Social Media: The New Frontier

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Recently news reports have had me acting out of turn. For the first time, I did the opposite of what I have always done when scrolling through my social media feed. Instead of passing by shared posts and comments that have had me internally voicing thoughts such as “that’s not exactly true/correct”, or even “that’s repugnantly stupid”; instead of this, I stopped and I entered the fracas. I waded into the back hole consisting of keyboard warriors, trolls, and the odd grandparent who took a wrong turn. I did this twice.
I must confess it was a rush. I felt like I was finally empowering myself to have my voice heard.

It might not be hard to guess which two recent events have had this affect on me, but it was the sentencing and discourse surrounding the convicted rapist Brock Turner (aka The Stanford Rapist), and the mass shooting in Orlando. These events alone are disturbing and traumatic, and lead to complex questions about how we, as a society, combat individuals who undertake acts of violence against others. Don’t get me wrong, Turner isn’t a terrorist, and the shooter, Omar Mateen, isn’t a rapist; their acts of violence are entirely different types. However they do represent segments of society who hold views that can lead to violence.

As a society we continue to struggle to combat this.

Whilst I don’t have the solution, I do have a proposal. We often cry out, it’s not all men, and it’s not all Muslims. It truly isn’t, but scroll through any public social media post and the voice of reason is hard to see let alone hear. If in reality we have the power of the majority, we should try to influence this throughout all realms, including the virtual.

To my close friends and family, those who know me well, it might be a surprise that I avoid nearly all topics that I study that is discussed via social media. I am an undergraduate International Politics major focusing on war and genocide, yet I don’t discuss politics, nor conflict. I hold a diploma in Human Rights Theory, yet online I avoid discussion of ethics and morality. I now have a Master’s in International Development Practice (long explanation short; think of the work that the U.N. and organizations like Save the Children and World Vision do, it’s like community development, but with a focus on the level of international engagement and with developing countries and communities) with a commitment to work with the purpose of alleviating poverty and inequality, yet I avoid topics such as the budget cut for Australian Aid.

I find myself questioning why. Recently the only realms you would find evidence of my own opinion, which I would put forth as relatively reasoned and informed, is on forums such as my Masters coursework page and this blog. I realized it’s because

1. I don’t want to be viewed as contentious, a ‘know-it-all’, and dare I say it, a bitch.
2. Challenging people to an open debate or discussion often leads to nowhere, and is usually reductive in reason and contradictory in values. Most of all, it feels as though people just want to be heard but don’t also want to listen.
3. I don’t wish to be overly ‘politically correct’ and have those I am openly disagreeing with feel that as a result they should not voice their opinions. I was raised to believe that it takes all types to make the world go round.

So I begin to wonder, is it that the more socially moderate we become, we also become quieter? Perhaps we believe so much in personal freedoms and expressions of opinions that we hesitate to challenge ideas, be they obscure, offensive, or even normative? We have become more uninvolved in the checks and balances of government and societal norms, allowing media and even the vacuum of social media to direct our information, which becomes regurgitated and repetitive.

As development practitioners, I believe it is part of our responsibility to wade into the fracas and challenge those voices that we would usually turn away from, and put forth the values of equality, respect and security for and of others, which we have dedicated our education and careers to help achieve.

So I appeal, it’s not just the forums and conferences to discuss and agree to some terms of peace or acknowledge a need for action where we should gather and discuss. We should also be speaking outside of our bubbles with those that surround us virtually and physically. With the friend who shares a Facebook post that innocuously supports a reductive rationale of terrorism and further alienates other community members, or the comment that places blame on a rape victim for being intoxicated. What we so eagerly strive to achieve through the Sustainable Development Goals; fighting hunger, alleviating poverty, overcoming inequality. This is not just achieved by our elected or unelected representatives. It is also achieved by each and everyone of us, by discussing and challenging in an open manner the ideas and morals held between us that differ and so that, most importantly, we may understand each other.

Beyond this, I believe we all hold this responsibility. All of our voices are worthy and should be heard; though we also need to be prepared to not just hear others, but to also listen.

The events of the past week, the evidence of a rape culture which continues to persist within our societies, and the exclusive dichotomy of Islam following Orlando that paints a reductive picture of good and evil. These are not singular events, but are shared by themes of power and inequality. The most damaging voices in these events though are not the extreme views, or those that are misinformed; they are the moderate voices that exist in the majority that avoid the social media fracas. People do not often mean harm by the opinions they voice, be it those who believe Islam is a violent religion, or that some should take responsibility to prevent rape, and more. However, unchallenged, we as a society will not be able to move forward together. The more we leave behind; the more their voices will demand to be heard. So, we need to talk.

