Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Last Thoughts on the Blank Noise Project

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. [1] [2]

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. [3]

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 [3]

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.


[1] I'm leaving men out of this analysis for the moment. Just to make the discussion manageable.

[2] 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.

[3] 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.


Patrix said...

To paraphrase Pareto, 20% of the people do 80% of the reporting. Valid here? You decide.

rumplestiltskin said...

why don't you come up with some remedies instead of arriving at percentages of male female bloggers....for the harrassment i mean.
good post and valid points...but what we need is a solution more than anything else or rather some measures in checking harrassment which is rampant everywhere..

Falstaff said...

Patrix: I don't think Pareto's really applicable here. Besides, this is not 20% doing 80% - this is 20% doing 100%. That's a very different thing.

Rumple: Three things:

a) Part of my contention is that talking about it and making it less of a stigma is the solution. If we could create a society where women didn't need to feel shamed / humiliated by something that's not their fault then the incentives to harass would be much, much lower

b) Any conceivable remedy to the problem would require the participation of a majority of the victims - that's the whole point about class consciousness. Unless we can get at least a significant portion of the victims to engage in dialogue on this our ability to discover what practical remedies might be itself is suspect, and our hope of actually implementing them practically nil. That's why we need to worry about the percentages.

c) Finally, I don't know what the remedies are - I don't think anyone does (at least I haven't seen any offered). And any conceptual solution that any individual 'comes up' with is almost certainly going to be meaningless anyway. All I can suggest is questions it might be useful to ask to help arrive at a solutions. And that, after all, is how we develop solutions. To argue that we need to have the answers before we can raise the question is to ensure that we never make any progress.

mk said...

Thus spake the true Phd! The stats, the theoretical framework, the "unique" perspective, the incisive analysis, the lookout for alternative explanations...
Only one small problem. Slightly faulty logic and kinda shaky initial premises..
1) To assume that women bloggers, a large variety of whom are ever-ready to produce the proverbial linen (the more soiled , the better,anything to ratchet up the meter!) would actually pass up on an opportunity to do so..Ha! You are talking about a particularly vociferous flock here, a particularly non-representative crowd. To assume that they might be uncomfortable talking about street harassment! Its too much the norm(unlike rape)for there to be any "stigma" attached. ( some smegma perhaps.)
2) That discomfort, humiliation comes from something that is perceived to be one's own fault. No. Its like someone throwing a rotten egg at you on your way to office and laughing his head off. Motivated primarily by malice, THAT is what gets you into a killing rage and not cos you are afraid you deserve it.
2) That talking about it makes you less uncomfortable about it when it happens to you. Through a kind of systematic desensitisation? Apply the egg analogy please..Would you be? Oh that kind of repeated exposure that should have inured us to it has already happened by age 8.
What are you talking about multiple experiences? yeah I guess about a zillion can be called multiple..(a man can revile through the bend of a gaze..).
3) Am not so sure about the de-sensitisation. Perhaps one reason the response was this abysmal is that women have kind of got used to it and dont feel insulted anymore and so dont feel the need to rant about it. (You found that terrible.. Contradictory?)

Showing contempt doesn't work(take it from me) ,akin to anger, thats still a reaction...I usually project indiffernce(even when I risk asphyxiation with the sheer effort of it). Or I adopt a studiedly stupid expression; as if I just dont get it. Or even a reaction opposite to expectation is good. A shy lisp-"Wont you show me more?.. Yes, jut that hip out a leeetle?.. No, not so much..Ah,yes...yesss!"
Maybe acting lessons would be a good first step..

Sony Pony said...

I agree with MK. On all her points.

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. There is nothing threatening about the mundane.

And while I whole-heartedly agree that talking about sexual violence is important in taking away the stigma and shame; it's equally important to realize that it's not always the answer. It won't always make her feel better. And she doesn't have to prove her strength by blogging or talking about it.

And lastly, while I thought your post made a nice point--I am tired of the onus always being on women to take the helm in fighting this fight. Women have been talking/writing/singing/blogging/rallying about this for decades...centuries. Women have been the activits behind key legislation to increase protection for rape victims, tighten perp laws, increase shelters and support networks for survivors and countless other forms of activism. We have done our part and continue to do our part. Over 90% of these perps are men, showing off their balls largely for the sake of other men. Isn't it past due for those 99% of the male bloggers to start blogging, make some noise, raise some hell.

sa re ga ma said...

Nice analysis, Falstaff. I think you are expressing your frustration at the fact that women are not being as vocal about this issue as you would like them to be. But, some reactions cannot be analyzed; cut in cross sections, stained and examined under the microscope for abberrant traits. I do not know how to explain to you, what a deep scar harassment can leave in the minds of women.

Talking about harassment - the idea never struck me till I came across the blanknoise project. And even when I wrote my bit for the blog-a-thon - I had to rewrite it three times, till I was sure that there was nothing more hidden in any corner of my mind, that I still wanted to hide from the world. It is a cathartic process... But, it takes a lot of courage to do it. Like knowing that it is going to sting, but still going ahead and cleaning out the wound. Not all women have the ability to write, not all those who write have the strength to reach back into the recesses of their memories/ nightmares and put it down in print, for the entire world to see. There is something quite scary about bringing out incidents that you have decided are better left forgotten out in the open and leaving it there for the entire world to see. Some bloggers are anonymous. Most are not. There are real time people who will identify with what you write...

