Yesterday, I shared my frustrations and feelings of helplessness. What I had been working on, before the article in question surfaced, was this:
“The Need for Slutwalk Delhi Part II
Where to begin? After a day of adrenaline pumped discussions about how the media has represented (or not fully covered all aspects of) the Delhi Slutwalk that took place at Jantar Mantar yesterday , and desperately trying to fix a website problem of my NGO’s news section in time for it to make any kind of impact at all (lest, the media interest dies down after only a day or two. A real fear of mine…but more on the ‘why’ later), I am trying to garner my thoughts.
I talked about my opinion of Slutwalk being held in Delhi before. And, no, it wasn’t the first to be held in Asia, (cough *Washington Post); there was one in Bhopal I didn’t even hear about (-and I really was paying attention to the developments!), my Indian journalist friend simply described as a ‘wash-out’.
The focus up until the walk had been put on whether women will turn up dressed in their underwear (shock horror!) in ‘socially conservative India’ (btw. I’d reference that quote/description of India but just google ‘ delhi slutwalk’ and that phrasing will be in any foreign press blurb about the event. yawn)
Of course they/we didn’t turn up in their/our underwear!
The intense media scrutiny on this, the deaf ear to any actual analysis of the ‘whys’ and ‘what-for’ of the young organizers’ and participants’ attempt to reclaim ‘besharm’/’slut’ the question of why the term ‘besharm’’ for a victim of horrendous crime (as well as for women who don’t adhere to a standard of normative female behaviour!) is depressingly common the world over.
But why specifically, did the message fall on (mostly) deaf ears in India? A large part, I feel, is that well-known supporters of women’s empowerment issues were very careful to diassociate themselves from it. There were no organizations at all publically aligning themselves with this budding feminist movement at the walk. The numbers of Besharmi Morcha attendents was not large in comparison to other Slutwalks. Duh!
(Sorry, but the mics stuck in my face kept wanting to soundbite why exactly I thought the numbers were bad. )
I shouted it -or wanted to- from the rooftops:
The media didn’t have anything on the walk in the days leading up it (no date, time, meeting place, anything; there was a Delhi-based TV debate on but nothing in the papers at all) (point 1)
Also, there was a police decree issued in Delhi THE DAY BEFORE the walk, that on this particular road (used mostly for demonstrations in recent months on the issue of corruption in politics and drawing huge crowds), it would be illegal to assemble. People were confused and thought, even if they had considered attending before, it would make it difficult/dangerous (point 2).
That’s right. Yet even though I see pictures of myself in a ‘oh so revealing’ (not)- tank top with slogans on it, looking particularly sweaty and gross, staring back from tons of ‘photo specials’ and bits about the walk this morning, not once was there a quote or anything I said, related. Instead, the cameramen (99% male) were oggling and clicking away in a really invasive manner. Often, I have to qualify, the articles were good, quoting some Slutwalk organisers and participants. ‘Why not my views’ was honestly not an issue as long as the coverage was fair. Plus, it was more important to get the Indian women’s perspective (I think this is obvious and I dont need to elaborate)
Don’t get me wrong, I do understand that the term ‘Slutwalk’, controversial and divisive globally not just in India, is conducive to media attention. The aim of this hoped-for attention was to shed light on the problem of ‘victim-blaming’ and call attention to the problems of sexual violence against women. This, in India fell on (mostly) deaf ears in the media.
Tomorrow, I am sure, hardly any mention/debate will be visible. ..”
That’s how far I got. How ironic.
Ironic in the sense that there is a very (expected) small time frame we, as supporters of the Besharmi Morcha movement and organisers’ cause, had that any attention would be paid at all to the real issues. This proved to be true, after no more new photos were to be published, the papers were mostly devoid of any mention of the walk and issues this morning.
Ironic -because despite my best efforts to reason with and explain why I wanted to be disassociated from the headline and message as soon as possible if the journalist couldn’t see the danger of it herself/felt the need to change it. (Im talking about my last post here). I was continuously shrugged off.
