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.
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.
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.