Harassment is such a personal thing for a woman. To put it up in a space, where she is not sure of having her hurt treated with dignity takes a lot,a LOT of courage. I am proud that I managed to talk out loud (albeit in an anonymous space), about my encounter with a bunch of bastards... I definitely believe that women will understand the power of talking out loud and learn to assert their rights for their personal space.

I was pretty impressed at the number of men who had supported the cause and raised their voice along with the women. Thanks for the support. Hearing the voices from the opposite sex speak out definitely keeps out the despair that crops up, when women are repeatedly harrassed in different points of space and time! Be a bit more patient - I think the women are definitely making a lot of progress!!!

jedi said...

whats your point? role-playing bad statistician? pulling out statistics, making up your own percentages and ?
and some fool is going to start using these statistics as holy writ.

if history is to taken into account, just one man/woman out of a billion is enough. it takes one to lead and the rest to follow..

Falstaff said...

mk: Interesting. Did you notice you had two 2s?

To continue with the PhD speak, I'm not entirely sure what your competing hypothesis is. So women bloggers would not be diffident. Fair enough. Assuming you're not questioning the numbers, why do you think 80% of them are not blogging about this? What happened to all this killing rage of theirs - why didn't these super expressive women come out with it when given the opportunity? Use your egg analogy. If someone was throwing eggs at you and it was making you mad and a site came along and said, let's post about it, why wouldn't you?

Also, I don't think you quite followed the logic of why it's important to talk about it. It's not desensitisation at all - it's the opposite - it's class consciousness. Use the Marx analogy. People who join unions and organise aren't desensitised to capitalist oppression because of it. But by talking about it, by organising around it, they achieve a sense of explicit solidarity that makes it see the exploitation as being directed not against them as individuals but against them as a class. This has two effects - a) it makes concerted action possible and b) it creates a strong support network to help people deal with oppression. If, as you seem to suggest, women are not blogging about it because they've got used to it, that's the most horrific outcome of all, because it means it'll never stop. That's not the same thing as talking about it as a means of coping. That's analogous to just giving up and accepting your lot, not to joining a union. It's a huge difference.

Three more things: a) The other reason it's terrible if women are truly being apathetic is that remember there are other women out there putting up posts acknowledging that it happened to them and they were hurt / traumatised by it. Even if you don't feel like it bothers you that much anymore, wouldn't you at least come out in support of your fellow-sufferers? Or would you just sit there listening to their stories, stories of things that happened to you, feelings that you experienced, in stony silence?

b) I'm unconvinced that rage and not embarassment is the key driver here. I'm not saying that rage doesn't play a part, but I'm unwilling to give up the hypothesis that part of what at least some women feel is embarassment, even guilt. There's no way to prove or disprove that, of course, so I guess we just have to agree to disagree.

c) On contempt not working - you're probably right, but I wasn't suggesting using contempt directly. If anything I would suspect that what you're projecting as indifference is actually translating into contempt. After all, what's more contemptuous than pretending someone doesn't exist / doesn't matter?

Sony Pony: See my comment on MK's points above. 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, b) I don't think we're going to find a solution to this if 80% of women won't even talk about it (or rather 80% of women bloggers, so, if MK's right, a much higher proportion of all women) - if that truly makes these women feel better about themselves, that's great, but let's recognise that without that openness sexual harassment is not likely to go away.

Also, I'm not sure how the rest of your comment squares with your first line - the one about it being okay for women not to have an opinion about it. Are you seriously suggesting that 80% of women who have been subjected to sexual harassment don't have an opinion about it? And if that's true (which I don't for a moment believe it is) then why are we even bothered about the issue in the first place? If 80% of women don't seem to mind?

Bottomline: the argument you're making would seem perfectly reasonable to me if we were talking about 10 - 20% of women remaining silent. But numbers matter. and 80% is too high. Specially when you consider how strongly the other 20% feel. I can't imagine that the population at large really splits like that.

As for the point about men - I don't disagree, though I think you're being a little over the top about it. Claiming that women deserve all the credit for every legal safeguard / activist step against harassment is fairly ridiculous, for instance. I'm not saying that men couldn't or shouldn't do more. But saying that it's okay for 80% of women bloggers to not talk about it by attacking men is just a cheap cop-out.

Sa Re Ga Ma: aah, but the fact that it takes that kind of effort is precisely why you should make it. And why you should support other people who do make it. It's because I believe it's a cathartic process that I think we need to be finding ways to encourage more people to try, and understand what's holding them back. And as for many women not being able to write - but they don't need to, at least for this one. The plain facts speak for themselves. And it's not like the women who participated could write - many of them couldn't. Many of them wrote accounts that made me cringe because of the writing - but it didn't matter because their stories and the fact that they came out and talked about them were what mattered. Plus I suspect there's something of a Network effect here - writing these accounts would be easier for women if more women were writing them.

