How the internet brands women “sluts”, and what if you're gay

Vikram Johri
Vikram JohriNov 25, 2014 | 11:50

How the internet brands women “sluts”, and what if you're gay

Exhibit 1:

Last month, a user uploaded porn on the Bangalore page of Flats and Flatmates, a Facebook group that helps newcomers to a city find accommodation. Much scorn was heaped on the moderators, who, after all, were helpless in the face of ever new IDs posting inappropriate content on what, by its nature, has to be a free-posting group.

Exhibit 2:


A friend posted pictures of her old dresses on “Second to None”, a Bangalore-based startup that connects buyers and sellers of second-hand items. One respondent asked her if she also had shoes to sell. “Yes,” she replied. The following is the ensuing conversation:

User: “Can you post pictures of your shoes, preferably dirty shoes?”

Friend: “Excuse me?”

User: “I have a foot fetish and I want to wear your dirty shoes.”

My friend reported the conversation to both the website and Facebook (where it is hosted). The user was banned from the site.


In the shady underbelly of social media, where all manner of psychos lurk, it is becoming increasingly difficult, especially for women, to have a decent transaction. While blocking or exiting a group may help, the feeling of having been violated is uneasy to shake. On Facebook and its ilk, we are called upon to completely yield our privacy to strangers even for the most basic interaction, accentuating the faux-intimacy that social media engenders.

Speaking at a Forbes event in October, Monica Lewinsky, now 40, took the listeners back to 1998, when as a 24-year-old, she was hounded by the press for her affair with Bill Clinton. This was before Google, Facebook and Instagram came on the scene, Lewinsky said, making her perhaps the first victim of online bullying. The Ken Starr report, which made public all the indiscretions that had occurred between her and Clinton in the Oval Office, was uploaded online the same day it was released. The last 16 years, she said, have been marked by one dominant emotion: shame.


The worrying trend is that the technological utopia that was promised by the progenitors of the internet has degenerated into a space where old biases get reinforced. Listening to Lewinsky after so many years, and in a climate where media intrusion has become more pervasive, one begins to look at her situation differently. Called a “tramp”, “slut”, “whore”, even “spy”, Lewinsky was a mere young woman on the cusp of a great career when she fell in love with a man who happened to be the President of the United States. Remember, Clinton was 52 years old at the time, and the natural responsibility for the rightness or otherwise of the affair must rest with him. While he has suffered public ignominy of his own, his rehabilitation has been complete. He has returned to public life, and is husband to one of the world’s most powerful women in his latest avatar. Lewinsky, on the other hand, continues to be “that woman”, as she herself admitted during the talk.

Lewinsky also spoke of Tyler Clementi, the gay teenage student at Rutgers, who killed himself in 2010 after his roommate shot and uploaded online a video of Clementi kissing a man in his room. That video was posted on Twitter from where it quickly went viral within Rutgers and the larger student community.


For out gay men, social media is a mixed blessing. While there are plenty of support groups to help one navigate the slippery contours of coming out and growing comfortable in one’s skin, any expression of sexuality can quickly backfire. One Sikh gentleman who posted a picture of him kissing another man to protest the 2013 Supreme Court ruling on Section 377 was let down by Facebook. After his picture was reported, Facebook took it down. Facebook won't tell the victim of the suddenly absent picture who it was that did the reporting. The Sikh man - he lives abroad - said there were people in his family who had told him that they would have preferred killing him when he was born if they knew he was gay.

I find Facebook’s stand hypocritical. There are secret groups on Facebook that have men solicit young boys and much besides, but they continue to run since they are not public. There are satirical groups such as "Aapchutiyehain" which have hundreds of followers who make its posts viral. Using such a moniker is apparently fine, notwithstanding that "chutiya" means stupid and originates, like many other misogynistic things that surround us, from the Hindi term for the vagina.

At her speech, Lewinsky spoke about the two Monicas that she came to know in the aftermath of the scandal. One was the public Monica, disparaged and disgraced, and the other was the real Monica, whom only her family and friends knew. Today she has found her peace, but it would be a shame if her lesson, and Clementi’s, and the Sikh gentleman’s, do not propel us to fight for social media that ought to be, by definition, less sleazy and more inclusive.

Last updated: November 25, 2014 | 11:50
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