Thinking about gender and technology
I am sitting at AWID in Istanbul and digesting the first day, as well as the Feminist Tech Exchange which happened the day before. I am also getting used to the Turkish keyboard which is limiting my punctuation use. I have been distracted the past two days by what is happening back home in South Africa around the rape video. I will not describe it in-depth but simply state that the gang-rape of a young woman was filmed and distributed. Here is a link to a not very well written article on the issue - http://www2.wnct.com/news/2012/apr/18/video-circulates-of-girl-being-rap...
Further information can be found on Twitter by following the hashtag #rapevideo. I dont really want to discuss the contents or my response to the nature of the reporting too much. I am simply expressing my thoughts around three areas: 1) social media and privacy, 2) rape myths and tweeting, and 3) armchair activists.
Social media and privacy
The speed at which the video went viral and the lack of thought around the sharing of the video speaks to the issue of privacy and content online. Did those who shared the link to the video think at any point that they were complicit in some way to the rape? In sharing that kind of content, they were participating in the violence for many reasons, one in particular being that she did not consent to the documenting of her ordeal. Let alone the ordeal itself. Her privacy was not respected. She was not treated with dignity by the rapists or those who shared the content.
The damage done by sharing the content, did anyone consider it? Someone who has been raped will carry a great deal of shame, when that ordeal is made public, the harm done to the rape survivor is further increased. Her shame is now public. Regardless of whether we think it is or is not shameful, she as a rape survivor has to deal with her own feelings around this incident. Ultimately, she needs the public's support not their distribution of her violation.
I strongly argue and believe that in viewing the video and in distributing it, people were complicit in violating her privacy and in the violence itself. Social media made that rapid sharing possible, but it is not the tool's fault but the people who utilise the tool. I am not blaming social media in any way but I am arguing that those who use it need to be aware of the consequences of how they choose to use it.
Rape myths and tweeting
I've seen several rape myths floating around the social media space, in particular on Twitter - statements such as "South Africa is raping its own". What does that even mean? Think about it. The statement shifts blame onto a nation, and removes the agency from the rapists. And the rapists have further been demonised or described as "sick".
Now I'm going to argue something that may seem very strange. The rapists are not sick. By demonising them and making such a statement we remove them from society. And absolve ourselves and the role we played in that violence. I believe that we are responsible for gender-based violence because violence of the nature re the gang-rape is not extraordinary. It is everyday violence. And it doesnt simply appear out of nowhere, it is rooted in something. And that something is the everyday gender stereotypes and assumptions around gender roles. We perpetuate these through our interactions with people when we decide what a male or a female body can or cannot do (I use male and female bodies here because not all bodies that are male or female identify as men or women). These assumptions result in people believing that certain bodies belong to other bodies and can be done with as they please e.g. the young men believed that the young woman's body belonged to them.
We need to be aware of the discourses we contribute to when we partake in the sharing of messages that remove agency from rapists and absolve us as a people belonging to a society from our responsibility in this violence. We need to take ownership of the world we construct through the ideas we share and the kind of people that come out of the world that we construct together.
I dont like armchair activists. The end.
Ok, that needs explaining. I find armchair activists to be non-committal i.e. an issue is often fleeting for them, so today they may care about the gang-rape, yesterday it was a rhino, the week before it was something else, earlier this year it was Whitney Houston, and last year it was corrective rape. The issues get picked up momentarily and then what?
How many people who followed the case are following it today? Who organised a protest against rape and gender-based violence? Who had a real conversation about violence today? Who assessed their own gender assumptions?
I'm not saying that tweeting is futile. And that armchair activists are without purpose. I am arguing that change needs to come from every possible direction, and that the armchair and Twitter need to be merged with groundwork, consciousness raising, policy, meaningful media discussion and other forms of action. For change to happen it needs to be sustained - a newsfeed or a timeline is fleeting. But if we engage the way the world thinks and interacts around issues, change is possible and sustainable.
In sum. I think it is important that we realise the role we play in sharing content, and in how we share messages around issues. Social media is a wonderful tool but it needs to be used correctly and thoughtfully. For real change to happen we need to engage as many platforms as possible, social media being only one of them.