Are you a vigilante change-maker, or just another misogynist?
In the past 48 hours, my newsfeed stands testament to various forms of cyber-bullying or harassment in Bangladesh. Each case is evidence of deeper pitfalls of patriarchy in society, only more exposed on social media.
I first decided to ignore it, but on seeing the confused and concerning reactions from Dhaka elites, many of whom are seen as progressive and first movers, I decided to talk about what’s wrong with each case, and how they stand as more proof of our own shortfalls than the events themselves.
The thin line between vigilante justice and cyber-bullying
A police officer posting the video of a woman, including her identity, on social media to expose her sense of entitlement is a recent example of the tension between vigilante justice and cyber-bullying. You can argue a poorly paid, lower-rank police officer had no option but to turn to vigilante justice. As a representative of the state, however, exposing someone’s personal information, that too of a woman and her child, in a male-dominated, emotional society with low literacy, and zero accountability, is deeply concerning. It is wrong.
There is a fine line between vigilante justice and cyber-bullying -- justice itself is subjective, marred by gender norms, class, religion, power, individual experience, and partisan politics.
Smart and beautiful are not mutually exclusive qualities
Calling out beauty pageant contestants for their (lack of) “intelligence” with links to their personal profiles is, without question, cyber harassment. Fluency in English is in no way a sign of intelligence, nor is being able to explain what H2O is.
If anything, the contestants’ inability to respond is proof of a broken education system -- poorly paid teachers, rushed scoring, measuring success in terms of enrollment instead of quality of education, etc. Laughing at it, without addressing systemic causes doesn’t solve the problem -- it only perpetuates the culture of shaming individuals and disempowers them to change their condition.
Further, the judge’s condescending tone when saying “I’m not going to ask intellectual questions because this is a beauty contest and you are all beautiful ladies” is a shocking display of inner patriarchy, treating beauty and intelligence as mutually exclusive qualities. Beautiful women are smart, and smart women do not conform to the image often portrayed in Hollywood, Bollywood, and Dhaliwood.
You, sharing this content and making fun of the contestants, share the burden of poor judgment as everyone in the contest itself. You, suggesting beauty pageants are not for bhodro ghorer meye, perpetuate the same level of misogyny as those making business from a single definition of beauty, and exploiting women with empty dreams.
A celebrity is not accountable to the crowd for their personal decisions
A cricketer from the national team had to justify the timing of the birth of his child when his only intent was to share the news. What gives anyone the right to question what he does in his personal life, especially if that life is not harming anyone by it?
In fact, why does it matter whether the child was conceived before or after marriage? Why should anyone care about how the cricketer leads his life off the field? And why does he need to explain a decision that he and his spouse made in good conscience?
You can argue that the personal lives of celebrities are important to discuss in light of the #MeToo movement. I wholeheartedly agree. That, however, is vastly different from prying into personal lives, invading privacy, and harassing someone who has done absolutely nothing wrong.
What gives you the entitlement to determine what’s right or wrong about personal decisions that a couple has mutually, respectfully agreed upon that harms no one? If you must get into the personal lives of celebrities, try taking your moral police or virtual vigilante to the singer who got beaten to a pulp by her abusive husband, and forced to quit her career.
If there’s anything of note to take from these episodes, it is that misogyny affects all of us -- woman, man, child, and non-conforming genders. It affects us not only as the oppressed, but also creeps into our minds to turn us into the oppressors.
The next time you see something on social media that you want to get on the bandwagon of, ask yourself: Are you really the vigilante change-maker, the first mover, the critic you think yourself to be, or just another misogynist?
Sabhanaz Rashid Diya is the founder of One Degree Initiative Foundation.