This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Gayle Sequeira. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

When Being A Feminist Can Get You Murdered

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By Gayle Sequeira

Whether it’s Emma Watson, of whom online attackers threatened to release naked pictures following her iconic HeForShe speech at the UN or cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian whose Tropes v/s Women series was received with a barrage of death threats and threats of sexual violence, one thing is becoming rapidly clear – being a feminist can get you stalked, harassed and even murdered.

grace mann (2)
Grace Mann

Does identifying oneself as a feminist automatically sign one up to live in a constant state of fear and anxiety? Have hatred and abuse via social media become the natural responses to one’s declaration that he or she is emphatically feminist?

At the University of Mary Washington, Virginia, a student group called the Feminist United Club was the target of vitriolic abuse for months, culminating in the horrific murder of a group member, Grace Mann. While the motive behind Mann’s murder at this point is still unclear, it is impossible not to view the crime in the context of what has become an increasingly hostile environment for women on such campuses.

Beginning in November 2014, the group was subjected to a torrent of online abuse, much of which is unprintable here, after club President Paige McKinsey wrote an op-ed for the school newspaper, seeking to “expose the insidious misogyny and hatred very much alive at UMW,” and citing reasons why she believed that it was not a ‘feminist-friendly’ campus.

One of the reasons highlighted was a chant performed by the campus’ men’s rugby team, which featured demeaning themes such as “violence against women, including murder and battery, sexual violence against women, including assault, necrophilia and rape”. Bringing this chant to the attention of the administration led to the suspension of the team, at which point the derogatory slurs and rape threats against the group escalated exponentially.

Both times, the social media used to communicate this abuse was the app Yik Yak, characterized by its complete anonymity. It enables users to create and view anonymous ‘yaks‘ which are limited to a 10-mile radius so viewers read posts most relevant to them, posts that are most likely by someone they know who lives or works in the same area.

In this atmosphere of mounting dread, when the club asked university administration to look into the matter, they were provided with ineffectual solutions and the First Amendment Right to free speech was cited as a reason for the administration’s non-interference. Despite the app being hosted on the school’s servers itself, the students were asked to contact Yik Yak directly to prevent further cyber bullying.

Mann, an active Feminist United Club member was then found strangled on April 17th. Her roommate, Steven Vander Briel, a former member of the aforementioned rugby team was arrested and charged with first degree murder the very same day.

In the wake of Mann’s death, students, along with the Feminist Majority Foundation have filed a Title IX complaint against school administrators who failed to protect them from this “sexually hostile school environment.

Despite being put on notice that the students feared for their safety and were unable to concentrate on their school work or otherwise enjoy the benefits of the university’s educational programs, the administration took no action to protect them,” reads the complaint.

It’s clear that apps such as Yik Yak facilitate this culture of abuse and violence – by providing a cover of anonymity to veil one’s misogyny, the app provides a telling look at the innermost prejudices of students, prejudices expressed freely, without the fear of repercussion. Circumventing the words banned by this app is as easy as misspelling them.

The callousness of the administration cannot be discounted either – though the Title IX complaint does not hold the university responsible for Mann’s death, the fact remains that, “Instead of taking action, the University hid behind their lawyers and allowed these young women to be terrorized in their own community,” said Gaylynn Burroughs, director of policy and research at the Feminist Majority Foundation.

As more details about the gruesome case unfold, an online post has already surfaced, claiming Mann’s death was unavoidable, the result of the reluctance of feminists to “learn that misandry is not a joke.” At this point, Margaret Atwood’s chilling rejoinder seems to ring true, Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.

You must be to comment.
  1. B

    It is feminists who go around giving death threats. Erin Pizzey received death threats from feminists when she raised her voice against domestic violence by women.

    Pizzey has been the subject of death threats and boycotts because of her research into the claim that most domestic violence is reciprocal, and that women are equally capable of violence as men.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erin_Pizzey

  2. Zoya Sham

    Hate speech on the internet and social media is often taken lightly because of its virtual nature. People don’t realise that the things they say in the virtual world have real effects on real individuals. Many times online hate speech escalates to upsetting and gruesome consequences. Along with feminists, many other groups receive similar treatment. This story is the perfect example of this and is also told well.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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