Following his repulsive video glorifying acid attacks on women, TikTok star Faisal Siddiqui’s account was recently deleted by the online platform. In the outrage spurned by the incident, three trends are noticeable.
One is the public outcry against TikTok – from Twiteratti trending #BanTikTok to many downrating the app. The second is the pervasive issue of misogyny and violence against women that find different platforms to manifest and express itself.
When it comes to violence against women in India, TikTok is just another platform with poor regulation.
And last but not the least, the psychology that drives the social media influencer phenomenon.
In the uproar, these three things are, as usual, being conflated.
When it comes to violence against women in India, TikTok is just another platform with poor regulation, serving as an outlet to express attitudes rooted in our culture. The video, in fact, is another ghastly addition to a long list of videos that are, at best offensive and at worst, disgustingly misogynist.
In these videos, women are hit, chastised for being immodest or breaking up, or raising their voices against men, or simply as an object – whose passivity casts the man in machismo.
YouTube Vs TikTok: Misogyny Edition
On its big brother website YouTube, compilations of sexually charged material from TikTok is readily available. Most of them are openly sexist and degrade women, but masquerade as humour.
And, in turn, they tend to reinforce all kinds of gender stereotypes entrenched in the Indian psyche.
Even a cursory look at the overall content warrants alarm – yet no surprise.
TikTok has infiltrated peri-urban and rural spaces in a way unlike any other app. In that sense, it is a much wider representation of what is consumed as entertainment by the Indian youth. And even a cursory look at the overall content warrants alarm – yet no surprise.
Frivolous, Laughable Excuses To Justify Such Content
In fact, objectification of the female body is an age-old practice that is alive and well still. Just a few weeks back, the Bois Locker Room incident showed that a culture of objectifying women is thriving in elite Indian youth as well.
It also pointed out the biased reportage and attitude of the authorities when one set of screenshots, unrelated to the main case, were revealed to originate from a girl posing as a boy.
The public discourse immediately shifted to victim blaming and shaming.
Even in the current context, Faisal Siddiqui’s defence that it was water, not acid that he threw is so frivolous, it is almost laughable, yet being circulated by his followers. A second video depicts him beating a woman when she rejects him.
A series of videos from TikTok users have surfaced, on Twitter, which glorify rape implicitly, use minors to lip-sync or act out sexually charged songs, or degrade women in the crudest ways possible.
Content Generated By Patriarchal Population
As culpable as the platform is, for failing to regulate its content, we should also accept that the content is generated by a populace that is inherently patriarchal and misogynist in nature.
Let us not forget how eloquent Indian celebrities and politicians are about their views on women, even before TikTok existed.
Let us not forget the lyrics of Honey Singh songs, or Abhijit Mukherjee’s comments on the protestors at the wake of the Nirbhaya case in 2012.
Indian women are no strangers to threats of mutilation, sexual violence, rape and death if they raise their voice against any element of authority, or any religious or political institution.
Both in real life and online, Indian women face bullying and harassment anytime they are vocal against any majoritarian view.
Mainstream cinema and television has helped ingrain every single gender stereotype through the last 30 years in Indians – whose recreation we see on TikTok today.
The coy heroine who resists yet secretly wants physical intimacy, the hero amped-up on testosterone entitled to a woman’s devotion and sex, punishment of “bad” women with blows, winning a woman’s heart by harassing and stalking her, avenging a rejection with an attack etc.
Victim Blaming, Slut Shaming: How We Deal With Victims Of Gender-Based Violence
Most real-life gender relationships in India are frequently constrained by an unrealistic set of stereotypical expectations from both sides. Our society is famous for victim blaming and slut shaming when it comes to gender-based violence.
When grisly rape cases are publicised, our public consciousness demands hanging- which is proven to be ineffectual.
Does the wide popularity of such videos tell us nothing about what the Indian youth is actively consuming? Do the millions of followers of these “influencers” not tell us, that there are thousands of potential rapists in the making among the Indian adolescents and youth?
By endorsing and consuming content rooted in misogyny, undermining consent, objectifying the female body, is this huge population of Indian youth not showing us what exactly their attitude towards women are?
The psychology of the influencer phenomenon has been well described decades ago. It is known as the “halo effect”. Simply put, this is the same principle behind hero-worship.
This is the notion that an idol can do no wrong, and after idolisation, has to be constantly followed. Celebrity endorsements have always worked on these principles. People are likely to model their behaviour on that of their icons and idols. And as of now, the youth of India is idolising toxic masculinity in its every avatar.
The behaviours are endorsed and repeated in a vicious cycle. If this is not perpetuation of rape culture, what is?
(The author is an assistant professor of Psychology at Ashoka University. Her research focuses on gender discrimination, gendered abuse and violence and mental health. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)