okay, time to do my serious post for the week:
Remember the Blank Noise Project Blog-a-thon?
Much has been said / written about the project on the blogosphere (or at least in the small sub-section of it that I read) in the past two weeks. People have talked about how wonderful it is that so many women found the courage to share their stories, about how shocking it was to hear some of the stories, about how great it is that we're finally starting to discuss the issue. All of which I wholeheartedly agree with.
The thing I'm more interested in, though, is all the women who didn't write in. The way I think about it is this. Let's start with the total number of Indian bloggers. I have no idea what that number is (anyone?) - I did a quick google search on 'Indian Blogs' and the highest number I could find was this site called Blogstreet India that lists 2270 blogs. That may be low balling it (hell, they don't list ME!) but let's assume, conservatively, that that's an accurate number. Assume further that the gender ratio among bloggers is about even, so we're talking something like 1150 Indian women bloggers.  
Next, let's think about what proportion of these 1150 women bloggers are likely to have heard of the Blank Noise Project. I would think it would be a pretty high fraction - I know I spent two whole weeks where I couldn't check blogs every morning without hitting upon one or the other link to the project site, and almost every Indian blog with high levels of traffic that I know of had some mention or the other of the initiative. Still, let's say that only about 75-80% of women bloggers found out about the Project. So that's about 900 women who knew about the project and had the opportunity to put up a post about sexual harassment.
Now, the Blank Noise Project got a little over 200 posts, of which I would estimate about 20% were by men. So let's say we're talking about 160 women bloggers out of a potential population of 900 who actually put up posts on sexual harassment. That's a response rate of less than 20%.
What do we think happened to the other 80 - 85% who knew about the Blank Noise Project but didn't post about it? Offhand, I can think of several possibilities:
a) Maybe they've never experienced sexual harassment and therefore don't see it as an issue
First, not experiencing sexual harassment is no reason not to have an opinion about it (a good number of the posts that I read weren't necessarily about first person experiences anyway).
More importantly, what's the probability that that's true? Notice that a large number of the women who did write in spoke of experiencing multiple episodes of harassment. So in order to believe that the statement above is true, you'd have to believe that out of a general population of women living in the same cities, going to the same colleges, traveling by the same modes of transport, ~ 20% were harassed multiple times while the other 80% were never harassed at all. That's theoretically possible, of course, but somehow I don't believe it.
b) Maybe the women who didn't write in have experienced sexual harassment but just don't have a strong opinion enough opinion about it. 
Is that even possible? First, almost by definition, harassment is something you're opposed to. And second, I just don't believe that someone can go through an experience like that and not have strong (negative) feelings about it.
Still, I suppose you could be against sexual harassment, having experienced it yourself, but not care enough to take time out to blog about it. I doubt that's 75% of all women bloggers, though. And if it is, isn't that terrible?
c) The women who didn't write in have strong views about sexual harassment but don't see what the point of the Blank Noise Project is - they think it's just a lot of empty talk 
That's possible, I guess (though it's not a view I personally would subscribe to). I mean you could argue that it's not clear what the project eventually achieved. After all, it's not like 200 or so bloggers constitute anything close to a credible lobby. And as for raising awareness - do we really believe that people weren't aware that sexual harassment was a problem? What mound of sand did you have your head buried in all these years?
Still, I find it hard to believe that some 75% of women would have that point of view. Specially after they've seen so many other bloggers speaking out about their own experiences. Specially once they've seen the kind of reactions that project was getting.
d) The women who didn't write in felt embarassed / uncomfortable talking about it
That's the one I keep coming back to, and that's the one I worry about / depresses me. At some level, it's the fact that it takes courage to talk about these things that's the problem here. That's what makes it possible for all these bullshit arguments about how it's 'the woman's fault' to get made. From embarassment to guilt is, after all, a very small step.
To see this, try a thought-experiment. Suppose we were to do the same initiative against pick-pockets: asking people who'd ever had their pocket picked to write in and talk about their experiences. Would it take nerve for you to admit that you'd had your wallet stolen? Would people feel uncomfortable talking about it? If you believe, as I do, that sexual harassment is ultimately about power, and that street harassment is just a desperate attempt by insecure men to reassert their social primacy, then the most lasting solution to it is to simply do away with the stigma that makes that assertion possible. Ultimately, most harassment is in the mind. It's like bullying - if the abuser finds that his actions are not making the 'victim' uncomfortable / fearful, but are simply increasing her contempt for him, then the act of harassment is no longer an affirmation of male dominance.
Getting to that point is a long journey, of course. Socio-cultural priors are not so easily done away with, and it's hard to imagine a world where being subjected to the behaviour that constitutes sexual harassment would not be a source of emotional trauma, but making it okay to talk about it is certainly a big step in the right direction. Which is why I think the Blank Noise Project is such an interesting initiative - not because of the awareness it creates or because of the 'solutions' that might come out of it, but because the closer we get to recognising that sexual harassment is something we can talk about openly, the more progress we make towards lessening its impact. Joan Didion argues somewhere that feminism is just a special case of the class struggle - if that's true, then developing a class consciousness is the first step towards fighting oppression.
Which is why the thought that 80% of all women bloggers might be either too apathetic or too uncomfortable to speak out against harassment is such a depressing one. It's like calling for a strike and having only 20% of the workers participate. It's especially depressing when you consider that we're talking about bloggers here - hardly a representative sample of the general population. If only 20% of women bloggers are willing to talk about this, what does that proportion look like among women in general? That's what I think is shocking - not how much harassment goes on, but how few women will talk about it. Until we can fix that, we have no hope of fixing the larger harassment issue.
Understand that I'm not for a moment suggesting that it's somehow women's fault for not speaking out enough. Obviously that percentage is a symptom of a social environment that makes it hugely uncomfortable for women to speak out against sexual harassment. I'm only suggesting that the question of why more women didn't participate is a question well worth asking. Because it's by understanding the reasons they didn't participate that we'll get the best handle on the true pathology of sexual harassment.
Finally, just for the record, let me reiterate that I'm not for a moment criticising the Blank Noise Project or trying to belittle / trivialise the women who did write in. On the contrary, the point is precisely that the Project did a great job and those who did participate have my whole-hearted support. So much so that it's the ones I didn't hear from that I want to hear speaking out. If we could somehow get 80% of the potential population to post instead of just 20% - that, I think, would be true progress.
P.S. I wonder if it would have been useful to have a way by which people could talk about their experiences anonymously? I realise that takes away from the point of talking about this in the open, but I wonder if this way the project isn't driving away people for whom talking about their experiences at all may be a big first step, even if it's done anonymously.
 I'm leaving men out of this analysis for the moment. Just to make the discussion manageable.
 Throughout this post I'm going to pretty much make up and use numbers that I think are reasonable. This means two things. First, if you actually have factual information that could help make these numbers more exact, please do let me know. I'm more than happy to admit that I've got the numbers completely wrong, and would love to know what the correct numbers are. Second, you're free to come up with your own assumptions about what some of these probabilities / numbers look like. With very different assumptions on numbers, my central hypothesis - that there are large numbers of potential bloggers who did not participate in the BNP may not hold, so you may end up disagreeing with most of what I say in the post. And that's fine.
 In practise, of course, points b and c are almost impossible to distinguish from point d. People may claim they don't see the point of the project when in truth it just makes them uncomfortable. Theoretically, though, it's entirely possible to genuinely not care.