About the anonymity issue - I agree. Which is why I raised the point at the end of my post. I genuinely think it's a suggestion for the next blog-a-thon worth considering.

jedi: I'm NOT playing statistician. I've said repeatedly in the post that I don't know what the numbers are, and I'd be happy to get proper estimates of them. If some fools can't see beyond numbers that's their problem. The point is, assuming those numbers don't exist or aren't available, does that mean we should just ignore the problem. Because we don't have good statistics on it? if you have better numbers to offer, or reasons why you think my assumptions are unreasonable, I'm happy to hear them. But if your solution is that we don't talk about non-response only because we don't have accurate numbers, then I suggest that you're the one playing statistician, not me.

And all that stuff about it taking one to lead is pure jingoism. Social change happens because large interest groups are created and empower themselves. Not because some guy makes a speech. And if you want to cling to your 'Great Man (or Woman)' theory of history, fine, Blank Noise Project led, only 20% of affected women followed. That's not enough. So now what?

Kaveetaa Kaul said...


to begin with let me apprise you that I had participated and written my .002$ "Eve teasing-A three pronged approach"http://sachiniti.blogspot.com/2006/03/eve-teasinga-three-pronged-attack.html

I went on to write another article titled "Are women to blame for rape?" http://sachiniti.blogspot.com/2006/03/are-women-to-blame-for-rape.html

While this got the reaction expected from the sane and balanced populace of the blooger community, as also "blog of the day' from candide, you will be surprised to know of the hate mail it has attracted from an organisation called "save Indian family' or some such. Since it is contrary to the policy of my blog "sachiniti, I desist from publishing incendiary comments from an organisation or an individual. It defeats the purpose of my article and gives a platform to an organisation I had no inkling about.

For those who are not using an alias and are even exposing their mugs, this business is a trifle unnerving , as you will gage, by the fact that I had to moderate comments. I was appaled at the kind of traffic and hubby was aghast. Never-say-die as a motto does come in handy at such times. I refuse to be cowed down in my views on the matter. In situations and junctures such as these, i guess we should pledge solidarity to discourage loss to our freedom in voicing our angst, yet again.

Perhaps this is a deterrent to a a mjority of our women who are young and not rhinoceros skinned enough to bear the onslaught of the barrage. I guess we need to give it time and deal with it patiently.

Our determination in forging ahead resolutely will be the neon sign for those not willing or hesitating to cross the threshold of their secure spaces. As also, at the risk of reiteration, solidarity and support to those being pressurised and bullied, will go a long way in taking giant leaps towards gaining numbers.


Kaveetaa Kaul said...

typos regretted

Kaveetaa Kaul said...

To gain a comprehensive perspective of the issue, I would suggest that you visit Desicritics and my article titled "Throw Mommw into Jail"..The comments will give you an indication of my inference.

Sumanth said...


Firstly, getting depressed about any issue will not help.

You need to realise that only a small percentage of people take to activism (any activism). That includes feminism, fight against corruption or any other issue.

So, it has to do nothing with women's behaviour. Your research is valid for every section of society.

Kaveetaa, please do not drag Save Indian Family into this. Please read Saket's post who says there is no difference between Blank Noise Project and Save Indian Family.

People(irrespective of gender) who face attrocieties remain quite for years. Thats true for save indian family as well.

It must be noted that some of the comments of some bloggers can be provocative and vicious. But, thats what everyone does (including the Blank Noise people). Is not Blank Noise Project all about judging people and putting their photos in internet (flouting the law of the land).

I have nothing against Blank Noise Project as I also believe that Harassment in Public places is a real issue. Blank Noise project members have every right to shout aloud to transform the society.

The same way, Save Indian Family fights against miscarriage of justice and against Abortion. They also have got the right to shout aloud as their activism is also valid.

Both BNP and SIF are political and being in a movement you should be mentally prepared to fight it out without making personal attacks.

Finally, you can not do any thing to Save Indian Family. Because it is not one organisation and it is decentralised and distributed with many websites and many centers in India and abroad. SIF members believe that Feminists are responsible for abuse of innocent elders and children. So, they want to settle scores with all feminists.

You must understand that they have a target audience of 25 lac people(including elders, women, men). Now, their number is 640 in internet, which you can verify in yahoogroup save indian family. The ground level members are 3 times more.

Ultimately truth with triumph. If SIF is based on lies, then expose it. If they talk truth, they have every right to shout aloud.

Bonatellis said...

why be biased towards women ... ummm, aren't we guys never harassed on the streets ...

Falstaff said...

Kaveetaa: Right. Which only supports the argument that one should allow people to share their experiences anonymously if they prefer. And the whole thing about people finding solidarity is precisely what I mean by class consciousness, of course - I just feel that we need to be clear that getting more women to participate is and should be a priority. After all, if these women will let themselves be bullied into silence by random comments on their blogs, then what chance do we have of them standing up to other forms of harassment?

