, suicide and beyond 

The massive damage cyber abuse does to our women, especially teens, are unfathomable and often overlooked. While most of them slip into depression beyond rescue, a considerable number resorts to death by suicide. At a time when mental health has acquired significance like never before, women are subjected to online harassment on a daily basis. Our women live under constant fear that even if many do not develop serious mental problems, they live under undue stress that often escalates to physical difficulties in the long run. Any number of empowerment activities reap no benefit as long as the issue of cyber abuse remains unaddressed.  

As Mao Zedong famously said, “Women hold up half the sky,” it is high time we ensured that women are standing up for themselves and living with identity and dignity. Because, regard for fellow beings is the very essence of humanity.  

Change of mindset 

For the internet culture to improve, we need to address the root cause of patriarchy that has been bogging down women for centuries. While governments, human rights and women rights bodies and lawmakers are expected to take the issue in the hands and come up with a system where no culprit goes scot-free, our technology companies can also contribute to the cause by helping to make the cyber space safer. 

Digital gatekeeping, done by most social media platforms, are not enough. We should have more stringent ways to scrutinize the identity of a user, censor obnoxious comments and add extra layers of safety to the profiles of women users. Hardware companies and manufacturers should focus on developing smart devices that ensure the safety of women and protect their mental health with the aid of technology.  

Women should also be given all support to deal with the trauma that stems from online interactions. Counselling centers and life coaches should focus more on the deterioration of mental health due to new media. We, as rightful citizens, should understand that nobody deserves disrespect and any act that defames us should be questioned. We should voice out discriminations and threats that are hurled at us by the so called ‘keyboard warriors.’ 

However, none of these steps would prove beneficial unless we cleanse ourselves of societal conditioning.  Kids, in spite of their gender, should be exposed to social media well-being and etiquette. Such values should be shared with them at a very young age to shape their personalities in the years to come. 

Hopeful tomorrows 

Each and every one of us are responsible towards making cyberspace a better one.  Like any other public space, we must follow certain rules and should understand the fact that we are leaving our digital footprint. We must bear in our minds that the virtual world is no place to wash our dirty linen. It is no medium to unleash scathing attacks against anyone. Let’s together inspire the next generation and uphold humanity.  

*Statistics source: firstpost.com 

Name: Janu Narayan

Company name : TCS, Trivandrum

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