What they wear, what they say and how they look – when women choose to join the growing creator economy online, they open themselves up to greater scrutiny. It is part of the ballgame, but facing online abuse, gender bias and violence can play havoc with their mental health. According to the UN Women’s Gender Snapshot 2022 report, a study of 51 countries revealed 38 per cent of women had personally experienced online violence. At the outset, the digital world may seem like a level playing field for people across genders. But is it DigitALL? For International Women’s Day 2023, the United Nations is celebrating the theme ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’.
The theme draws attention to the need to bridge the digital gender gap by educating women about and giving them more access to the potential of technology. This will lead to better social and economic outcomes for women. It also aims to protect them against online gender-based violence such as cyberbullying, which can play havoc with women’s mental health. Over the years, India’s creator economy has expanded, spurred by the lockdown phases of Covid-19. For Women’s Day, HealthShots reached out to 8 female content creators who are riding the high tide, and discussed gender bias and violence in the digital universe, as well as the need for stricter systems and laws to protect them.
As a lawyer, being a content creator is completely different from a traditional legal job. But I love the flexibility, creativity and opportunities it provides. It has provided me with some amazing opportunities that I would never have had as a traditional lawyer.
I don’t think I’ve personally faced or seen gender bias when it comes to growth in the digital world. I feel women are quite welcomed mostly because there are so many women consumers of social media. But when it comes to comments, yes, I feel women bear the brunt of it. Anything and everything we say can be used to sl*tshame us.
Being a lawyer, a lot of people think twice before harassing me. But yes I’ve had a few occasions of people stalking me or passing lewd comments. I mostly ignore them and on one occasion I have even filed a cyber crime complaint against one.
More awareness is needed for people to understand that it is abuse, even if it is online. Just because it is anonymous doesn’t mean it is not abuse. There needs to be more awareness amongst women to be able to take action, and file a police complaint, and better implementation of the laws is needed in recent times. Proper quick action should be taken by the cyber crime police to actually make a difference and provide a deterrent for people committing these crimes.
Gender bias is a reality in the digital world, despite the fact that it is often considered a level playing field. The digital world can offer opportunities for more equal participation. It is important for companies and individuals to recognize these issues and work towards creating a more inclusive and equitable digital environment for all. For example, in the case of harassment and online abuse, women are more likely to face it than men including threats, stalking and doxing. This can create a hostile environment online and discourage women from participating in digital spaces.
I have faced cyberstalking where one person use to reuse all my videos and would blackmail me that I’ll suffer. In a true sense, women are more likely than men to experience cyberstalking. The major concern I feel is online harassment and abuse. So, educating women about the potential risks and threats associated with online activities and raising awareness about online safety measures, is important.
Social media platforms should also have policies and procedures in place, as well as give clear guidelines on acceptable behaviour and consequences for violating those guidelines. Women should also be cautious about sharing personal information online, such as their home address, phone number, or other sensitive details. Lastly, women should report any incidents of online harassment, cyberstalking, or other forms of abuse to the relevant authorities or platforms. They should also block any abusers and avoid engaging with them.
Gender bias exists in the digital world a hundred percent. It is because the same people who are there offline are the same people who are now online too. All of a sudden their personality won’t change online. Mindsets will take time to change. It will happen slowly and steadily, and it needs to happen.
I have faced online harassment many times. There are a few cases that have gone really far, where people give death threats. It used to bother me a lot back in the days when I had started making content. Later on, I realised this is a part and parcel of this profession because there will always be someone who will give hate and troll me. My mantra is not to focus on the hate comments because why worry about a few hundred trollers and haters when you have millions of people who give me love at the same time!
Women content creators are being taken more seriously today than before and I am very thankful that times are changing. Since the beginning of my content creation journey, I have been very vocal about empowering and inspiring women, and somewhere we all contribute our part of making the digital space more healthy and gender-balanced! The more women come online, the better it will be – the more female perspectives are going to be spoken about and discussed! This will spread more awareness and people will become more conscious of the fact that you can’t just say whatever you want online! This will help prevent harassment and bullying a lot more. Stricter cyber laws for women’s safety online need to be implemented.
Also read: Toxic shaming: Influencer Devina Kaur shares tips for dealing with trolls
There’s a lot that needs to be done for a safer, more inclusive digital world. For starters, the world is very judgmental towards women. Women creators face a lot of hatred, especially from the male audience. Most comments are on their appearance. This sort of toxic superiority complex that many men have, is quite problematic. I don’t know how this can be fixed since it’s a larger societal problem. But addressing this will make the digital world more inclusive.