I admire anyone who bears such confidence to put forth their values and ideas on social media. I have truly lacked this.

It does take all types to make the world go round. So I challenge everyone, let’s have a chat.

Be the change you want to see?

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On the 16th of December 2012, a girl was gang raped and brutally assaulted by six men on a moving bus. The brutal incident took place late at night when the girl was returning from a film show along with her male friend. The girl was assaulted, her male friend beaten ruthlessly, and they were thrown out of the bus afterwards. They were admitted to Safdarjung hospital in New Delhi where the girl battled for her life for days. She succumbed to her injuries and passed away on the 29th of December 2012. (source: The Hindu)

As the news of the assault spread, there was an outburst of long held anger amongst people for the lack of security of women in the city. People in large numbers came out to protest on the roads of New Delhi.

Born and raised in Delhi, I love this city but I am also well aware of this deep rooted, ever-present threat the city poses to the security of women. In fact, not just this city, but each and every part of India. Yes, this is the country I grew up in, however I have had my moments of anger and rage in past over such incidents but as the details of this assault unravelled I was shaken up to the core. Like many others I started looking for immediate solutions to the problem of violence against women. I became part of a growing mentality which demanded lynching of men and cutting them in pieces. To give voice to my growing disappointment with the situation I along with a thousand others marched to protest at Raisina Hill against the heinous crime that has been committed and to demand security for women.

It was the first time I had witnessed a protest of this magnitude where people gathered in such a large number to demand justice. The energy and the emotion which brought people together at Raisina hill was worth seeing. People gathered from various parts of Delhi and from National Capital Region demanding various things. There were some who demanded the death penalty for the accused, several others demanding stricter laws for rape, and many demanded greater security and freedom for women on Delhi roads. They wanted freedom from eyes of men continuously singling out women, freedom from violence the women faced within the four walls of their own home, freedom from everyday teasing and harassment. There were many who came to the protest just to be a part of the growing resentment with no demands or agenda, and there were those who thought disrupting the public and damaging property would somehow lead to a solution. For this particular group, this protest became a tool to voice their buried demands which were not latent anymore. People were tear gassed, water cannoned, and Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) (which empowers a magistrate to prohibit an assembly of more than five people in an area) was slapped against the protestors. People were raising their collective voices and I wish the government would have heard them peacefully at that point. Though I do I also agree that the unruly protesters and the anti-social elements in the crowd made the protest take an ugly form.

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It was heartening to see the mass support for the girl and the anger against what had happened. But as I looked around at the men during the protests I developed serious doubts about the protest bringing real results. It made me realize that bringing another law or another short term action will not end this in any way. Laws against rape have been there for many decades but they have not been able to arrest the rising level of violence against women. These protests I felt would lead to more piecemeal institutional mechanisms and fail to address the problem which is so deeply rooted in society.

The protesters criticised the government authorities for their negligence and inaction in the area of security of women and they expected immediate action. This is what everyone was seeking. But we were asking the patriarchal institutions to solve a societal problem for us. We were asking them to change the mindset of the society. We were pointing to those institutions as if rape was just a criminal offence but it wasn’t. It is our problem and we constitute the problem.

This protest raised various questions in my mind regarding women and their position in our society, and it lead me to look for answers outside of the protest. The questions and their answers related to changing the values young boys are taught in our society. These values related to preference for a male child, and the values instilled in the majority of men who were a part of the protests. I questioned if they would be going home and continue to abuse their wives at home for perceived wrongs or slights, or simply because they can. Most importantly I realised that these protests were still propagating among the majority the value of protecting the honour of the society which resides in the women and not the women. By many the victim’s body still remained the sight of honour and people were enraged to protect this honour. As I took the journey back home and as I go on as a student studying gender relations, I wish to be a part of a change where we confront our society for shaming women and revisiting various values in order to build up a society where women can live fearlessly with respect.

Natasha
MIDP student

nrag4@student.monash.edu

+61 410 937 347

The lived realities of gender inequality

Body Form Redfit
Bodyform RED.FIT Campaign

According to the Monash Gender and Medicine website, Gender describes the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine. However, today there is a call for actions that challenge this traditional gender bifurcation and the polarisation into masculine and feminine.

With three older brothers and a headstrong mother, my understanding of my femininity was a beautiful mash up of floral dresses and boys hand-me downs. I was told to speak up rather than criticised for being bossy. I was a sports scholar and beat the boys at chin-up competitions, I was a music scholar and mastered the cello with delicacy and passion. My education never suggested that my boobs would be a hindrance to my success nor that having a womb would limit my career choices. The reality of ‘real world’ was a slap in the face!

