Aziz Ansari sexual harassment row has exposed India's internet feminists

We feel the need to respond to the news of a US actor’s date while young women being raped and mutilated here is not even a question.

 |  5-minute read |   18-01-2018
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Responses to the Aziz Ansari episode mark the beginning of a backlash from within progressive circles in the United States to its internet feminism. The New York Times opinion columnist Bari Weiss’ piece on the episode is clear that positioning the woman as pure victim robbed of all agency is problematic.

More crucially, it is becoming clear that the mindless consensus by many young women around this new internet feminism cannot be accepted without question. In another NYT article, Weiss questions one of the many unquestionable dictums of this internet feminism: "Believe all women". Weiss asks us not to simply believe all stories but to be sceptical and interrogate. Due process cannot be replaced by mob rule, she warns. Margaret Atwood’s response to internet feminist attacks on her is another example.

The Indian internet feminist response to the episode is characteristically time-lagged. We have not reached the backlash moment as yet. Of course, why do we need to respond at all to the news of a US actor’s date while young women are being gang-raped and mutilated here is not even a question? There is little social media outrage about the latter, but to the Ansari episode there is ferocious and gung-ho social media response. This is symptomatic of the deracinated nature of this class and this feminism.

master-of-none_011818125124.jpgMaster of None/Netflix photo

The demographic here too, like the internet feminists in the US, is mainly young women, the campaigns vituperative, the attacks on older feminists who suggest caution nasty and ageist, and the internet feminist protocols of what constitutes harassment and what constitutes even feminism replicate language derived from US social media with little or no adaptation to the particular social contexts here.

Terms like "triggering", "mansplaining", "toxic masculinity", "weaponised", "woke", "victim blaming", "naming and shaming", "cis", "gaslighting" and the latest "enthusiastic consent" (the Indian judiciary which informed us last year that a feeble "no" may mean "yes" may take a leaf from here and coin one of its own terms "enthusiastic non-consent") mark the discourse of these outpourings.

Fed on a regular diet of US popular culture, US TV series, US soaps and US internet, these young women invent a feminism based on a ressentiment that comes from a combination of the structural experiences of sexism and abuse, psychic damage and a variety of social media platforms that allow for the instant expression of this ressentiment cloaked in a certain (US) language of social justice. Pathology becomes politics. Personal experience becomes political campaign.

It is a feminism based on the sharing of personal experience - rape, violence, abuse - followed by the necessary affirmation of likes and retweets and marked by the need for instant response, instant judgement and instant justice. The sense of self that this world creates, the sense of politics and the sense of social interaction are all terrifying and under-analysed.

One might console oneself that only a miniscule percentage of the population is on the internet in India, but even that miniscule percentage amounts to millions. That’s millions of young people estranged from politics on the ground in their own lives and the lives of those around them, but busy with a notional revolution. It is an echo-chamber, but one with destructive effects.

To be sure, these are upper caste, upper class, privileged women apparently on the internet pretty much all day and these young women (and a few male allies) mistake themselves for revolutionaries, but rarely show any commitment to feminism in their own lives, let alone to the feminisms of other classes and castes on the ground.

What is evident is the self-aggrandising violence of tumblr SJ (social justice) language which, apart from damaging several other lives, only deepens the scarring of these young women (the US has already begun the assessment of the damage on and by tumblr sjws - social justice warriors).

Not a single feminist response in support of or against the manifestations of this internet feminism in India has engaged with the psychic formation of this demographic on the Indian internet.

No sociologists have engaged with this demographic and the social media involved in the production of this particular kind of feminism - Facebook, Twitter - either. In the already precarious sexual cultures here, this silence is counterproductive.

The principal problem is the production of all woman as total victims. Victimhood is an event, Jacqueline Rose reminds us, and the moment you turn it into an identity, you are finished. That is because fixity, producing oneself unilaterally, does not allow for complexity or change. The self (the woman) is beyond all criticism, all complicity, all agency. Only the other (the man) is the problem.

One thing is clear about this internet feminism: its goal is not social transformation, collective or individual. It is a language of destruction, negativity and, bizarrely enough, masculinist one-upmanship.

It is not a world that understands, or even wants to understand, the difficulties of due process but, more importantly, it is equally in denial of the divided and complicated nature of the human psyche.

It is a world where only torrents of words attempt to shore up a troubled and contradictory sense of self, unaware that that the violence of that torrent is unable to shore up anything at all, least of all that tumultuous self.

Also read: If men are not entitled to sex, then women are not entitled to victimhood


Ashley Tellis Ashley Tellis @tellisashley

The writer is an LGBT rights activist based in Chennai.

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