Learning from Lewinsky: Confronting the culture of bullying and shaming, creating a culture of support

If you haven’t read Reema Moudgill’s piece titled Monica Lewinsky Takes On The Cult Of Shame, you’ve missed out on an important conversation about the culture of shaming and the legitimization of the violation of privacy by our blind acceptance of digital behavior. In a flatter world created by technology, it’s obvious to me that we have not simply recreated the ogling men on the corner of the streets, the vicious auntys whose gossip can ruin reputations and the medieval lynchings of ‘witches’. In fact, we have amplified it. We have turned everyone into the voyeuristic creep, the bitchy aunt and the maligning man. Yes, it’s become normal, this online bullying and shaming, the blind consumption of content used to bully and shame in the name of gossip. And, let’s face it, you and I are party to it too.

Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk is indeed admirable for bringing to the fore issues we will not talk about. Even as we cheer about the win for freedom of speech by the striking down of the 66A, we will not talk about how humiliation, shaming and acts of sexual offense on the Internet are causing deep psychological damage. In India, where talking about a whole bunch of things (especially stuff that matters) is not the done thing, young people are not getting enough guidance on how to deal with bullying and intimidation on the Internet. Cyber bullying is real and we need to wake up to it.

Lewinsky’s talk pushed me to think about how we can create opportunities and spaces for youth to discuss how they feel, what they observe, to bring issues to the table, to learn through shared experiences. If the online world can be abusive, it can host moderated support forums too. But my hunch is that the change needs to start at home, in schools, in the park, among friends. As my children grow and become more independent, I’m constantly under pressure to rethink they way I deal with them. My focus is shifting from managing and controlling their routines, to playing the part of a guide and adviser. How can I co-opt my kids to evolve and follow an ethical code for using the Internet, for instance? How can I set up a system in which they have someone reliable and mature to talk to, even if its not us the parents? How can I eliminate the sense of taboo around topics like sexual abuse, abuse of power, bullying and aggression that are deeply encoded in our psyche?

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About ramblinginthecity

I am an architect and urban planner, a writer and an aspiring artist. I love expressing myself and feel strongly that cities should have spaces for everyone--rich, poor, young, old, healthy and sick, happy or depressed--we all need to work towards making our cities liveable and lovable communities.

Posted on March 26, 2015, in Personal and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Lewensky’s fate has little to do with the digital revolution and the culture of instant public outrage and shaking spanning the globe and more to do with her being a woman. Before any form of didgitisation, women have been called all the names she has been called, for lesser ‘faults’ than Lewinsky’s. Digitisation in fact for the first time has created a level playing field where giants can be pulled down by the commoner or atlast the rapist can be shamed as much or more than the victim. Think wikileaks. Think Jyothi Singh. Today victims can be given a voice, which can be instantly transmitted across the globe, even while countries and society strive to stifle voices.

    Lewinsky’s problem is different. Emphasised by the fact that her lover got scott free ( I dont even understand why two people’s personal affairs can become a national legal matter – that part is just bullshit coming from the land of the free). Naming and shaming of women as the default faulter is an age old thing. We are always to be blamed from the time of Eve.

    Unless we identify the problem correctly, we can’t fight it.

    Sorry Lewinsky – with all sympathies to you, you got hold of the wrong end of the stick.

    • Well put, Mono. I still think the ease with which the shaming is possible has magnified the old style shaming and heckling that happened within the limitations of physicalities. Its also true that tech can amplify solutions and I mention that in my post. My concern is more to do with awareness and support to help people deal with shaming and bullying, whatever the context and medium.

  2. The whole thing about shaming is so ridiculous and reinforce the stereotype in our society. I often ask this question: What is morally right and uptight? Someone please define it for me and stop making claims that what they know is best for us.

  3. Vishaal, agree completely. I am so tired of this so called conventional morality which is today pervading every bit of our life in modern india, stripping us adult free citizens to be our own judge of what is right and what is wrong. Instead of becoming a more free, more emancipated society, we are becoming a more controlled, a more regulated society where some idiots sitting in some room decide what I eat or drink or how I live or who I love. Its just plain sick.

    Muks, what we find disgusting is not the ‘use of technology’ per set, but the culture of shaming based on this sense of conventional morality, which we are all becoming victims to. The good manners we choose to teach our children, respect and tolerance for people with different choices, acceptance of plurality is universal. As we all know, judgement from the circle around you hurt you loot more than anonymous judgement from across the world who dont know us and never will. In this climate of prejudgement that india is moving into today, parents like us have a hard task of insulating our children against the prevailing prejudices around them, and teach them to seek the inherent goodness in people of all kinds and their right to their own choices. Thats the struggle. The struggle against biases.

  4. As for the act of combating naming and shaming, in my work I deal with it at an every day level. The scare of shame is used as a potent weapon to compel especially women to live everyday lives of ignominy and dehumanisation. At any given time I am dealing with atleast 5/6 such real cases, and the only weapon against this as far as I see, and what I counsel most of the victims is to STOP being victims. STOP feeling they can be shamed by an act which is not their own (like someone filiming them in their showers, or being forced into an abusive marriage with threats of making family ‘shame’ public). These are real people, and the only solution I see is to tell them to be bold and not be afraid of people talking. As people will talk and we can’t do anything to stop that.

    • Kucch to log kahenge, logon ka kaam hai kehna….true! I’d also like to point out that we need to discuss our own acts of shaming or participating in the culture of shaming. I find I’m the only person in family discussions, often times, to object to conversations stereotyping daughters-in-law or gossiping about someone’s marriage, conversations based on hearsay and fuelled by a desire for idle gossip not genuine concern. It’s normal to gossip, but it’s also ok to stop a minute and recognise that we need to give the ‘victim’ benefit of doubt

      • Absolutely true Muks. The habit of gossiping is downright abhorrent to me. And I find as if its a national past time. Sharing intimate details of other people and the constant associated judgements. Like you, I am often the only one telling people in a group to lay off, and that does not win me any popularity contest. Sometimes I am amazed how everyone seems to know who is divorcing whom, or who is sleeping around with whom.

        Hopefully our kids will take after us.

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