(P.S. Yes, I did read your blog post. I read every single one of the BNP posts actually. At least the ones that were up that morning)


a) I don't see putting a post on your blog as activism.

b) To somewhat echo jedi's point - I wouldn't describe this as my research.

c) I'm all for freedom of speech of course, which is why I feel no compunction in saying that based on your comment alone I think SIF is an execrable abomination - any organisation whose goal is to 'settle scores' and who's key argument for it's own existence is that 'you can't do anything to it'. Not to mention the fact that their name makes me cringe (which, of course, is the real issue I have). Plus I'm always suspicious of an organisation whose members / supporters turn every discussion / comment into an acerbic pamphleteering for their own organisation.

bonatellis: I agree. I think men should have their own project. After all we're Blanker. And Noisier.

mk said...

On a crisper,
numberless :),reiterative note..

-"What happened to all this killing rage of theirs - why didn't these super expressive women come out with it when given the opportunity?"
They did.That 20% you heard? Thats them.

-The 80% that didnt talk- you say its stigma that freezes their toungue, the same stigma that powers the churlish male urge for street supremacy. So kill that thru such blogathons and the street romeo is left out on a limb. So you suggest a desensitisation in the sense of removal of the stigma through sharing of experiences loudly condemned; not apathy inducing desensitisation, I didnt for a moment think!
-Well I counter: the 80% that didnt speak up are not ashamed (for god's sake, among bloggers! not to deny the pain of expression, thats a different kind of shame) but could be merely apathetic. (yes, terrible Flagstaff!) 80% is the figure you gave, perhaps some didnt hear about it, perhaps some didnt have a strong enough well thought out opinion, well perhaps all those alternatives you discarded.

- And no, more than aimed at such desensitisation that you suggest(which we underwent in a natural scenario anyway!we dont hold ourselves responsible! not since age 8, and that still didnt stop anything cos its more about rotten eggs than stigma*,or anything else, yeah alright, you entitled to your beliefs and all that jazz.. :)) projects such as these are cathartic, yes, help raise a class consciousness among the apathetic that watched by the sidelines,yes(and jolt them out of that stony silence, as it should!!).Certainly,not contesting any of that.

- "then why are we even bothered about the issue in the first place? If 80% of women don't seem to mind?"
??????!!!!Whoah! Are you for a moment suggesting that the class struggle wasnt aimed at puncturing the oppressive, powerful minority backed false consciousness that suffused the majority? The apathetic 80% that uphold the oppressive norm need to be awakened into a "class consciousness", wouldnt you think?

*which if true debunks your core argument

Sony Pony said...

oh this is depressing, you have misunderstood my comment. Oh well. 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? (yes, I know you mentioned this in your footnote.) In fact, if we are going to see some change, we need to change some perp. attitudes (most of them men), not female.

I think the basic assumption is that sexual harrassment is a women's issue. Well, that doesn't mean that only women care about it. We should all have a stake in how this plays out.

And my point with women doing all the work. Umm..it's true. It's only very very recently that men are peaking through, and speaking out about it. Show me a NGO/nonprofit/support network that supports victims and I'll show you a 99% staff/volunteers base who are female. Women have been behind key legislation to increase identity protection, and have always been a key lobbying group in increasing awareness/tightening laws/ etc surrounding this issue.

Falstaff said...

mk: Sigh. I'm going to try this one last time. Three alternative hypothesis:

a) Women feel anxious / oppressed by sexual harassment but are too embarassed to talk about it - then we should be getting them to talk about it more so that they can get over their embarassment. That's what I'm saying.

b) Women have got over being upset by sexual harassment and are totally fine with it to the point where they don't see the need to talk about it (which is what you see to be saying part of the time) - then it's not a problem anymore, is it? we can just carry on the way we are.

c) Women are apathetic to the point where they don't believe that anything will help and so don't participate in these kind of endeavours because they seem them as a waste of time, not even to express support for their fellow sufferers who are talking about it (which is what you seem to be saying the rest of the time) - and you don't think that's terrible. That they're that defeated, that hopeless? That they won't even come out to support other women who have suffered the same kind of harassment. That they'll let them go on shouting against the oppression alone? You're right in that if it's true it does debunk my core argument. It makes the situation much worse than I was making it out to be. And if that's true then we need to work on getting them to see that it's not okay to stay quiet about these things, that it can make a difference, that it does matter. That's awakening into class consciousness. And that's exactly what I'm arguing for.

Four other things:

First, class consciousness is not desensitisation - it is only the de-personalisation of the problem - the apprehension and rage is keener, not less powerful, it's just that you see it as being an egg thrown not at you but at all women AND all the women around you see it the same way. That kind of SENSITISATION creates empowerment because it makes concerted action seem possible and creates genuine hope. I'm not arguing for desensitisation at all. Only you are.

Second, you keep making a big deal about this rotten egg hypothesis of yours (which, at the end of the day, has no more support than anything else) - so let's think about it for a minute. If a certain group of people had been throwing rotten eggs at you since you were eight, and someone came along and said, hey, a whole bunch of us are getting together and protesting the rotten egg throwing, you wouldn't go? Really? Even though it made you mad? Oh and you're expecting me to believe that 20% of the people these eggs got thrown at are so mad that they put up strong, emotional posts about it, and the other 80% care so little that they won't even comment on it? And you really believe this?