My inevitable, charming, coming-of-age-whilst-raging, feminist phase coincided beautifully with the year I was an Officer Cadet in the Royal Air Force at University. My occasional drunken ramble about the importance of women at the top to influence bottom-up equality grew tiresome for my uninterested contemporaries. I seethed with rage but also embarrassment when the new Senior Student of my Squadron asked all the women in the room to return to the kitchen at our annual dinner. The room erupted into laughter, sidelong looks cast in my direction. I was visibly frothing at the mouth but powerless to react in the face of such collective mirth.

The experiences are endless, everyone has their story to tell of perpetual and insidious inequality, some more severe than others. There are moments of optimism however, this weekend I watched a new sanitary towel advert from the UK that literally brought me to tears. They were tears of triumph, a shiver ran down my spine and I boldly shared it on my Facebook feed (only momentarily concerned about offending someone somewhere) with a “F*** YES”. Here was a small action by two big companies that was challenging what it meant to be ‘feminine’ in my culture.

I could not quite believe what I was seeing; women, frigging bad-ass physically active women. Unapologetic for their physical power, their disinterest in the need to be ‘pretty’ palpable in their ambivalence towards the imperfections their activities slashed across their bodies. Blood, red, hot, oozing from elbows, knees, foreheads, noses, mouths, toes…and they don’t give a s*** because blood is a regular part of a woman’s life.

The tagline for Bodyform’s new advert? “No blood should hold us back”. It’s a powerful move, it’s a strong statement, it’s an acceptance of a woman’s lived experience into the mainstream of UK society. Its women saying, we bleed and we’ll be damned if that’s going to make a difference anymore.

Would it traditionally be considered unladylike to discuss this sort of thing in public, hell yes. Do I believe it is possible to be ladylike and discuss such things, absolutely. Could Bodyform shift this refreshing and empowering campaign to the next level with an initiative that supplied subsidised sanitary products to displaced women across the globe, well yes.

Since being asked to write on Gender, every day produced something new and wonderful, or frustrating and harrowing, as food for thought. From the ‘small issues’ produced by everyday sexism that Western women face on a daily basis, to the experiences of marginalised communities in less stable states, we can see that gender inequality is an issue for both the developed and developing nations as it impacts everyone.

There was the petition started in the UK demanding dress codes are reformed for women at work. There are the grand debates surrounding Brexit and how women will have the deciding vote. Amber Heard’s reputation has been dragged through the dirt for trying to escape a violent relationship, one that no one else in the entire world outside of that courtroom should possibly imagine they have the right to comment on. All the while refugees are disappearing into the Mediterranean and Fortress Europe continues to drag its feet on a solution to the refugee crisis.

And then there was Angelina Jolie, the Hollywood star out to change the lived experience of displaced peoples as UN Special Envoy. Newly appointed as a visiting professor in practice for the London School of Economics recently announced MSc of Women (note women, not gender), Peacekeeping and Security. There were mixed reviews for this revelation, the most prominent question being “is she really qualified to teach at a post-graduate level?”

There was however one voice that shone out to me, that of Aljazeera correspondent, Bina Shah that focussed on the important issue here. She takes a practical approach to this news and appeals us to steer our attention to the MSc itself, what it’s really teaching and what a graduate will be able to do with it.

These are similar questions I asked of the various Masters programs I was considering. I landed on Monash for its emphasis on ‘practical experience’ and the promise of career-readiness, graduating with more than just the ability to eloquently debate whether we should be bothering at all.

A debate made even more frustrating when one reads statements such as this gem from Kofi Annan: “gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition, promoting sustainable development and building good governance”. Good luck with dissecting that revelation for a specific proposal, William Easterly certainly died a little inside hearing that one.

Having spent a semester now being asked to challenge existing development trajectories (such as the above) and human rights institutions – to understand how we as the new generation of development workers should be expected to move forward – I find Shah’s closing comments, at once striking for their clarity and harsh in their reality:

“If you want to stop women being raped in times of war, you’ll need a different kind of degree: the one that teaches us how to stop war and how to stop women being used as its spoils. And I’m not sure there’s a university course out there that teaches that as yet”

Gender remains to be one of the most pressing issues of our time, and a hurdle in achieving equality. Regardless of the academic research to understand inequality, how can a university course teach how to mitigate, and overturn the lived realities of gender inequality? Will there ever be a university course that does? Can you teach students how to address such global pressing issues safe in their lecture theatre? Or is there no real substitute for hands-on, in-the-field experience?

*All links are provided for the reader’s further exploration of referenced topics and do not necessarily reflect the author’s own opinions.

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