I’ve had trolls who call me fat, who don’t like my dark circles, and who give me random taunts. But because I create content with my husband, a lot of hate gets masked. I think I’ve always given it back to the trolls. There’s no point in letting judgmental people affect your mental health with regard to appearance… I’ve worked very hard to come to a stage where I love my body. It would be shameful to let someone else’s warped opinions pull me down. These days I give it back to them and ask them to stop publicly shitting and making a fool of themselves.
On most days, I wake up feeling very surreal that I get to do something I love. Since I was a child, dancing, and singing were hobbies that got a lot of attention. I was a reader. A pretty boring hobby to present at shows and outings. But now, this habit of reading is what helps us make our videos. I also love it when people come to us and say they’ve followed something we shared. I’ve been using menstrual cups for 3 years and I frequently share my experience. When someone replies saying they changed over and are now using cups full time, that feels like what I say has an actual impact.
I feel there is no gender bias in digital world. In Bollywood, so many female actors have pointed out how they get paid a fraction of what the male actor gets paid even though she gets an equal amount of followers or influence on the table. However, it’s not the same in the content creation industry.
But yes, talking of facing gender-based violence, I have faced it. There are so many men out there who just don’t want women to succeed, so there are men on my YouTube or Instagram who just comment randomly. We eventually have to shut ourselves down so it doesn’t affect us. If we let keeping these things affect us, it will never be better and we won’t be able to actually focus on what matters and what we’re here for.
The digital world needs to be safer for women. It is still so difficult to be out there and wear the outfits we want to wear and express what we feel because there are so many people just commenting and saying things about the way we look or the way we dress. People are getting death threats because of the way they’re carrying themselves… There should be a way where these comments and these people should get blocked on their own!
It is sometimes quite hard for a woman to step out and do the unconventional. As a woman content creator, the biggest challenge that I faced was to convince people that the end product that they see on their screens was not just a video but a combination of hours of research, scripting, shooting, editing and finishing.
As a woman content creator, you get attacked by people around you through comments, opinions, stereotypes, doubts and bias. “What will you do with these likes on your videos”, “How will you balance your family life and work”, “Who will support you”, “How will you travel alone to other cities for work”. Such comments are very common.
To all the women influencers out there, my advice would be to never fall prey to the socially ingrained gender roles and you should stand against all stereotypes and bias. There will be people around you who will try to convince you that your work is insignificant and you should focus on performing the so-called ‘women’s responsibilities’. But you should never let self-doubt creep in.
Honestly, I have received a lot of love and appreciation. A girl called me up and said in a shaky voice, “Akka, my parents want to thank you for helping me land a job because I am the only earning member in the family.” Another girl called me up and said, “Akka, my parents are supporting me in becoming a content creator like you.” If not anything else, I have earned this transition from Diksha to ‘Akka’ in this beautiful journey of content creation. My followers address me as Akka, Didi, Sis, Ma’am and they love me and respect me for the value that I add to their lives.
When women step out into the digital world to deliver value, content and knowledge, they ought to be respected rather than seen as soft targets. There should be more awareness among women regarding privacy and safety features.
Gender bias is not something you could spot so easily in the digital field. But it’s not like it doesn’t happen here. It does! The worst thing I hear sometimes if I get myself anything or go for any trip is that she gets everything from her husband’s money, even though I actually get it for myself. More specifically, these comments are only from men. They would never want to accept that a woman can do that all by herself.
Many men on the Internet think women cannot do it all. They try to shush us off or pull us down with mean comments. But at the same time, women are now breaking barriers and shining in this industry and there are many people who are acknowledging the work and appreciating it and that’s motivating so many young girls out there.
Being a content creator is no easy job, you have to be ready for criticism and hate. And honestly, I feel the digital world cannot be completely safe. As long as someone on the other side with bad intentions has access to the Internet, it’s not going to be completely safe. But, yes my vision is women becoming stronger, standing up and voicing themselves proudly and not being afraid of mere trolls and hate. I feel you receive immense hate from people only when you are reaching somewhere they can never be in life.
I have personally not experienced gender bias in the digital world yet. But I do believe, especially in our society, people do judge women based on their clothes and appearance and hence women face mean comments.
I believe that creating a safe digital world for women to thrive requires concerted efforts from individuals, governments, and private organisations. Education is the key to preventing harassment and abuse online. Everyone should get the best education. Women should be empowered to report harassment and abuse online without fear of retaliation. Also, give proper education to boys so that they know how to respect a woman.
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