Third, since when do bloggers need to have well thought out opinions? Have you read some of the stuff people put on blogs, and that passes for discussion. If anything, blogs are the one forum where you would think not having a well-thought out opinion wouldn't matter. Most of the people who did participate in BNP certainly didn't have one.

Fourth, I've always maintained that the 80% number was entirely speculative. In your first comment you seemed to accept that number, and built your arguments on it. In your second comment you seem to be suggesting that it may be wrong, and that people may not have heard about it, etc. And that's fine - I'd be the first to admit that I may be exaggerating the problem considerably (which was the point of laying out the other options so clearly - it's interesting that you didn't think to question those assumptions the first time round). What I'm unwilling to accept that those explanations account for all of the 80%. So maybe of that 80%, a quarter more didn't hear, a third more fell into your too apathetic to care about anyone else bracket. But that still leaves some women, I suspect, who didn't blog because they felt uncomfortable talking about it. If that's not true, how do you explain the number of other comments to this post suggesting that anonymity might make it easier. If you're right, anonymity shouldn't matter, no?

sony pony: I didn't misunderstand you. 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.

And sexual harassment is a women's issue in part because women won't talk about it. The reason support groups are mostly women are because victims aren't comfortable talking to men about this stuff. If men don't experience sexual harassment and women aren't going to tell them about it (because they'd rather 'deal' with it silently) then how do you expect to get men involved. It's not that there aren't a significant group of men who don't care. I know I've had women friends tell me about stuff that happened to them years after it happened and I'm always like, well, why didn't you tell me then, I would have tried to help, we could have talked about it, I would have been supportive. And the answer I get is always that she wasn't comfortable talking about it. Well then. If you want to see more active male participation (and we should want to) then it needs to come with more openness. The Blank Noise Project drew in a whole bunch of male bloggers, because it allowed them to share in an experience they don't usually have access to. Yes, many men don't care (too many). But by not talking about this stuff you're not letting those who do play a role.

And please - go look at litigation on women's rights (remember the anti-sati stuff?), go look at groups working lobbying with government on issues of gender abuse. There are men there. Maybe a minority, but certainly larger that 1%. The fact that there aren't more at a grass root level is at least as much a choice women are making.

As for all these countless other ways that women are being strong and helping to solve sexual harassment. What are they exactly? What %age of the 80% of bloggers are involved in them? You want me to believe that 80% of all women bloggers in India are actively involved in activities to curb sexual abuse, but would rather blog about something else than talk about the issue that they're trying to attack in other ways? Ya, right.

I'm not saying I don't believe you. I'm saying, if you want to convince me (and you don't have to, naturally) then you need to spell out exactly what at least some of these other ways by which women are addressing the problem are (and being strong and silent does NOT count) and what % of the non-participating bloggers you think are involved in those. It's a list I'd love to see.

Sony Pony said...

Hey, *sigh* one last stab at this..maybe...

-That kind of SENSITISATION creates empowerment because it makes concerted action seem possible and creates genuine hope.

=I read (not all) a number of the BNP posts. The reason I stopped? 'cuz it was beginning to freak me out. My point is nott that it was not a worthy project. (I personally loved the idea). Instead, it is that women react to this issue in hugely varied ways. And we have to allow for those differences. It's how we heal, it's how we survive.

-bringing in male attitudes is just obfuscating the point and trying to shift the responsibility.

=I don't agree. I think the responsibility rightly belongs to men. An analogy that I find useful (but isn't entirely appropriate but that's another story) is racism. How can we discuss ending racism once and for all if all the people doing the talking are people of color? It hasn't gone away yet, and it is certainly not because minorities haven't been clamoring for change.

-And sexual harassment is a women's issue in part because women won't talk about it.

=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. The fact is blogging itself is a new, completely specialized form of communication and you surely agree, that bloggers themselves are not generalizable to the larger population.
But even barring that, it is hugely unfair to put this on women. I blogged for the project, it doesn't make me strong or courageous or an activist. I rant more about this issue than anyone I know--I am privledged to do so, doesn't make me better than those who choose not to.

-If you want to see more active male participation (and we should want to) then it needs to come with more openness.

=I disagree that men are apathetic because women have been reticient about this. In my experience (and I'm certainly not alone), male attitude can be summed up by this post: http://greatbong.net/2005/08/05/bibiji-zyara-dheere-maro/
If we are playing the numbers game, he got over 50 comments, that's more men who commented than blogged for BNP.

-As for all these countless other ways that women are being strong and helping to solve sexual harassment. What are they exactly?

=Are you seriously asking me what women have done to fight sexual harrassment? All those women who have given over their lives to fighting this cause. I have known quite of few them, and the work they have done is not dismissable. I dare say, it's the reason we are talking about this to begin with. Women have been listening, offering support, walking along with that girl who is out alone with a pack of fools behind her. Women have been at the forefront of starting shelters for other victims, and pooling together resources. And this has been true in anywhere. Sexual violence is talked about because women talk about it. They have been writing letters, giving speeches, lobbying to congress since forever. Some of our ugliest rape laws have been changed because of some angry women. I know there are some men in there. I have met them, and I applaud them. We need more of you--that's all I'm saying...without negating or belitting the work that women have done for the past billion years.

