FEMALE AGENCY AND ONLINE SPACES: A LIVING PARADOX

I’m a woman and I have an opinion, can your fragile ego take it? 

TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE, TRAUMA

The recent incident involving the comedian Agrima Joshua and the vile rape and murder threats that she has received online, with extremely graphic details, tell us how safe physical and online spaces are for women, who are exercising their freedom, freedom to choose, freedom to speak, freedom to be out of the line? 

You remember eight years ago, the nation demanded capital punishment for the rapists because they believed that the root of the problem is the RAPIST and not the RAPE CULTURE. Eight years later, we are still fighting with every misogynist who thinks it is okay to threaten women with rape and murder. It makes me immensely sad to see how we have not progressed an inch in the past 8 years. We are still shouting on top of our lungs, “IT IS NOT OKAY FOR MEN TO GIVE US RAPE THREATS, BE WHAT THE REASON BE” and it still falls on deaf ears, well because we are women and no one thinks we are the major stakeholders, when it comes to asserting our rights, but that is a debate for some other time. 

What was different this time was that there was a parallel debate between feminists and rape apologists to forgive Shubham Mishra, if we are to forgive Agrima, for what she said. Equating a joke with a rape threat, not only delegitimizes the pain, fear and agony women have to go through for exercising their choice online but also is very contradictory. One may ask if rape threats are to be construed as lightly as one may take a joke, then why is rape the biggest punishment for women. The dichotomy is, if Kunal Kamra offends people, he is threatened with murder but good lord if it is a female comic, the biggest punishment is RAPE. 

On one hand, we celebrated death of the rapists and on the other hand, we are okay with all the men, who are shamelessly and unabashedly threatening to rape women and some of us are… defending them?  

  It becomes berserk to even comprehend the stance that people have on women and their agency because the same men who were happy after the extra judicial killings of the apparent accused in the Hyderabad Vet’s rape and murder case, also wanted women (who were against encounters and police brutality) to get raped to understand the agony of the family. This is such a great paradox because if you are happy that there are lesser number of rapists in the country now, which would, maybe, promise a better environment to women, how can you also ask women to get raped? 

The only possible explanation that I can find for this is a masochist display of self righteousness. Also, because all these men started the video with, “I RESPECT WOMEN” and by the end of the video they threatened to rape that person, who would try to lecture them about respecting women. These threats are not and should not be taken as empty words, having no meaning/ consequences. What may seem far fetched (because it is online) would not take too long to turn into reality. 

In the light of the above, it becomes extremely important to address another aspect of this, the context of the joke. Many people were seen discussing about how whether the joke was offensive or not, it does not matter if the joke was actually offensive or was taken out of context, rape threats and art forms have to be mutually exclusive. What these men have been saying in these videos is criminal and no matter what the joke was, it remains criminal. 

This brings me to the end of the little piece, not many moons ago, there was a public outpouring of emotions related to mental health of public figures but all that faded away quicker than I thought it would. That is the problem with us, while we try to address the problem, we always miss the point. Everything that is happening with her, is and will definitely have implications on her mental health and I think we should be a little considerate of that. It takes a lot of effort to be a woman and follow your heart, do what you want to do for yourself, choose for yourself, while there are so many hurdles, so many forces pulling you down. 

Author: Racheeta Chawla

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