Sexist venom on the web

BY ALKA GURHA| IN Digital Media | 17/08/2013
The acerbic voices on social media are becoming the judge, jury and the executioner.
Abuse is the weapon of the vulgar, not the civilised, says ALKA GURHA

Spare a moment for the insight of writer, Bertolt Brecht. “The human race tends to remember the abuses to which it has been subjected rather than the endearments. What's left of kisses? Wounds, however, leave scars,” he wrote.

The latest arena for abusive punches and sexist remarks is the cyber space. The web becomes even more precarious, when it provides a platform to shout the loudest without any accountability. Everyone has an opinion. Nothing wrong with that at all!  But when opinion turns into abuse against women, one gets a feeling that rot has set into  sections of our social fabric. Unfortunately, this abusive crowd comprises of so called educated and privileged netizens.

The trigger for this article is the recent YouTube video of NDTV anchor, Nidhi Razdan interviewing British MP Barry Gardiner that went viral. It was shared among friends on Facebook

Nidhi Razdan asked Gardiner to elucidate reasons for his invitation to a ‘controversial figure’ like Narendra Modi for addressing the British Parliament. The continuous harping on the word ‘controversial’ by the anchor appeared biased to many viewers. In his defense, Gardiner stressed on the need to respect the Indian Supreme Court verdict.

“It seems you have no respect for your own Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of India has looked at those allegations, I believe, on a number of occasions. For you to be bringing them up on Indian television is extraordinarily strange.”

Needless to say, I did not agree with both – neither the biased views of the anchor, nor the didactic narrative of the British MP. As a result, I proceeded to express my views on the link. I was aghast to read the comments there. Netizens took this opportunity to hurl sexist comments and choicest abuses at the anchor.

Why can’t we agree to disagree without demeaning women?

One commentator said that ‘the bi*ch should eat her own sh*t’. Someone said ‘she should die of AIDS’. Another questioned how a pathetic wh**e became a journalist. The rest of the comments were so derogatory and filthy that they cannot be a part of any civilised discussion.

As it happens, we often disagree with the views expressed by anchors and journalists. Arnab Goswami and Rajdeep Sardesai, elicit strong responses from viewers on websites, but the response is devoid of sexist connotations. All the sexual contempt against Nidhi has never been matched by words on male news anchors.

I am not sure if Nidhi Razdan is cognizant of the sexist comments made on the web, but as a woman, I am perturbed by abusive voices. No matter what I express about politics, the ‘reservation policy’ in education, or on religion, a section of readers is bound to feel offended. Dissent is acceptable but abuse is not. No woman deserves to be called a wh**e on the basis of her opinion or political views.

Unfortunately, this cacophony of freedom of expression is a pandemic. It is a worldwide phenomenon. Who can forget John Inverdale’s insensitive comment on French woman Marion Bartoli who won the 2013 women’s Wimbledon title? “Do you think,” said the Radio 5 Live Presenter, “Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘you are never going to be a looker, you’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight?”

According to this leading commentator, Bartoli was not pretty enough for her dad and the entire world. While the BBC apologised later owing to huge Twitter outrage, the Twitter troll on the Marion Bartoli’s win was far worse than Inverdale’s sexist comment. A blogger said, ‘Marion Bartoli was too ugly to rape. The fat slob didn’t deserve to win because she is ugly’. Another said ‘the ugly bitch needs a b**b job’. I am not quoting other comments which were far worse, derogatory, sexist and unwarranted. Again, all the contempt against Bartoli was isolated and not matched by comments on Andy Murray’s physical attributes.

Coming back to television, the same happened to Vickie Newton, a news anchor on KMOV, USA (Channel 4) in St Louis 2012, who revealed she was harassed by a cyber-stalker who hacked her emails and sent her abusive messages. A winner of the Regional Emmy Award for Best News Anchor, she was forced to quit her job owing to the abuses and invectives. According to Newton, “The internet allows cowards to harass and intimidate. People who would never in a million years say or do the things they do on the Internet are emboldened by the anonymity it provides.”

Abusive slanging matches on Twitter, blogs, and chat rooms are signs of an ailing society. The acerbic voices on social media are becoming the judge, jury and the executioner and are experiencing moments of collective catharsis on the web. Sadly, sexist remarks are becoming a part of communication used by the educated class who don’t even realise how offensive this venom is. Which is a pity, because abuse is the weapon of the vulgar, not the civilised.

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