Also on a sidenote: I think a lot of women also didn't post because they don't want to be associated anything feminist-y. God forbid.

Falstaff said...

Sony Pony:

Let's take your last point first. 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.

Second, the point about women's reticence is not about BNP or bloggers. I'm not generalising from that. I'm claiming that women don't talk about it based on personal evidence from outside the blogosphere. How many women do you know who have talked about all these incidents of sexual harassment they've suffered to their male friends? Maybe I'm wrong and most women talk openly about these incidents to men. Let me know if you think that's true.

Incidentally, that point holds more generally. Part of why I think the BNP was such a good initiative was because I think a large part of the problem is that women don't talk about this enough, even to other women. And how do you help a victim who won't come out and say that she's been harassed?

Men being apathetic: I'm not saying that all men care. I'm saying only that the number of men who do care is probably a lot larger than it seems because a large proportion of those who do care aren't given the opportunity to share in the problem.

Also, let me say this for the third (fourth?) time - I'm NOT SAYING that men aren't at fault. I'm saying that it's counter-productive to say 'oh, men are at fault, so it's okay for a large number of women to do nothing about it'. That may be 'fair' in some obscure way, but it's neither pragmatic or practical. If you want to climb on your high horse and say you'd rather wait till men get together and make sexual harassment go away because it's their fault, that's fine. Let me know how that strategy works for you. I'm not interested in what's fair. I'm interested in what will work.

And that brings me back to what I think is the key difference of opinion between us. I'm not interested in whether it's right or wrong for a woman not to speak out about this. Sure, women have the right to react in their own way. Sure, if you don't feel comfortable blogging about it, you shouldn't. Just as long as you recognise that by staying within your comfort zone you're significantly lowering the chances of the problem ever going away. You say you stopped reading the BNP posts because it made you uncomfortable. That's your prerogative. But if everyone reacts the way you did, if we can't find people who have the stomach to hear the truth spoken, let alone do something about it, then sexual harassment is here to stay. Period. That doesn't mean I'm blaming anyone. People have the right to do what they're comfortable with. I'm just upset by the fact that that level of discomfort means that we're not going to find a solution.

P.S. I have to say I'm a little surprised that you're taking the stand on this that you're taking. I thought the point you made on your post for BNP was the right one - that men need to take a more active role AND that women need to be more supportive of each other (if memory serves, the phrase you used was less bitchy). I agree with that entirely. I just fail to see why you feel the need to connect those two points. They have, as far as I can see, nothing to do with each other. If more men were sensitive to these issues, would that mean that women wouldn't need to speak out against it? The issue of why more women aren't speaking out is, to my mind, still an important one. You can claim that it's LESS important than men becoming involved. It probably is. But that's like saying it's less important to avoid getting shot than getting knifed. Either way you've got a problem, so the relative importance is irrelevant.

Let me put it this way: If I agree to put up a post castigating men for not taking notice of this problem enough, will you then agree that women not blogging is an issue?

Aekta said...

Your entire hypothesis is based on a figure on Blogstreet and your false assumption that half of those are women.

According to informal estimates, only 10 per cent of the Indian blogging population is female. It may perhaps be a good idea to write to Blogstreet and have them do a survey to support your facts.

In which case, your second assumption that 80% of women writers are not writing about this issue is totally skewed. More like 10% I'd say.

Educated, informed, computer savvy women who make up the blogworld is an infinitely small amount of 'real' Indian women. Actual figures are far too disquieting for any kind of 'blank noise' to make any difference to. Still, we all do what we can, and it's good. All the best.

imsoully said...

Tick your counter. 161.

I didn't see this blog-a-thon till this week. But I wrote mine today anyway:


Falstaff said...

Aekta: Really? I'm genuinely happy to hear that. I know that of the bloggers I read the overwhelming majority are women, so I assumed that the ratio was about even, but if that's not true then it's really good news. What estimates are these anyway? Where did you come across them? I couldn't find anything when I looked.

Of course, as you say, that doesn't change the fact that bloggers are hardly a representative sample, but that's precisely what's been depressing me - if that highly skewed sample won't write, then who will? But if what you say is true, then things might be a lot better. And that would make me very happy - after all, this is one of those hypotheses where you want to be proved wrong.

Falstaff said...

Imsoully: Thank you. That took a lot of guts. You should be very proud that you had them.

mk said...

I'm getting a sense we are just parroting our respective viewpoints and that could go on till kingdom come without any build-up to the debate. But it riles so to be so completely misquoted, so just gotto say so much, absolutely going to throw in the towel post comment..most times, a debate, unable to hold its own ego-fed growth and unbearable weight, topple over and die an uncermonious inconclusive (comical) death.

