Sunday, March 26, 2006

Blank Noise Gets Noisier

This past week, I've been compulsively taking time out of my lunch break and commenting on a post about the Blank Noise Project --the blog-a-thon on street harassment that I posted on a couple of weeks ago here. Before being called an incoherent village witch doctor, I was thoroughly enjoying the debate and it got me thinking about a bunch of stuff that I'll indulge in here. Below is a synopsis of the comment train between me and F (note: I truncated the discussion for manageability sake, but there's a bunch of other viewpoints in there as well and F addresses all of them.) For the "original" source/post, go here.

Sony said...Of course it's possible for women to be victims of street harrassment, and not have a strong opinion about it. Not only is it possible, but it's completely okay. It is simply one way (out of 100s) to survive and cope with (at the very least) the threat of sexual violence...more

F said...I'm not saying that all women necessarily have to blog about this, or that it would make them feel better if they did. I'm saying that a) I find it surprising and depressing that 80% of women would feel happier staying quiet about something that outrages them, even when such silence means abandoning and isolating their fellow sufferers who have had the courage to speak out...more

Sony said...What I was trying to communicate is that women don't have to participate in some blog to show their strength, they do it everyday in countless other ways. And I am not attacking men, but why aren't we questioning their nonparticipation? In fact, if we are going to see some change, we need to change some perp. attitudes (most of them men), not female...more

F said...I completely agree that male apathy is a serious problem. I just don't see how that makes female apathy any less troubling. The fact that male attitudes need to be changed doesn't mean that female attitudes don't need to be changed also - so bringing in male attitudes is just obfuscating the point and trying to shift the responsibility...more

Sony said...The fact that the overwhelming majority of BNP were women somehow translated into silence for you is truly interesting. This 80% that you are flinging around is problematic by your own admittance. The assumption that half of the Indian blogger world are women and that most of them had to have come across the project--are shaky at best...I disagree that men are apathetic because women have been reticent about this. In my experience (and I'm certainly not alone), male attitude can be summed up by this post. If we are playing the numbers game, he got over 50 comments, that's more men who commented than blogged for BNP...more

F said...I'm not questioning that women per se have done a lot to attack sexual harassment. I'm questioning your claim that women who don't talk about it have done a lot to attack sexual harassment. My point is that talking about it is the only way to attack the problem. So if you're not doing that, then you're not doing anything for it. I'm sure there are plenty of women out there who are doing tons of good work to attack sexual harassment. I'm suggesting that those are precisely the women who are blogging about it as well...more

Sony said...To me BNP, rallies, vigils and all such activities--are much more a celebration of our solidarity for victims of sexual violence than it is about raising awareness. You mentioned this in your post, there is no one unaware of this issue. Who doesn't know that sexual harrassment is something women face? It's a complicated problem, and I don't believe the solution is placing more responsibility on women. I don't believe that talking/blogging is necessarily the answer. Sometimes it's not...more

F said...So my next question is - if it didn't change your argument on whether I was right in my earlier post, why bring it up then? That's a classic example of starting a second argument that has no connection with the first one. It's like saying: "I won't go out with you because you're not rich enough." "If I were rich enough, would you go out with me?" "No." And you wonder why I call it a red herring...more

And then it ended…

It’s funny to be on the side of valuing silence, instead of shouting your story at the top of some proverbial mountain. I feel the need to clarify that I am not against BNP—I’m only against this idea that if women do not participate, it must mean they have abandoned their sisters in shame and guilt. If women aren’t talking about it then it must mean they aren’t doing anything about it. It’s as insidious as some do-gooders sweeping into a poor community somewhere and getting frustrated that some seem to be just going about their business, instead of talking about their poverty. (Side-note: As I state above, I am highly skeptical that 80% of female Indian bloggers came across BNP, and decided to not post. His numbers are fiction. )

When feminists/activists talk about male accountability, it is usually met with eye-rolling impatience. Well yes, that’s a given, isn’t it? Sexual violence would certainly cease to exist if men who commit these crimes would stop. But what gets lost in the discussion, is that male participation is not an ancillary, “wouldn’t it be nice” dream. It’s instead an integral part of fighting sexual violence and gender inequality. It is easy to point to all the mistakes women make, and all the ways in which we have failed. Less often do I come across well-deserved recognition of what we have already achieved.

As an aside (and probably another post another time), it continues to surprise me that proudly calling oneself a feminist is sometimes akin to calling yourself racist or sexist. There’s this sense of “we are for women’s rights, but let’s not go that far, we don’t hate men.” It’s a little weird. Are there packs of feminists roaming the country engaged in unsavory behavior? Feminism is one of those strange constructs in our culture that no one seems willing to embrace, despite the fact that we might agree with everything it stands for. Almost never do I hear feminism criticized for its own terms. As Aliz Kates Shulman aptly put it in her essay, "The Taint": "Because, let's face it, feminism --initially perceived as daring, sexy, rebellious, gutsy, new--is now suspected in certain circles of being tainted, like food that's been around too long: even if it's still all right, better not take a chance on it.."


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