Politics of Silence – Part 1

Like I wrote in my last post , January was a frustrating month .

Twitter used to be where I escaped to find peace and amusement. But , all through last month , I saw myself debating & losing my mind one tweet , one quote , one RT at a time.

Yes. That bad.

It’s not as if there weren’t issues worth debating last year. Or overnight the world has been taken over by opinionated people with very open disdain for certain topics like Feminism and very closed minds when it comes to accept another side of the story .

But as a sign of maturity , I would ignore hundreds of instances as I lived by the words ‘Ignorance is mental peace’ .

But one fine evening,  something  in me snapped .

During the Yes All Women debate that was fueling views and counter-views across my timeline , I saw way too many women jumping in the defense of men than actually standing with their tribe. I mean this wasn’t some misplaced sense of nationalism with India Vs Pakistan stance. My point was quite common-sensical – ‘Not all men’ doesn’t need to be said out loud , we are happy that women are lucky enough to have fathers, brothers or partners who are respectful and supportive.  I am a much married working professional and a mother with a very normal family life. I don’t need to defend either my father or my husband during any online or offline debates , their actions speak for themselves. They are respectful, sincere, committed and that’s what we expect of them too and for years they’ve lived a privileged life , enjoying an almost Godlike status . The other gender has for years been treated second class citizen. The men don’t need a spokesperson , it’s the women who need a voice. 

I am sure it’s not a grand revelation to anyone that women still don’t have the right to vote or drive or education or even be born in so many countries. Women don’t have the right to choose their careers , their life partners or what they’d like to do with their bodies yet. Women are harassed , assaulted , abused , sold , killed and basically pretty much controlled every single day . Online , offline , at work , at home , on the roads . And to say , men also go through a lot of grief too is gross misrepresentation , because they may get discriminated on colour , class or religion , their gender is never taken against them.

That’s why I jumped in , royally stumped , when gender-debate became the anti-thesis of its own cause.

Ever since then I haven’t stopped thinking about the politics of silence for a single minute.

You’d argue how social media thrives on meaningless debates with the sole purpose of one-upmanship & I agree with you to an extent. As humans our survival instinct drives us to over power , take control and if we don’t get enough power we snatch it. Please do note my use of ‘we’ to keep the point as gender neutral as possible . But you’d have to agree with me when I say , the men who fought wars to conquer lands were , well men. Women have fought too but then those were exceptions. we remember them as badass women , in fact one Man’s Mr Bond is other woman’s Mata hari , so there’s that.

So yes , every battle on ground or on social media , at the end of the day is fought to win.

Politics is the best example of playing power games & just this week when Elizabeth Warren was dismissed because she wanted to read an already pre documented piece of paper in a country where a whiny troll is the president who lashes out and bullies people who don’t agree with him  , irony literally died a thousand deaths.

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” a senator in the most important super power in the free world narrated the entire history of how men treat women when their power or sense of control is threatened.

But we saw that coming , didn’t we? When Trump made little sense and whole lot of interruptions to a far more worthy , accomplished and very female presidential candidate during the debate it was the beginning of the debacle that is American politics.

For many women, watching Trump interrupt Clinton 51 times was unnerving but familiar

If that’s how politics plays out in the west , Indian scene is much worse where women are practically no where in sight. To get the prized ticket , they are either someones daughter in law or wife , which makes them nothing more than a silent spectator on the sidelines. I recently read this brilliant piece by Seema Goswami that outlines what I have believed in forever. Sexism is blatant in politics , but we need to raise the right issues to ensure we strike the right chord .

Low representation of women in Trump’s office or in our own country are indicative of how we don’t want to know women’s opinions on policy making  – The single most important thing that can actually improve the treatment belted out to women issues.

So we’ll not get distracted by the ‘Men will be Men’ logic to justify how Smriti Irani or Priyanka Gandhi are spoken about. I am not going to bring that into picture and digress from my point. Politics is just like any other workplace that comes with its can of worms and we need to either accept it and move or keep pushing Everyday sexism against the wall to find our breathing space.

In some fields more than others which have been male dominated , there is a constant , systematic , stated or unstated propaganda to keep women silent.

Let’s expand the argument beyond politics [ which seems like beyond redemption] . Let’s talk about a field where women apparently have an upper hand – Journalism?  Some of the boldest voices and sharpest mind belong to the likes of Barkha Dutt or Rana Ayub who also happen to be the most trolled media persons online . If you haven’t read this stunning piece on why everyone loves to hate Barkha Dutt by Priya Ramani , suggest you do . In her words ‘She is a powerful, fiercely political, single, independent woman, and Internet trolls can’t stand that’. Well , no one can. Barkha’s personal story of being abused was met with the most violent of reactions [ some even called her anti – national] and that is one more form of silence the masses thrive in – To stop women from speaking out against abuse . Priya Ramani in her article states stats such as 2 out of 3 children are abused in India yet they never speak out. Shocking yet very acceptable as we blindly live with these ‘realities’ . The judiciary in Russia is ‘decriminalizing wife beating because it fits with their traditional values’This piece and many others narrate how we don’t want women to report issues unless they lose a limb or die or something till then its all a family matter. Yes , politics of silence.