- To focus more on your idea. As I understood it, your train of logic (in your post) chugged thus, along these tracks. A large proportion of women are silent (this analysis based on the verbal vocal blogger population) because of shame and stigma, which forms the basis of the male desire to harass (the bully analogy. So removing it to reach a point where," "sexual harassment would not be a source of emotional trauma".(your words) is a possible solution. And talking about it is one way to remove the stigma.
Where I disagree..
a)AMONG BLOGGERS especially, it cannot be shame that freeze tongues but more than anything apathy i feel(and condemn!).
b) My rotten egg argument(REA) I brought in to further debunk your stigma theory (so now I moved onto your theory, after I was done with the stats and initial premises) which I felt formed the core of your argument and because of which the REA is often cited. When someone harasses me I feel (other directed)anger and not (self-directed)shame. (ask your female friends please)Shame would silence me, anger would make me louder. And then you say, "if it is anger, there should be more participation. You would get loud and the response at the BNP would be higher. Since it is not, I stick to the shame hypothesis."
I counter. "There is one way it is anger and the shame hypothesis still gets thrashed. It is a minority that feel anger that formed your 20% respondents, the rest are inured to it and so apathetic(a majority I feel), too ashamed to respond (a majority you feel), are getting married, lost their jobs that week, or a million other things." Yes, so in answer to your repeated questioning, it is the egg incident that makes me wanto respond to BNP. So?
c) Relatedly, some of the confusion clears if we don’t think of in terms of three alternating explanations. Some of the non-respondents were ashamed, some apathetic(with sub categories within, the hopeless, defeated versus just uncaring).
d) “I'd be the first to admit that I may be exaggerating the problem considerably (which was the point of laying out the other options so clearly - it's interesting that you didn't think to question those assumptions the first time round”.

-Never built my first comment arguments based on your stats-in fact it implicitly attacked it. Got explicit in second post only because you asked in your response. “Assuming you're not questioning the numbers, why do you think 80% of them are not blogging about this?"
-Yes you lay out the alternatives. TO DISCARD IT!!!

f) “Women don't participate in these kind of endeavours because they see them as a waste of time, not even to express support for their fellow sufferers who are talking about it (which is what you seem to be saying the rest of the time)”
- I said thaat?! Perhaps.. I condemn it anyway- the not expressing support for fellow sufferers. Didn’t say they felt hopeless, or defeated-if they don’t care, if theres no fight, they wont be hopeful would they?
g) “Women have got over being upset by sexual harassment and are totally fine with it to the point where they don't see the need to talk about it (which is what you see to be saying part of the time) - then it's not a problem anymore, is it? we can just carry on the way we are.”
-Again not to homogenize,perhaps some women have gotten over it and are apathetic, but others are not. but they should still fight for the cause if it worries their suffering sisters.
- Besides, a problem is never defined by numbers.. You aren’t telling me that are you?! Most revolutions aimed at enlightening the deluded majority. Please refer Marx books..

Where I agree(to the extent possible)
a) I accede that perhaps for a small minority in the larger public and an even smaller minority in the blogger community, there might be some diffidence talking about it.
b) I think its terrible that women have become apathetic. I'm with you there. Repeat, its TERRIBLE!! (this what I said in my second comment, which you thought I meant sarcastically perhaps? Well no..)
c) -The term "desensitisation". Yes yes, I accede (in the last comment too) that class consciousness(the kind that is aroused through BNP) is SENSITISATION, de-personalisation and a pathway to concerted action. But BNP can be "desensitising"(my term) in another way- in the sense of women getting over the shame through talking about it, sharing experiences on a common public platform. to reach a point where "sexual harassment would not be a source of emotional trauma".(your idea ,which actually adds to the problem- it leads to apathy, which is not what we want , is it?
). So my term, but your idea.


dazedandconfused said...

falstaff, I admire your patience to reply to all of the comments, some wise and some otherwise (shamefully copying a book title). Reminded me of a post on Scott Adams' blog. Normally I would just put up a link but I went to so much trouble to find it, I thought I will just paste it here. As Bryan Adams might have said, Please Forgive Me.

"...When one person makes any kind of statement, all you need to do is apply one of these methods to make it sound stupid. Then go on the offensive.

-Turn someone’s generality into an absolute. For example, if someone makes a general statement that Americans celebrate Christmas, point out that some people are Jewish and so anyone who thinks that ALL Americans celebrate Christmas is stupid. (Bonus points for accusing the person of being anti-Semitic.)

-Turn someone’s factual statements into implied preferences. For example, if someone mentions that not all Catholic priests are pedophiles, accuse the person who said it of siding with pedophiles.

-Turn factual statements into implied equivalents. For example, if someone says that Gandhi didn’t eat cows, accuse the person of stupidly implying that cows deserve equal billing with Gandhi.

-Omit key words. For example, if someone says that people can’t eat rocks, accuse the person of being stupid for suggesting that people can’t eat. Bonus points for arguing that some people CAN eat pebbles if they try hard enough.

-Assume the dumbest interpretation. For example, if someone says that he can run a mile in 12 minutes, assume he means it happens underwater and argue that no one can hold his breath that long.

-Hallucinate entirely different points. For example, if someone says apples grow on trees, accuse him of saying snakes have arms and then point out how stupid that is.

-Use the intellectual laziness card. For example, if someone says that ice is cold, recommend that he take graduate courses in chemistry and meteorology before jumping to stupid conclusions that display a complete ignorance of the complexity of ice..."

