We often get to see contents in both the mainstream and social media that are explicit on sexism. We can define ‘sexism’ as society-led perceptions, attitudes, norms, and beliefs based on a person’s sex. Sex, as we know, is the biological way of being a human. With the digital wave grasping Bangladesh, there has been plenty of opportunities in the areas of information dissemination, communications, employment, and entrepreneurship. However, we often do not speak about how this digitization process also led to a culture of sexual harassment and violence against women and girls. Despite initiatives from the government, digital space remains largely unsafe for women.
Women and girls have gained access to the digital world, although this is limited to the urban and semi-urban areas. We noticed two distinct types of content developed by women that can be connected to the discussion of sexism. The first category comprises media contents that reflect the extreme level of sexism and represents the localised version of being ‘sexy’ and ‘attractive’ as women. These contents are mostly produced by women that are thriving to buy in their ways to ‘mainstream’ showbiz and belong to lower and lower-middle class. Some of them manage to become alternatives to ‘cut-piece’ movies (used to run in cinema halls) and use the social media platform to catch the attention of male followers. The followers, in this case, are waiting for a call, or, in many cases, a glimpse of their ‘glamour’. These male followers mostly include migrants labour, the working-class, youth and adolescents. Amid their hectic and challenging lives, these women are undoubtedly a touch of sexual fantasy.
If we continue to validate sexism in our culture and daily life, women empowerment will become a dream only to be fulfilled after centuries.
Another group of women are already part of the mainstream media. They actively reinforce sexual stereotypes. In the process of selling the mantra of an ‘ideal body shape’ in the packaging of confidence, they continuously promote sexism. These women belong to upper-middle-class and upper-class of the society with access to gyms, personal instructors, and are capable of affording expensive beauty augmentation surgeries. Little do they realise that developing and sharing content like this re-establishes the message that there is just one way to be the ‘ideal’ beauty and that’s based on a particular body type. These contents are often endorsed by multinational companies that sell beauty products. Having these ‘fashionable, literate, and progressive’ upper-class women with visually appealing beauty help boost these companies’ product sales.
In social media, it is ‘normal’ and ‘cool’ to react to digital contents that are developed to retain the spirit of sexism. We see people from all socio-economic strata to interact with this kind of content and share their opinions through Facebook posts and comments. If we notice carefully, the reactions of the general people are heavily influenced by the ‘conservative’ ideology, with a twist of being an active participant of the emerging sexism culture.
Getting overwhelmed by contradictory messaging and behavior on social media has deeply influenced women’s lives – either they have to become ‘iron ladies’ (who are in the complete charge of their lives), or ‘sexual pets’ obsessed with pleasing men. The big question is – who benefits from this? The media (both mainstream and social) seemed to endorse this asexual attitude, belief, and behaviour. A series of recent ‘hot-selling’ stories are reflective of this form of endorsement. Not only the majority of media platforms have applied an extremely sexual lens to explain any allegations associated with a woman but also went ‘above and beyond’ to shatter anything that the woman may call as her ‘personal space’.
While collective ‘raping’ of a woman through social media trial, we must realise that we are killing the aspirations of other women and girls to become next-generation leaders. The fact that news and stories like these bring in good ‘TRP’, the media is unlikely to let go of their obsession with sexism. MNCs are also not lagging in this rat-race – they managed to exploit women who are flag-bearer of sexism and made a good profit out of it. If there is anyone who has been losing out of this political game, they are women – women who are trying to pursue a career, create identity, lead with examples, and live their lives.
Betty Friedan wrote a book in the 1970s named, ‘The Problem That Has No Name’ that revealed an utter dissatisfaction of women trying to fit into the standards of patriarchal society. Actions taken by women that justifies and reinforces patriarchal norms and values may, in the short-run, benefit a handful of them; however, will result in miseries for the majority. We are standing at a point when kindness, passion, respect, and cooperation are needed more than ever. If we continue to validate sexism in our culture and daily life, women empowerment will become a dream only to be fulfilled after centuries. Duality is inherent in human nature but let’s not make it as extreme as the way we’re acting now. It’s a hard time and we as a nation have much more difficult challenges to overcome, like an economic recession potentially dragging people back to ultra-poor status. Sexism is not the right way to go about it – our TRPs can wait and can be made out of the exemplary act of kindness and compassion.
Ishret Binte Wahid has a Masters degree from the London School Of Economics.