Something is rotten in the state of social media.
On Wednesday morning, journalist Barkha Dutt tweeted about an abuse campaign that targets her by mass-sharing her contact details, filling her inbox and life with sexual slurs of the most vile sort.
This dose of misogynistic vitriol comes on the heels of activist Kavita Krishnan’s mother’s take-down of a troll who wanted to know if she had “free sex”.
As women who choose to work in the public eye and who have the audacity to hold opinions, Krishnan and Dutt are vulnerable to the attack of anyone with opposable thumbs and access to the internet. In an ideal world, this would contribute to a healthy democratic debate where everyone went home with their horizons expanded.
However, in the sordid reality we have to make do with, internet anonymity and mob mentality combine to birth monstrosities such as these:
While Dutt’s male contemporaries come under attack as well, they are targeted for political bias and journalistic ethics, rather than their imagined sexual antics.
It is no accident that most of the Twitter accounts cited above belong to men. A patriarchy like ours teaches men to view women as fragmented body parts, their worth residing exclusively in their vaginas. Every other aspect of their identity – race, class, caste, or more humanising traits like humour, intellect, kindness– are always secondary.
Only in a culture so warped by casual misogyny does a troll’s psyche become clearer. Disagree with a female activist? Threaten to rape her. Don’t like a female political candidate? Accuse her of sleeping around. Find a female journalist annoying? Organise a mass campaign to circulate her number on the internet so you can call her a whore. Now that you have dragged her sexuality out into the world and made free with it, you have destroyed her personhood, because those two are clearly one and the same thing.
In 1967 Martin Luther King Jr, discussing another hateful form of bigotry, asked a question that remains depressingly relevant – where do we go from here?