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Women Content Creators Are Trolled Because Of Their Looks, Colour And Caste. Why?

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When the popular app TikTok was banned from the Indian digital market citing security concerns, my social media feed was abuzz with celebratory rants hailing the decision. Surprisingly, a majority of such reactions weren’t related to privacy or data safety issues but the content that trended on the app. Having almost negligible experience dealing with the platform, I dug into the content, the reactions it garnered and the like.

First, the content that trended on the app or rather the one that made it to YouTube videos, Instagram memes were relatively superficial and in plain terms – crude. They included youngsters recreating movie scenes in a rather funky fashion, role-playing short skits with unfunny dialogues and mime, at places. However, certain cherry-picked videos to fit a certain agenda doesn’t serve well to generalize the entire platform.

Collage made by Screenshots of TikTok’s creators taken by Anurag Paul

More often than not, the critique was aimed at the identity and the aesthetic of the individuals than their content.

There are young boys who choose not to sport a beard, wear soft shades, paint their nails and have streaks of purple in their hair – something that enrages the preconceived ideas of beauty of the privileged viewers and reviewers.

It is not only the notions of beauty that certain users adhere to but also their identity which is questioned.

To cite an example, the constant shaming of boys who choose not to conform to gendered norms of clothing via the usage of transphobic slurs is problematic. Women are ridiculed for putting on too much make-up which apparently does not go along well with their humble backgrounds. A rigid execution of such homogenous beauty standards is gendered as well, with women facing the brunt of online harassment more.

The constant shaming of boys who choose not to conform to gendered norms of clothing via the usage of transphobic slurs is problematic. Photo: Firstpost

It is pertinent to note that the idea of beauty is based on our socialization as well as the ideas of the agents of socialization we are exposed to. A very infamous example of the same is how in kindergarten picture books, a “beautiful woman” has a fair lady’s picture attached alongside while “ugly woman” was necessarily indicated by pictures of darker complexion.

The penetration of these conceived ideals isn’t limited to picture books, unfortunately. It is rampant in fields of entertainment, public service, etc. The so-called fairness creams generate a subconscious distaste for people of colour and sooner than one knows it, they start to hate themselves.

In a rather conservative society such as India, the pressure on women to adhere to patriarchal beauty norms is immense, resulting in creating an exploitative culture of self-hate and despair.
Once our knowledge of beauty is emboldened as a homogenous entity, any and all matters relating to the portrayal of beauty is seen through the tinted lenses of privileged aesthetics.

Diversification of content creation and beauty standards seems like an attack on the closed spaces of power monopolized by privileged individuals for years.

So, when a woman is trolled for trying to give expression to her creative talent of make-up in a setting that is not very well furnished, it is indeed a masked contempt for people from marginalized communities and especially for women, whose independence comes as a threat to the institution of patriarchy that has been sustaining off their unpaid labour for years.

In fact, most individuals whose aesthetics do not suit the prevalent culture happen to belong to humble backgrounds, marginalized communities. The binaries of gender identities, lack of sensitization and the general state of glass ceilings for women add further to the mix of online harassment.

Women, choosing to post their content online, are trolled with slurs that are more often than not directed at their looks, skin colour and are borderline casteist. The situation warrants a rather serious deliberation over the question: Are these subtle instances of casteism and sexism possible to eradicate?

The problem lies with our way to eradicate caste. To solve a problem, the first step is to acknowledge that it exists. However, except for legal provisions that have still not penetrated into the lives of common individuals, little has been done to understand caste with nuance. Our response to caste is caste-blindness rather than caste-awareness.

The democratization of content, cutting down on sexism in all spaces, discussing intersectional issues of gender being amplified by caste are a few measures that could drive the narrative in a more positive direction. A holistic curriculum and culture that is not afraid to acknowledge the malady of casteism and sexism is our best bet, moving forward.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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