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The Perils Of Being A Woman ‘Online’, Especially Late At Night!

After a late-night conversation with a friend on how people, mostly men, send unsolicited messages on social media, I started thinking about this piece.

These unsolicited messages are not necessarily sexually loaded. These can be the one word ‘Hi’ or the question ‘How are you?’ One might wonder how these seemingly harmless texts can bother anyone. Do women overthink? But then, there is a pattern.

Most of these messages are not from people we ‘know well’ but acquaintances who are part of our social media timelines. They get added as part of network building or because there are several mutual friends and followers. But then, these people, primarily men, take the liberty to message and try to converse. There is another pattern – these messages are mostly sent in the night.

For many women, it becomes bothersome. After completing their day, it is the only time they get to themselves and want to spend in peace. It is the time to scroll through social media without talking to anyone for many of us.

One may think that it is no big deal. One can just ignore them and not reply. But it is not an easy task. When one does not answer, there are always chances of getting a text that says – ‘You are online, why are you not replying?’ The assumption that if a person is online means that they should converse governs their expectations.

It is a peril with the chat services of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, which shows who is online, and as such, it becomes tough to avoid calls and/or messages.

However, it is not just the expectation to respond. There is another peril of being ‘online’. Like many other things, women are also policed for being online, particularly at night.

Two of my friends have been told by barely acquainted men that ‘good girls are not online late in the night’. A few others have said that they have been asked if they are looking for romantic partners since they are online till so late.

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The assumptions that govern these behaviors are rooted in the belief that women want attention, and it is acceptable to message them.

Similarly, the word ‘dear’ is very casually used in conversations and comments. One can find messages beginning and/or ending with dear or the short form ‘dr’ – again from barely acquainted people.

Sociological debates on public spaces have shown how access to seemingly public things like roads, transportation services, gardens, parks, etc., are gendered.

In their landmark book, Why Loiter? Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets (2011), Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan, and Shilpa Ranade argue that women do not have the same access to public spaces as men. Loitering – the act of standing, waiting, and/or roaming around purposelessly – is a luxury that only men have. Women loitering invite stares, comments, and harassment.

The same right to loiter is limited for women even in the digital sphere. The simple act of online inviting unwanted texts and comments. Thus, even the everyday experience of being ‘online’ is gendered.

Image Source: Eugenio Marongiu, Canva Pro

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About the Author

Rituparna Patgiri

Dr. Rituparna Patgiri teaches in the Sociology department at Indraprastha College for Women (IPCW), University of Delhi. read more...

4 Posts | 36,695 Views

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