Japleen Parischa, the founder of Feminism in India, talks about countering the mainstream media narrative.
Feminism in India campaign poster
Unless you develop a feminist consciousness, you will never really realise just how casually sexist and misogynist the world is. And nowhere is this more apparent than the media— whether it’s mainstream media, movies, songs or even advertisements. Every year from November 25 (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to December 10 (Human Rights Day), institutions and groups across the world participate in activism against gender-based violence. To commemorate and participate in the 16-day global campaign, Feminism in India is running a campaign called #GBVInMedia, which analyses mainstream media’s reporting and representation of #GBV.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>dna talked to Japleen Parischa, the founder of Feminism in India. (FII). FII is a year old organisation, which won the Manthan Award 2015 for ICT social innovations under the E-women and empowerment category. Parischa was also nominated for the Femina Women Awards 2015 under the Online Influencer Category.Excerpts from the interview:You could say that mainstream media (MSM) has really taken to covering incidents of gender violence with gusto, particularly since the ‘Nirbhaya’ incident. Has the increased coverage helped victims or potential victims? In what ways does MSM goof up when covering stories about gender violence? How does the sensationalism hurt the cause? How can newsrooms improve when covering gender-based violenceYes, after the 2012 gang rape case, gender as a subject has gained immense limelight in the media. This has both positive and negative effects as any other thing would have. Women’s issues and rights have been taken seriously as well as made a joke and claimed to be just ‘false cases’ for attention. Goof-ups by the media have been many: publishing the image of Badaun girls, slipping the Tehelka rape case survivor’s name, asking for Shakti Mills rape case’s survivor’s name, minutes after the incident occurred, glamorising and then defaming Rohtak sisters, the recent MRA (Mens’ Rights Activists) kind of posts by Indiatimes and the Mancriminate campaign by Maggcom.This misinformation especially in the case of ‘false cases’ silences women who are affected by this misinformation that they heard from someone or read somewhere and begin to have fears and doubts about telling their story or seeking legal justice. This is in turn affecting the reporting rates of sexual violence wherein women are forced to factor in possible social implications of their decision to report and the long battle that lies ahead for them.There is a pressing need for newsrooms to check the rampant homophobia and the prevalence of excessive descriptions of violence in news reports. Good editorial practices can nip these unethical acts in the bud. Some news organisations are conscientious enough but many more need to reflect and develop policies that can positively change the way these issues are reported.Gender in itself is a complex issue to understand and report about, gender-based violence is more so. It is a need of the hour that journalists reporting on gender and gender-based violence be trained and sensitised. Better policies should be adopted and enforced in news organisations. The onus lies on the editors and the journalists to take responsibility of the news coverage from a neutral and a gender sensitive lens.Online harassment has become a pandemic and isn’t just exclusive in India. Even John Oliver had a segment dealing with the issue on the Last Week Tonight. How does one deal with online harassment? Frankly, block/ignore doesn’t seem like a fair option. What can social media sites do to improve dealing with such cases?I’d like to quote Jac SM Kee, Manager of Women’s rights Program at APC, here for the first part of the questions. “Don’t be afraid of technology, get to know it; delve into and thoroughly understand the technology you are using, the data you are sharing and privacy settings. Insist on your presence and occupy online spaces. Facing an online attack can be exhausting and sometimes frightening. Reaching out to your allies and friends for support is an important strategy, both for solidarity as well as to strengthen your shared actions.” Responding with feminist narratives and content as well as not engaging with trolls whose main intentions are to drag you into pointless conversations is also recommended. Social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter should review their community guidelines and accept diversity. Not all abuse happens in English. Recently, Facebook refused to take down a page on child sexual abuse because it was in Malayalam and did not violate their ‘community guidelines’. They should also understand the local context of each country, which is mostly the reason of patriarchal culture.Shaming your harasser publicly is also another good technique and has resulted in positive actions, but make sure you have a good support system online if the harasser decides to attack again even after being shamed.Over the years, the trope might have changed from outright rape scenes to stalking to casual sexism, but there’s no denying the misogyny that continues to exist in modern day cinema, in all languages. The handful of movies in which women play an important role can be counted on your fingers. How do you counter that? How can the film industry evolve?It is difficult to counter popular media as opposed to news media, where reach is not a problem, thanks to social media. However, writing critical reviews, tagging actors, directors etc on Twitter, boycotting the movie, organising film screenings of alternative docus and movies and later discussing why that particular commercial movie was wrong on so many levels can make some impact. If we have to counter pop culture media, we have to make digital media our best friend.Secondly, it’s not the commercial or art house status of the film that defines how rape as a subject will be treated by filmmakers. For a movie to qualify as truly revolutionary in terms of how it shows GBV, there are certain sensitive issues which need to be touched upon. The very basic question that haunts us all is— where is the healing process? Why don’t these movies ever talk about the inner struggle of the woman, which by the way should move beyond societal ideas of respectability, honour, etc.Not just that, the journey of a rape survivor and her voice needs to come out well as opposed to a movie maker’s imagination. After all, if you are choosing a sensitive subject like rape and sexual assault, it would not do filmmakers much harm if they were to at least make sure that they produce content that does not objectify the woman. And most important of all, there should be enough clarity about how and why language matters. Whether a woman chooses to call herself a victim or a survivor should be up to her and her alone.In the last few years, there’s a definite effort from filmmakers to jump on the feminism bandwagon. We had Sanjay Gupta’s Jazbaa, NH 10, and movies like Queen or Tanu Weds Manu. Are these helping the situation?Yes, these are definitely somewhat helping the situation. But when popular actresses misuse the word feminism or say they don’t believe in feminism because it is man-hating, it brings us two steps down. Also, movies like Mardaani which is supposed to show an empowered woman but has a very patriarchal name doesn’t also help.The advertising industry is famous for playing to the audience, and despite the increase in spending power in women, is still hell-bent on selling products to men which will make them feel better about themselves. How does one combat this?I think Havells is doing a great job in breaking stereotypes and being feminist correctly unlike Airtel’s Boss advert. Other adverts can maybe learn a thing or two from Havell. And no, the answer to stopping objectification of women in adverts is not reverse-objectification. Finally, how has the campaign gone so far? How has the response been so far?The campaign has been great. We have received more than 16 submissions and covered a great deal of kinds of media from the news, newsrooms, click-bait media to social, digital, adverts, cinema, music, Indian comedy, books, etc. The campaign is also intersectional and talked about news media reportage of violence against women with disabilities, violence against LGBTQ people and caste-based violence. In the end of the campaign, we will publish a set of recommendations that the news media could implement to better report GBV. You can read more about the campaign here.