November 04, 2008

Regarding Expectations

I JUST GOT BACK from a break to discover the flurry of comments around Meena’s post. There’s lots of accusations about it not being well thought out / clear etc and I would like to clarify, yet again, that UV is a space to share informed opinion  but also feelings, angst, even rants. Quite simply, it’s a space where women can voice things. Not all those things have to be perfectly logical little pieces of social / cultural critique. Not all of them have to come with their five-point solution for saving the world. If you don’t like that, don’t read. If you want to make it better, contribute. Guest posts are always welcome.

Just as long as they come with your real name attached to them. Because we’re writers who are willing to brave the trolls, abusers and critics. This is not to say that posts should not incite disagreement, but it would be nice if the larger issues didn’t get lost in the bid to prove superior cleverness. Also, I would hate for this to become a space where people have to think a million times before voicing something, for fear that it’s not ‘intelligent’ enough.

Aren’t comments that pick apart a post line by line a bit pointless? Wouldn’t it make more sense to write a counter-post making a better argument or discussing the issue in the way that you think it deserves? Anyway, I’m going to stop to take a breath and point you to this blogger, who has responded to the post and comments and, I think, said some useful things:

Without digressing further, I am going to get my always optimistic self to look at this like this: The UV is a useful space, for ALL Indian women who write and read English and have access to internet. This is not a place that calls for credential presentation of only certain class of women but it is an initiative that is open to all types of womens voices.

Next, that this place will put its ‘glare’ aside and LOOK at the problem. And emerge with solutions before the problem becomes as big as the eve teasing and other darned crimes against women that plague the Indian woman going about her business.

  • First, they will acknowledge cyber stalking as a crime: Hopefully!
  • Second, they will look at the modus operandi of the crime. By listening!
  • Third, they will look at this ‘crime vs free speech’ objectively. Without tearing each other out!

Fourth for which I have little hope they will think of the web as a space for women who will react to bad behavior from strangers in the virtual world in a million different ways. Since all Indian women are not loud, articulate, thick skinned, still feel responsible to families, care about others opinions, not interested in being an ‘ist’ but does not mean that they don’t fight prejudices, OR are not effective human beings.

So, if everyone’s done with pointing out other people’s dreadful lack of clarity / thought / logic etc, can we discuss the crime versus free speech issue? If one goes with the credo that people should have free speech on the web, where does ‘cyber abuse’ or ‘cyber stalking’ begin? What is the line one can draw?

It makes me think of how sexual harassment in the workplace is similarly problematic. Many would say that verbal abuse does not constitute harassment and should not be curtailed because it’s free speech. But when your boss makes lewd jokes about you, your anatomy and private functions, it’s hard to think of his rights to ‘free speech’. Believe me.

What about emotional abuse in cases of domestic violence, which again usually depends on words. Is the person expected to develop a ‘thick skin’ and get on with it? And when does being ‘thick skinned’ become ‘putting up with shit’?

Any thoughts?

6 comments to Regarding Expectations

  • “Not all those things have to be perfectly logical little pieces of social / cultural critique. Not all of them have to come with their five-point solution for saving the world. If you don’t like that, don’t read”

    Done. I’ve unsubscribed from the RSS feed and deleted you from my bookmarks.

    Such a disappointment this site turned out to be.

  • anu

    2 out of the 9 regular writer’s from UV, have come out to say that they are/have been subjected to cyber abuse and stalking. That to me is the significant part, hence ‘my angst’ that we listen a little more carefully and respond thoughtfully.

    I read many post here, where comments are mild to strong to sometimes unpleasant and that seemed fine, life. But Meena’s post here and Sharanya’s post on her blog started addressing something personal, that has implications for the rest of us on the web. And this needs our less than usual earnestness in breaking down an argument…………..

    Viewing cyberstalking objectively is a tough job as it is a subjective experience and the way it is being handled by the victim, will call on many many things…………….. which we can keep pulling apart. And in the process forget the crime and perpetrators…….. waste useful discussion time focused not on the crime or the solutions………

    Since, I wrote that post on my blog I have had to unapprove comments from agencies that are advertising cyberstalking detecting expertise………. there apparently seems like a nice thriving private industry behind this phenomenon. That to me also indicates that more and more victims are using private means to handle this…….all pointing to the gaping holes in legislation.