But , back to women in journalism and how much freedom they have to speak? Well they can have an opinion on fashion or how the movie stars make the girl in them swoon. But contribute to a topic of national interest or even call out the hypocrisy of a male super star and the troll army is out to get her with blatant threats – from personal attacks on her looks to her background to her family history. She’s reduced to her gender , shamed and driven to the corner so that the next time she has an opinion , she better keep shut about it.  There are enough and more studies ( Read one here ) that show female journalists are more likely to get negative messages , when they are just doing their job – writing opinion pieces! The Guardian even commissioned research into the comments left on its site to discover of the 10 most abused writers , 8 are women. Read ‘The dark Side of Gaurdian Comments’ , its downright chilling. But not just prominent women in public space with strong views , am just quoting a random study I stumbled upon when I googled looking for stats . This piece here states ‘Online harassment of women at risk of becoming established norm’  and 50% of everyday , regular , just-going-about-their-business women like you and me are harassed online – threatened , trolled , stalked or abused .

From unwanted contact to violent threats – we have experienced it all and how does that change us? We tone down , we hold ourself back , we simply stop expressing debatable opinions on religion , politics , movies or even celebrities and especially on sensitive topics like Yes All Women. An article hits the nail on its head when it explores why most trolls online seem to be men , who often want women to shut up because “it comes from a defensive reaction that by talking about women’s rights they think we must be trying to steal something from men.”

Politics of silence , again.

Do you think there is a systematic over powering , arm twisting that happens when it concerns issues concerning women? Online , in public spaces , at workplace , in specific fields? Share your views & I would cover them .

It’s time to speak up. The politics of silence needs to end.

Raising voice on social media didn’t matter to me until I realized , if not me , who and if not here , where? I’ve realized that a politically correct existence especially online isn’t what I am fine with. In this series , I’ll be covering topics such as Everyday Sexism & Women at Workplace etc when it’ll become too stifling to stay silent.


11 thoughts on “Politics of Silence – Part 1

  1. I think sadly “Feminism” is such misunderstood concept, just looking at its literal face meaning. It’s not female domination, or female shovinism. It’s all about equality and equity. It’s about getting respect as fellow human being. Defiantly biological variations or differences are going to be there forever. Nature has created us as different. It’s only about just expectation of getting equal respect and opportunity of life…
    Aditya Sathe recently posted…Together and happyMy Profile

  2. This is brilliant writing Chandni. I’m going to come back to this when I have some more time, so I can read the articles you’ve linked to as well. Some I’ve read – like the one on why women love to hate Barkha Dutt. The world or Twitter trolls is murky, and we can’t just be ostriches thinking this is a small representation of bad apples. It points to the much larger rot in society and the deprlorable reality of the shadow side of patriarchy. I’m going to look forward to these posts – please keep them coming!
    Modern Gypsy recently posted…Book review: Chameleon by Zoe KaloMy Profile

  3. We are silent many a times because we want to avoid conflict! It is the right time to break the silence and speak up. Like another had mentioned, definitely need to come back when I have more time to ingest and dissect the article and all its links!

  4. Long comment alert:

    1) Brilliant piece!
    2) There was an excellent article I read when the US elections took place, which explained with much nuance and clarity how the election was not even a Dem vs Cons debate, but more like a man vs woman debate. The author said, if you keep the exact same personalities – loud, brash, xenophobic, sexist Trump, but turn him into a woman, and had Hilary been a man, with the same emails or whatever – then there wouldn’t even be a chance that Trump would have won. I realized the article would have been true even if they were both men – no one would have chosen a man like Trump, and the only reason they did is cos his opposition was a woman. The essence of the whole article being how much the world hates women and still doesn’t want to see a woman in power. Made the author’s blood boil, made my blood boil, and seriously should make everyone’s blood boil.
    3) I know professors and advertising consultants who for some reason shun the word feminist. I have broken friendships over this without a second thought. I’m glad I came across someone like you whose passion for it equals mine, or maybe even surpasses it (I keep telling myself to be as vocal as possible – getting there). No more politics of silence for me – or so I hope.
    4) Until last year, seeing anything anti-feminist used to leave a bad taste in my mouth for days. I’ve somehow learnt to curb it. Let the wild dogs bark, I say now 😛
    Sreesha recently posted…Moth to a FlameMy Profile

  5. I loved reading this. It came close to after I read Chimamanda Ozzie. Well, yesterday I had to travel to office. It’s just 1 day in a month and guess what happens. Some guy is trying to feel you up in a crowded place. Now, I am a middle aged, plump, Salwar Kameez wearing person. And all I could do was thwart his attempts with my bag as there was no place to turn and see who it was. I can only imagine what the rest of the women go through everyday. And this, Mumbai is still one of the safest cities. We must speak up. Every time.

  6. Like you rightly said, if not us then who, if not now then when and if not here then where. I think its easier to dismiss what happening and be quiet than to speak up. Speaking up is what takes every bit of strength and effort we have. But we do it because we must!

    PS: I think this post is going to be my strength and safe haven in times of defeat and despair.

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