These past few days, Kavita has come close to quitting her family WhatsApp group at least a hundred times. Every time she sees a sexist joke being shared by an elderly uncle, or when her comments on a subject that is her area of professional expertise are conveniently ignored by the boys’ club that exists within such family groups, she gets this uncontrollable itch to press exit and be done with the whole family digital bonding business. But she cannot.
BEING ON WHATAPP GROUPS
- It is not easy being a feminist woman whose opinion is conveniently ignored in family WhatsApp groups.
- For women, opinion often earns then criticism or belittling from male members on the family group.
- Being left-leaning is seen as an act of dissent against the familial hierarchy.
- However making an exit from the group is not an option either.
The problem isn’t just limited to sharing of women-bashing forwards, patriarchs and men, especially those who are higher up in the family hierarchy are prone to dismissing women’s voices on family chat groups and the rest of the family just follows the lead. “I think people automatically on WhatsApp take men more of an authority on subjects. Like it’s our drawing-room. If I were a doctor, and I started talking of COVID-19, in almost all settings I know people would take the guy more seriously, even if technically I am more qualified to talk about it. Now to me, the WhatsApp group is an extension of the drawing in that sense. In this respect has digital made it easier for women? It’s not.”
I know so many women who have experienced this Sofie’s choice: Do you say nothing and endure woman leader-bashing jokes sent by contemporary or elderly relatives? Or do you offer an opinion in a men-only conversation? Do you dare to break into amen’s’ club with your feminist opinions, which could lead to a tiff at home? Or do you make an exit from the group, which again brings you and your family a lot of scrutiny from your relatives? The choice is much harder I think. When you come across a fake message posted in the WhatsApp group on your parents’ side at least you can crib about it to them. You can have your mom cover for you if you leave the group in a fit of rage. That’s as a daughter. Imagine now as a daughter-in-law. You are expected to live by a code of conduct, which requires you appease everyone. Leaving the family group or calling out a middle-aged uncle’s misplaced expert opinion on CAA-NRC will be seen as outright unsanskaari, no matter if it is right or wrong. What’s more, even your supportive and feminist husband and in-laws will gently ask you to let it go.
The WhatsApp group is an extension of the drawing in that sense. In this respect has digital made it easier for women? It has not.
A lot of us have feminist moms-in-law and husbands who believe, and even live by the virtue of equality. They’ll help out with the dishes, they’ll change diapers, they’ll be your biggest cheerleaders when you do well at work. But on family WhatsApp group your mom-in-law or your husband aren’t your A-team, they are someone’s daughter-in-law, nephew, brother, sister. Patriarchal set up of the family, even in the most modern of households, still expects people to respect the elderly, never cross them and not override the authority that family heads or male relatives hold.
As a result, your usually supportive family can do nothing but sigh and scroll past a message from a patriarch chiding you for holding left-leaning views. But one does wonder, is there more to the ignorance peddled to women’s views of family chat groups? Aren’t men from our generation, who do not endorse patriarchal setup of Indian families also prone to taking women’s opinion less seriously, especially when it comes to politics?
The patronising tone adopted, the frivolous dismal of what one says. In these groups, people are not really engaging, they are reacting mostly.
Kavita thinks that the way women’s remarks on debates and discourse are sidelined could be due to the way we write messages or participate in WhatsApp group interactions. “We as women tend to send more ‘friendly’ messages that could be like use a smiley or sound more caring about the conversations on the WhatsApp group. Could this be one of the reasons why we aren’t taken so seriously? Men, on the other hand, react on topics that are of interest to them on the WhatsApp group and don’t often engage on an everyday basis. Like a reaction to random things, like a banana bread someone made, or a photo of a child – where women may react often but men won’t for general goodwill. Now could this also hold true of women who don’t engage much? That’s yet to be decided.”
Nothing is more tormenting for a feminist woman living in 2020 than to have to swallow her pride, clamp her opinion and not participate in a debatable conversation that she firmly believes to belong in. But as I said, our options are limited. And that’s why I have come up with another option; to raise questions. Present your arguments in the form of questions to this male political brigade who is very hungry for a chance to prove their side of the argument. If done carefully, you could end up pulling the rug of nationalism and jingoism, that finds its roots in fake forwards and WhatsApp universities, from under their feet. After all, asking questions is neither impolite nor unsanskaari, is it?
The views expressed are the author’s own.