Digital Media: a tool that empowers women and disarms them: in the Indian context
Virtual spaces tend to become a safe haven for those who think their voice is not loud enough to be heard. Certainly it provides them with the confidence that their opinion will be received by a community that sees no boundaries. It is not restricted to the people around them. Their opinion could be heard by someone who is residing in Finland or Switzerland or USA. One could be residing in the most remote corner of a developing country like Pakistan and yet their struggles see the light of others with this powerful tool.
Women and Digital media have a very fluctuating relationship. On the basic premise that it gives a chance to make you be seen and heard is what appeals to most women. You could choose not to reveal your identity and come up with pseudo-names, only to be well received by your audience. Digital media is concerned with opinions, ideas, perspectives rather than identities, social standings like class or caste.
It is a platform that dedicates itself to equality and freedom of opinion, or so we think. In the Arab Spring, a wave of rebellion and need for change came in when the self-emulation of a vegetable vendor in front of the public in Tunisia went viral. It called for a change that would empower them. The high usage of social media enabled the Arab Spring to spread the message to the entire world and at the same time provide the women with a tool to voice their concerns with the regime and to show their support and solidarity to the cause. In an orthodox world of the United Arab Emirates, the concerns and support of women is taken for granted and not paid much heed. But digital media empowered them.
Topics like menstruation and sexuality of women and other alternative sexualities are seen as a taboo in the world. Having said that, it is imperative that we speak about these topics not only for awareness for both men and women but also to create a freer atmosphere. The confidence to talk about the issues was provided by social media. An eminent Instagrammer and poet Rupi Kaur used her Instagram profile to talk about the normalcy of stains during periods using vivid and descriptive photographs. The immediate reaction by the audience may have been of disgust, but by reading what she said in the caption made them realize the importance of speaking about it and the mundaneness of the issue. Periods come every month and they go, it is a cycle no one can stop. This is an example of how social media empowers women to be open and frank.
As receivers and givers of information, social media has created a certain legitimacy in terms of its credibility. Whatever is provided by social media is consumed as the gospel. This in turn becomes an issue since there is no self-filtration of information you seek. It is however important to suit oneself and be aware of what you see.
Since birth, one can say, the immediate circle and the society puts pressure on the girl to be perfect. She should be perfect looking- slim, fair and tall. She should be smart- know when to speak and not. She should be flawless- in her mannerisms and the way she behaves. She should be good natured- docile and not opinionated. She should be well spoken- speaks only when spoken too.
With so much pressure around her to be perfect, women, especially young girls, seek refuge in the virtual world of digital media. A world which does not number how docile you are but instead encourages you to be bold and outspoken. It is a world which does not shun you for having many friends but instead makes you a star for having so many followers. It is a world that is lettered by how beautifully you can express your struggles, your pain and your emotions rather than shutting up your meek voice. It is a world that is not restricted to the periphery of your vision but rather has no boundaries, not identity and no influence on you. However, this speaks highly of the illusion that digital media is. People may want to read the struggles of violence a woman faces at home, but does not want to indulge in changing anything about it. They don’t want to educate their sons and teach a lesson to the perpetrators. People may follow you for the brilliance of your post regarding rape and what a woman goes through not only in those timed seconds but also in the lifetime, but they don’t want to curb their own need and hurry for sexual gratification.
The internet is a large binary that relies on seeking their own satisfaction. There is very little hope and expectation you can put in making a change. You will always see 5 out of 10 comments in your radical post asking you to shut up and stay at home. It could also be a whistle call to how sexy you look but you should cover your cleavage because you can be raped by them. It becomes a wildfire and you doubt your own instincts.
In a patriarchal world like ours, it is difficult for misogyny to replace itself with feminism. The internet promises you equality of thought and the freedom to be who you want, but provided you constrain yourself to the digital platform. Your voice as a woman should be loud but not loud enough to reach the masses in real time. The teenage boy in USA can hear you, but your grandfather who sits in the seat of the head of the family in your village should not even hear a letter of it. You can bring change in the lives of thousands of urban girls and boys, but your higher literacy should be hidden from the groom you are about to marry. It seems absurd, that the digital media empowers even the smallest strata of society, a young girl in a remote corner in India, whose name you have never heard, now goes to the cyber café and publishes her highly opinionated article on the corrupt officer in her zilla on her blog, but it is not possible for her to step out of the house without her dupatta.
Certainly, digital media has changed the world of women, it gives them a comfort to be heard and make their word count. But at the same time, the real life implication of the same is that of resistance and insult. You can voice your opinion but you don’t have the power or the strength to alter our perception about you and your lowly opinions. So as to say, the empowerment of women by digital media is an illusion created by this virtual space, in the Indian context.