Print Edition - 2014-10-11  |  On Saturday

Who rules over cyberspace?

  • There is no dearth of men who seem to feel that cyberspace has been developed solely for them
- Richa Bhattarai
Who rules over cyberspace?

Oct 10, 2014-

Who rules over cyberspace?

A man.

Or more specifically, a loud, obnoxious, highly volatile masculine character. Markedly intolerant, often vulgar and of a domineering disposition.

Every night, I fall asleep while scrolling through a website. Last month, there was a picture of a girl browsing the site on her mobile, with the caption ‘There are girls on 9GAG!.’ Well, hello. I have been on this site for three years, along with millions of other girls—laughing at the motley collection of memes and awkward pictures. But these men, behaving as if we were another species altogether, reflected the overwhelming mentality of Internet users—that it is a masculine domain, created for and to be used exclusively by men. While this post is a comical exaggeration, it is not so far from the truth after all.

Just as many men consider public spaces, the front seats and all of life’s luxuries to be rightfully theirs, there is no dearth of men who seem to feel that cyberspace has been developed solely for them. It is the platform for them to air their opinions, flaunt their eligibility, display their intellect, disseminate an unbelievable amount of sexist innuendos, and treat it as their glorious kingdom. While a sweeping generalisation of this kind is unfair to the supportive men out there, it is, sadly, the mind-numbing reality. The Internet is choc a bloc with aggressively masculine entities, and every day women maneuver a tricky path around them. The proprietor and rule-maker of cyberspace is considered to be a man. This man-image dictates what the rest of us can and cannot write, how we must dress up for the Internet, the way we must behave.

A lot of what I write and post has to do with love and desire, society and women, family and gender. It is intermingled with poetry on infatuation and longing. But instead of being treated merely as expressions, these innocent words are suddenly seen as an extension of me. And hence, in unadulterated, chaste Nepali vernacular, trolls, almost always anonymous males, will suggest that I (a) am a slut by profession and aptitude (b) have too much free time on my hands and too little brains and (c) am a lustful creature who cannot control the sudden youth (bainsa, to be exact) bestowed upon me by age. While these might be disguised as relatively mild, humorous or even well-meaning comments, be assured that they are none of the above. They are carefully chosen barbs aimed to hit at the heart of every female and effectively restrict them from further communication. I’m not saying that men do not suffer their share of unwarranted criticism; of course they do, some very unsavory ones. But it’s just that anything women say or do or spell out is immediately linked to their character, sex life and libido. Just these three things seem to define a woman’s presence on the net. Everyone, I think, should be allowed to be as frivolous as they please, and that doesn’t take away from the substantialities of their life. But no, a woman must be categorised either (very rarely) as a formidable intellect, or a tease.

Again, I’m not lumping in all the real ‘men’ of the Internet with their crass brethren. The number of warm, supportive, respectful men is, I believe, on the rise. I know that because when I am discussing something, there are plenty of men who argue logically and rationally, refute my statements with enviable accuracy, and present differing opinions sans rancour. It was actually one of these men who said to me, “The social media is made women-unfriendly by certain people who like to go on false power trips and are lured by the possibility of controlling others just with the use of vitriolic words.” I couldn’t have worded it better. But this number of sympathetic men is small.

Tiny, actually, compared to the irreverent men—who have neither manners nor courtesy, take great pleasure in demeaning and slighting the other sex, constantly nitpick women’s writings, opinions, behaviour and character. Their reaction to women’s speaking out, writing, or creating, is simply one of ridicule. Their premise is that women are unqualified to make statements of any kind, because we lack the education, intellect and understanding that would allow us to come up with such ‘learned’ opinions. These men will hint that I should not be locking horns with them, for I cannot keep up. This will be said in a condescending, off-putting, dismissive manner, with expectations that I shut up. Not surprisingly, these are also the people who enjoy dissing everything, from their work to their boss to their landlord to their partners, in an extremely uncivil manner. It’s as if the anonymity offered by the Internet is cushion enough for them to trash the whole world. The comments that trail news stories about a woman are examples of this. Exactly what Emma Watson meant when she tweeted about the recent photo leaks—“Even worse than seeing women’s privacy violated on social media is reading the accompanying comments that show such a lack of empathy.” This lack of empathy is what ails most of our male commentators.

And if I refuse to buckle down and dare to press forth with my discussions and logic, the men will call me one of the following: a feminist, a wimp, a whine or an extremist. The initial issue will be forgotten, the argument centered entirely on the validity of my response as a woman. Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill, I will be told.

Or I will be patted avuncularly, after the blow has been dealt, and advised not to imagine slights where there were none. Do not blow everything up as a man-woman issue, they will say. Yes, right, let us simply make everything a man issue. For asking someone what “naup” meant (he meant to say nope, I presume), I was told to “grow up, kid.” For refusing to argue with someone who bombarded me with illogical questions on reservation, I was told that I was “a comedy woman”, and was also questioned about the authenticity of my degrees. When I posted that wonderful poem of Bhupi’s titled Chumban (Kiss), one of the responses was that “girls these days send out open invitations.”

The third kind of men on the Internet, though, are the most dangerous. They pretend to be friends, buoy women up with sugar-coated comments, go out of their way to profess  encouragement in public. In reality, they are just itching for the moment when they can go visit their regular gang at the teashop and make fun of so-and-so’s naaribadi ideas. These are the men I am wary of, and am shy for life, having been bitten by them once too often, and badly. There have been instances when a man would be ultra-sweet and kind during virtual conversations, then go around mouthing numerous versions and meanings of ‘bitch’ to refer to womenkind as a whole.

I am pretty sure that men have their own grievances about us, about cyberspace, about the unfairness of it all. There will be many who feel wronged by these accusations, others who will dismiss it as a rant, and those who will make snide remarks. I must seem trite and defensive and too walled-up. Perhaps even a monstrous blame-all. But I have only spoken of what I experience, of that trepidation in my heart each time I write something erotic or political, and of the pleasure of the writing marred by aspersions cast on my persona.   

There is no way out from this trap of mere verbosity. It is best, perhaps, to end with the beautiful words of C. Joybell C., “Predators prey on gentleness, peace, calmness, sweetness and any positivity that they sniff out as weakness. Anything that is happy and at peace they mistake for weakness. It’s not your job to change these people, but it’s your job to show them that your peace and gentleness do not equate to weakness. The truth is that predators have no strength and no courage. It is you who are strong, and it is you who has courage.”

It is this courage that makes me want to speak out.

Published: 11-10-2014 09:07

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