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Social Media Boycott Is A New Weapon Against ‘Inconvenient’ Women Who Speak Up

Traditionally, women have been silenced by a patriarchal society by violence that includes boycott. Modernisation has changed nothing - now women are silenced by social media boycotting.

It all started with a WhatsApp comment. Sujhatha was an introvert who preferred to stay away from social media groups. But after marriage, a new set of ‘virtual’ expectations and obligations weighed down her responses.

Speaking her mind, expressing herself, or any difference of opinion on an in-law’s post was a strict no-no.

Despite her reservations and personal boundaries, joining family groups on social media was deemed a part of her marital duties.

And she received praise, till she supplicated those likes and loves, didn’t mind the snide remarks, and said nothing about people encroaching on her private boundaries.

But it all ended one day when she reacted, and not in the most amiable way. A certain in-law had passed a nasty remark about her newborn.

“Just smile and text ‘it’s okay’. Things will simmer down,” her husband advised.

Her in-laws, though initially critical of the derogatory comment, were insistent that she should forgive the person. At one point, Sujhatha even considered letting bygones be bygones. After months of ignoring the person, she took her call. A supposed apology call.

To her surprise, the individual said sorry just as casually as if they had dropped an egg on the ground by accident, and even implicated that she didn’t care if her amends didn’t seem sincere.

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Sujhatha took a decision that day—she wouldn’t forgive this person.

The person, however, continued sending saccharine texts, filled with heart and smiley emojis, directed towards the child she had called a name. But Sujhatha couldn’t help feeling how exaggerated and hollow her gestures were—like thin chocolate domes over a fancy desserts.

Gifts followed next, from the same family, which thought that a verbal slap could be compensated with toys and trinkets.

Sujhatha’s in-laws changed the subject whenever she would try to discuss her feelings about this forced attempt at friendship. They wouldn’t go against their relations.

Until she couldn’t take it anymore

One fine day, she couldn’t hold her rage and posted about how meaningless sweet words and gifts were, if a person giving them had no regret for their actions.

The next thing she knew, a member from the perpetrator’s family had cussed her on Facebook, a forum where everyone she was related through marriage was present.

Fingers were pointed. Accusations were hurled—mostly in Sujhatha’s direction.

“What wrong did he say?” Her mother-in-law retorted. “You wrote a wordy post, and he called you a name. What’s the difference? You shouldn’t have brought family matters to a public forum.”

When Sujhatha argued he had insulted her, her mother-in-law said that the person in question was like “a son” to her.

Sujhatha asked if she had any importance in her family. To that, her husband’s mother made it clear, “no one is that important to us.”

Things kept turning sour from that point. A row broke out during a social gathering, where Sujhatha’s in-laws flung false accusations at her and her parents.

After all this, Sujhatha was still expected to forgive and forget. But she failed to muster clemency.

Today, she has been boycotted by almost everyone who had once crowned her the ‘darling daughter-in-law’. The story might not sound new. Since ancient ages, married women are expected to gulp down any injustice or unfair treatment meted out to them. Familial harmony is a cumbersome burden, maintaining which is considered their sole duty. But the only fresh tint to this story is the virtual angle.

People who congratulated Sujhatha earlier on her every achievement, now kept mum. Her posts were ignored. The discrimination became limpid when they piled her Facebook page with birthday wishes for her husband—thanks to her post that informed them about the same. And on hers, they remained indifferent, sullen, and silent, as if their inboxes had been bombarded with a funereal notification. Not everyone behaved crudely. A small, neutral section from the lot wished her. But most of the people who boycotted her were directly related to her in-laws.

The regular WhatsApp enquiries about her health and wellbeing ceased altogether. It was as if she was invisible to them. Someone they had buried by unfollowing.

Put her in a corner virtually

Social media boycotts are a potent weapon for today’s generation. Vendetta gets a newfangled lift with vitriolic tweets, raging posts and, of course, incessant trolling. People are sometimes forced to take a break from these cyber platforms, upon being robbed of validation and dignity.

But for many women, the same comes in the form of silence and segregation. In our grandmother’s age, we often heard stories about ‘ek ghar’. A Bengali term that describes an ostracized woman, isolated and restricted to a corner of a house. She was forbidden from attending familial occasions, or even communicating with the other members of the family.

Today, direct excommunication might not be the case for married women who dare to speak their mind. But a social media boycott is a reality. It is a way of neglecting her existence. A way for the society to tell her she thrived because they allowed her to. An indirect dressing-down, to warn her that if she crosses the rules of practiced civility, she will be punished.

If women, no matter how educated they are, think of voicing their dissent regarding anyone who bothers them; then they too will be shoved into a nondescript virtual corner where everyone will pretend to not see her.

The convenient part of such dissociation is how easily people can rubbish it when you question them about it. They claim to be too busy or unaware of your attempt to reach out to them on social media.

No matter how much we tell ourselves it doesn’t matter who likes our posts or tweets, the detachment feels real and could also lead to mental issues and depression.

What solves such an issue? Deleting our social media handles and be done with it? Yes, we can do that. But how does that help? It is just a way of eluding reality; though, virtual.

Perhaps, the trick is to use social media, but not get too comfortable or carried away by the relationships we forge there. As women, we need to remind ourselves that we had a life before we uploaded our first profile photo on a social platform. Also, that we knew how to be happy without relationships that are so vain and fragile.

One way of doing that is reconnecting with people who have always been there for us; whether or not they made it to our friend list. Another way is to indulge oneself in more meaningful things, things that help us heal.

It could be something as simple as cooking your favourite dish on a weekend or cycling around your compound every morning.

It’s high time we learned to seek inner peace and self love, instead of craving validation from people, whom we knew just through the 140-character bios.

Image source: a still from the series Khalish

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About the Author

Amrita Sarkar

Amrita Sarkar is an aspiring writer based in India. Her short stories have been selected winning entries for The Times of India Write India Contest (Season 3) and The Hive Publishers anthology #Love. Her self- read more...

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