Falstaff said...

mk: Not at all. I think we're making (slowly) progress towards achieving common ground. As I understand it, what we're now saying is not that different - a large proportion of bloggers are not blogging about the issue either because they feel diffident or because they feel apathetic (how the proportions between those two divide up is irrelevant, at least to me) and both of those are unfortunate / terrible things.

I'm still curious as to why you seem to feel this burning need to debunk my stigma theory (which, incidentally does come from conversations with my female friends, as well as reading posts such as iamsoully's), if only to replace it with apathy, which you agree is a pretty bad thing too. But that's fine. My larger point was that the number of women not responding is a worrisome thing, worth investigating further and acting on, and I don't hear you refuting that.

(Interestingly, if BNP did allow anonymous comments we could begin to empirically test the two alternative explanations - if I understand your hypothesis, then allowing comments to be anonymous should not make a difference to the number of people speaking out).

Oh, and the bit about your questioning my assumptions on numbers - that was meant more for the % of bloggers who knew about BNP and didn't respond - which you didn't seem to question in your first comment or in this last one. Obviously you've been questioning how the percentages divide within that category, and while we have somewhat differing assumptions on that, I'm not too concerned about how that pie gets divided. The number of people who knew but didn't blog is, to me, the dimension of the problem (which, as aekta points out, may be a lot less severe than I assumed). That's what you didn't seem to question anywhere except in one line in your second comment.

mk said...

"I'm still curious as to why you seem to feel this burning need to debunk my stigma theory"

:)I do, do I not?(burning, I'm not sure..) Even I was a little amused when I saw this in me.. I mean I saw I was losing sight of the larger picture-the BNP and the low rate of response-getting lost in the details..(but the idle afternoon, primarily ego-stroking type of debates/conversations I shamelsessly indulge in all the time..)

I guess it was aimed personally at your post and theory-and you have to admit it strikes at the spirit of the post, which I feel is centred on the shame hypothesis and women's consecutive silence. (on one of those pie pieces :)) The question of the dimension of the problem-the proportion of non-respondents is vital yes, the accuracy of which can only be speculated upon, since the stats arent in hand.The meat lay in your nice theory..

At this point let me add that I was talking about eve teasing/street harassment(which is what BNP is about) which is entirely different from the kind of horror iamsoully's talking about-CSA and rape are a totally different deal in terms of risk and frequency of exposure, nature,scope of violation, long-term impact etc. NO WOMAN can get apathetic about rape!(even if she tried and then we have clinical terms for that condition..) Perhaps you were confounding the two.

Yes, but common ground at last... Terrible, the rate of non-response.(sigh)

Sony Pony said...

In reply to your query: If I agree to put up a post castigating men for not taking notice of this problem enough, will you then agree that women not blogging is an issue?

That would be umm..no. I'd have to say that nicely sums up what we disagree about. (I swear I'm not trying to be contrary). It is possible that we view projects such as BNP differently. 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 responsiblity on women. I don't believe that talking/blogging is necessarily the answer. Sometimes it's not.

Falstaff said...

mk: Yes, common ground is pleasant isn't it. And I do see the distinction between the kind of stuff iamsoully is posting about and street harassment. In fact, one of my gripes with BNP was that they chose to make it only about street harassment. I had a whole post about sexual abuse of little girls thought out. And I think that's an equally, if not more deserving issue.

But the point about iamsoully's post isn't that she's not apathetic. It's that she feels diffident talking about this, even though by the same argument we made for street harassment, there's no way it's her fault.

sony pony: Yes, I thought you'd say no. 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.

So, now that we're clear that your disagreement with what I'm saying has nothing to do with the fact that I'm not raising the issue of whether men should be more active or not, I'm still waiting to hear what, according to you, is this magic answer that will solve sexual harassment without talking / blogging about it. you keep saying that it exists, but not once in all these comments have you come up with a single coherent action that would help stop sexual harassment but did not involve talking about it. Or perhaps the point of solutions that don't involve talking about sexual harassment is that we don't talk about them. how convenient.

As for awareness - what is awareness anyway. Sure, we all know in abstract that women get sexually harassed. Just as we know that there are orphans starving in sub-saharan Africa, or there are people dying by the dozens in Iraq. Does that mean we understand the magnitude and scope of the problem? does that mean we feel motivated to do something about it? When I speak about consciousness it's not some hazy awareness of the issue, it's the issue being understood and being top of mind. That's something only projects like BNP can achieve. Saying that everyone's aware of something so it doesn't need to be talked about, is like saying you don't need to advertise a product once it's been out on the market for a year.

Also, help me understand this - you think BNP is about solidarity but you don't see it as a problem that most women aren't participating? brilliant. So presumably it's about the wonderful feeling of togetherness that comes from being isolated.

Bottomline: If you have any alternate ways by which sexual harassment can be solved, that don't involve resorting to saying "it's complicated" and 'there are other ways' in the ominous voice of village witch doctors, I'd love to hear about them. Otherwise stop wasting my time by trying to make up additional arguments that may be valid but don't change your stand on this issue either way.

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