I spoke to the Wall Street Journal online ‘RealTime India’ (can I add another ‘ironic’ here?) journalist, who had interviewed me and wrote the piece I appeared in ( by name,photo and one quote), about 20 minutes after it went up. Despite my calm reasoning and actual plea, she shrugged me off. Twice. Didn’t call her editor to ask for editing possibilities (as she claimed) and then started ignoring my phone calls.
I won’t even go into the fact that my multiple emails to everyone at the paper I could contact failed to be noticed. That was to be expected.
Today, finally, I got the attention. I had sent a text message that was very angry the night before -after the journo had promised to get back to me repeatedly on updating me of the status of my concerns and requests.
Again, this morning and until around 10.30 am I spoke to her, asked her for help, and after she said she would get back to me in a few minutes and i was ignored again (i.e. waiting and then calling her without answer for over an hour) I sent another text. I asked her to call me back in the next minutes otherwise I would take other actions (Not going into detail here, but trust me, I was NOT harassing her!).
That’s finally when I got an email and a call (SIMULTANEOUSLY!) back. The call came from the India editor of the Wall Street Journal himself.
He laughed at my anger/outrage from the beginning. He continued to try to intimidate me in a very unprofessional manner for a long time. I stood by my concerns and reasons, finally he said he could add a post-script if I emailed him a line. And that’s where we stand. Almost 20 hours later.
I want to emphasise that although I am using this personal experience and misrepresentation of facts related to myself as an example, for me, the main problem lies with the callousness of the media and its workings. Of course I am not saying that all journos/media outlets have no integrity/respect for their sources or for desisting from bending truth to generate web-traffic. But this experience has made me incredibly cynical about it.
I am also putting my hands up in saying here that I should be more careful in the future. The trouble is this: I am not media savvy, I didn’t expect or encourage attention on my views personally, and I trusted someone I know and the WSJ to do an exploration of an interesting angle: What do women/men, who participated, who are not from India, think about the Delhi Slutwalk. (I know that now btw./ the journalist did not tell me that was her angle when we talked at length and I gave her my details)
I talked to the journo at length and mentioned, I believe, important views of why the message was getting lost, why more people didn’t come. Furthermore, I emphasized repeatedly that I had met with the organizers before and supported their ‘rebranding’ of the Delhi Slutwalk to encourage people to focus on the content of the issues.
Placing a quote of mine ‘I don’t normally dress like this’ opposite that of an amazing young woman who organized the walk (no picture of her on this bit! Arrgghhh!) saying ‘we encouraged participants to dress as they do every day’ is more than anything, simply put: slander!
I need to take a breather right now. I want to believe in humanity/decency and that not all Journalism is self-serving, opportunistic, callous and most of all- too cynical to believe there are people invested in activism these days and take it seriously and are not just doing it for a stupid picture in a paper.
That is very depressing, it felt like Paul Beckett, the WSJ editor I spoke to, was laughing at me for a good 5 minutes and making personal attacks (constantly interrupting me), because he was not listening and simply couldn’t comprehend that someone took this so seriously. It is serious. It’s an important movement that people –who believe women are to blame for their sexual assault, if they don’t cover up completely/behave in a ‘western way’ (ie drink/go out alone) – are very vocal and invested in trying to diminish. This article/headline added fuel to the fire.
The message was “White Slutwalk supporters say Indian Slutwalk not extreme enough” which I, for one would have heavily refuted.
I hope and pray for the power of the internet. Don’t comment on the article in question itself if you see it or promote it. I want to get the word out though, that, in my opinion this is a perfect case study in why media should be pointed towards as irresponsible and lazy (Lazy journalism as a cause of ill-effects, not the only problem!)
I know that sounds extreme, but I am sticking to my guns here and want WSJ India to be held up as an example of crappy sensationalist, and exploitative media outlet.
Thanks for listening to this rant.
post-script: for some comic relief, watch matt damon cleverly take on cameramen/journalists here: I wish I had Matt Damon in my corner. That’s right. Matt. Damon. booyah!