  • Falstaff: I’m sorry you feel that way.

    Anu: There are things I don’t agree in Meena’s post but I agree that it’s brought up some things we should talk about. I wrote about this dilemma on my personal blog some time back ( At the time, I didn’t really talk about it as a gender issue or a feminist issue but I remember feeling extremely vulnerable and I think this sense of vulnerability affects many of us. Why are women more susceptible? Because women are more likely to be judged for their opinions and openness about certain topics.

    For example, I’m pretty sure that even UV bloggers steer clear of certain topics, say sex and sexuality or marriage (which Unmana broke finally), because of the fear of people extrapolating from their opinions to judge their personal lives. But there is little we can do about this besides steeling ourselves and writing anyway. It is a risk, but it would be a risk even if one was writing in a magazine. We’re not more vulnerable on the Internet; we’re simply more aware of our vulnerability, and more traceable.

    So I would say:
    1) developing a thick skin
    2) talking about it as wrong, unsavoury, unpleasant, disgusting, just talking against it so that there are counter voices.
    3) I think the policing line needs to be drawn at threatening comments. After all, one would report threatening letters, so why not email or comments?

  • swar

    I was actually thinking of sending a guest post as well as posting a counter-post on my own blog re Meena’s post. But travel got in between. But after reading this new post, I think I will take your advice. I won’t read UV again. If this space is going to defend half-baked posts that smacks of dishonesty just because a woman has written it, If this space cannot take critics, If this space is no different from a jumpy personal blog, If this space is going to be incoherent for the sake of angst, well, this is your space. My best for all your future efforts.

  • Swar: There is a difference between defending what is said in a post, and defending someone’s right to write it.

    This space can take critics but should it not be allowed to respond to them as well?

    The fact that a few people think a post is incoherent doesn’t mean that everyone thinks so. Or that the post has no value. Or that it is not making any valid points or raising any issues. The editors on this site do not presume to tell contributors what they should or should not think.

    A lots of gender issues are complex and many-sided and difficult to untangle. The reason UV was set up in the first place was to give women a space to talk things out, untangle some things, arrive at clarity in some cases. The process may not always be coherent or smooth or easy.

    In that sense, you’re right, it was never meant to be that much “more” than a personal blog — if you read the manifesto, you will see what i mean. The idea was never to be an expert forum pontificating on issues, a magazine of feminist theory. The idea was to be a space for women to, ironically, freely express themselves. To reflect as comprehensively as possible how things are for women in India and the things they feel strongly about. It is based on a principle of inclusion, rather than selection and exclusion.

    Perhaps, there is a mismatch between your expectations and what the site is trying to do. I had hoped people like you, who have such well-formed opinions, would help others by talking, discussing, engaging. Clearly, you’re looking for something else, something that other sites will be able to fulfill better.

    Thank you for the good wishes.

  • I did feel that the earlier post was not exactly coherent. And that perception was more so because it came from a person known for writing with clarify and strength of conviction. But if we stop to think why it was incoherent we’ll know what the evils of cyberstalking, cyberbullying/cyberfrisking has on the effect of the psyche of women. It doesn’t instantaneously affect you but gnaws at your strength repeatedly over a period of time and erodes it. I have seen similar reactions with other bloggers. Infact I see it as the extension of the same behavior on physical space on the virtual space fostering invisibility.

    So in essence it reduces the strength of women , reduces their ability to voice opinions. A pachydermic attitude is all easy to advocate when it comes to generic issues but when things affect you personally it is unfair on any normal humanbeing to be objective, well-informed. You do not know what the person actually went through and even if they have the strength to deal with it and knows ways to tackle it it still does impact them.

    I do agree that solutions need not emerge out of each post. A voice, an opinion can draw attention to an issue and trigger a solution somewhere.

    That said , could we please do away with the don’t like don’t read bit? That will only lead to group think. But in the end what bothers me on this issue is when you read various tips to combat cyberstalking most of them have things like choose genderless screennames(this one from information week), avoid and step out of conflict which really aren’t solutions. Other than IP tracing, reporting to ISP,banning users, (extreme cases) there is not much one can do. Any other action ideas.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>