Inequality reloaded

Smoking is injurious to health. There is no room for much debate about this fact. However, in the name of discouraging smoking, mocking gender inequality is injurious to society at large, writes Maureen Nawer


Boishommo cover

What is wrong is wrong irrespective of gender and same thing goes with what is right. Sexism, stereotyping and discrimination are not what we welcome in this 21st Century. But to my utmost dismay, a short film named বৈষম্য (inequality) was released on the YouTube channel of Hurricane Productions about a week ago that literally mocks gender inequality and promotes cyber bullying.

The director of this video tries to say that men and women are not equal. He uses examples like men can walk topless in a public place whereas a woman cannot. There are reserved seats in public buses for women, but there’s none for men. In fact, men are expected to leave their seat for women if the reserved ones are filled up. We follow the moral ‘ladies first,’ but there is nothing such as ‘men first’. And hence, to his logic, it is okay for men to smoke in public, but not women. After the woman refuses to listen to him, he records the woman smoking, releases the video on Facebook asking everyone to record every woman smoking publicly and sharing it publicly, wherever they find. Sarcastically mentioning it as what they actually want.

Now let’s discuss what the general public has to say about this. The place from where you think you would receive some support puts you down as well. I have seen people in my own friend-list sharing this video with love reaction and captions like, ‘Perfect’, ‘Educative’. I have seen comments labeling the girls who smoke as sluts and even whores. You see, the fault is not entirely of the creator of this video, but ours as well. Society at large, more specifically, what we have seen in this video is a depiction of the discomfort or rather anger on women when they cross middle class patriarchal norms.

However, there are also women who found it absolutely unacceptable and protested against such preaching of cyber bullying of women who smoke. They have collectively brought the matter to the attention of cyber crime investigation centre. It is heartening that to our surprise, authorities acted quickly and compelled the content makers to take the video off Facebook, even ensured that the makers issue a public apology via Facebook Live. The prompt action from authorities is significant as it sends a message to the young content makers that they have to act ethically and responsibly. Still, much remain to be done.

The video had more than three lakhs views in matters of few days. There are people supporting this cause in the name of religion. I found comments that say that this is an Islamic nation and woman smoking in public is unacceptable. A few of the YouTube content creators too had spoken against the video in social media. Let me quote a comment from a girl, ‘Yeah I do understand your point regarding that video, it was literally a rubbish video but the way you are talking seems like you are a feminist. In this modern world these so called feminists are trying to act like smartass and to get those sluts/bitches attention you made this video which is another trash conveying message which will motivate girls to smoke more in public. These sluts need to be taught a lesson.’ This sort of patriarchal equation is quite pervasive. Woman who is out in the dark is a slut. Woman who wears unconventional clothing is a slut. Woman who raises her voice to protest harassment is also at times labeled as slut in the streets of Dhaka. And, these sluts need to be shamed and taught a lesson as prescribed by the above facebook commentator. What the viral video had in fact unveiled is the patriarchal intolerance of the urban middle class that they tried to justify using flawed religious argument or unfounded Bengali cultural reasoning.

The video is primarily aimed at mocking gender inequality. The title itself speaks to that. The story is written with two false assumptions: firstly, there is an assumption in our Bengali cultural tradition women don’t smoke. In the restricted imagination of young urban middle class boy, who is the main protagonist of the video, the history and reality of working class women smoking patar biri or akiz biri in the outskirts of Dhaka or rural Bangladesh is unimaginable.  Let alone indigenous Bangladeshi women’s smoking habits and practices! Secondly, the story assumes that gender roles are historically unchanging, any deviation from the ‘stereotypical role’ of women is damaging to the social environment. Hence, we see the protagonist repeatedly saying smoke at home implicitly saying do not disturb the social norm. That is precisely why I think, this particular you video is politically significant because it exposes the patriarchal intolerance of young urban middleclass, it unveils the actual mindset of the majority of cool dude young men. And, much needs to be done to change their mind. Instead of advocating against gender inequality, they are tragically and pathetically reinforcing unequal gender roles.

Smoking is injurious to health, full stop. There is no room for much debate about this fact. However, in the name of discouraging smoking, mocking gender inequality is injurious to society at large.


Maureen N. is a non-smoker feminist.

Mocking gender inequality unacceptable

Recently, a youtube video titled, ‘বৈষম্য (Inequality)’ is released with the intention to socially decide what women should do or not do. The content of the video is gender insensitive and promotes voyeurism in an obscenely gendered way. New Age Youth spoke with young lawyer, filmmaker, online activist and anthropologist about their thoughts on such disturbing trend and the way to tackle such a problem.


‘Girls are not giving into the barriers anymore’

New Age Youth asked filmmaker, blogger and anthropologist Nasrin Siraj to comment on two interesting moments from the video; firstly, the video suggest that women’s smoking in public contradicts with our tradition. Do you agree? Secondly, the video also exposes the patriarchal intolerance of urban socialites. Would you like to comment on the display of urban patriarchy captured here?

Nasrin Siraj

Nasrin Siraj: The main problem about the short film lay in the contradictory nature of our society and culture. It is taken for granted in the video that women are inferior to men, men have the right to publicly smoke; anything otherwise is not socially accepted.

What I thought of the short film is that it has exposed the war over the control of public space between men and women. It is repetitively stated in the film that it is alright if women to smoke in private, but not in public space. This mindset is persisting in our society for a long time in the form of fundamentalism. A condition is applied on women that even if they go out they will have to cover themselves in Islamic way so as not to expose them in a sexual way, they have to be asexual in their attire, if they don’t do that, they will be slut-shamed. Even if women go out to earn that should be to help the husband, patriarchy has set boundaries like these for women.

The fact that girls are smoking in public, the fact that they are going out more, the presence of women in public place is very vibrant now. It has created an anxiety among men and it hurt their ego which resulted in contents like this.

Patriarchy is under a threat and women have been breaking the boundaries, I would say working women are way stronger than we are and they have been travelling at midnights alone for their work, girls are not giving into the barriers anymore.


‘Such moral decline in the youth is disturbing’

As a social researcher and someone deeply involved in different facebook campaigns, what do you think should be done to combat such negative campaigns asked New Age Youth to Maha Mirza.

Maha Mirza

Maha Mirza: If we talk about combating, there are several ways. First, is the legal way; which is easier as it is legally wrong, as they promoted cybercrime which falls under a legal framework.

One thing that personally disturbed me is its huge viewership and likes on YouTube and Facebook. It is for one to make a misogynistic video if they wish to, but the support it gets from ordinary people is the main concern here. The way the video represented women and the way audience commented targeting women who smoke, can be directly labeled as a hate crime, I would say — when a particular section of the society is targeted and systematically addressed with abusive and exploitive language and also when such behavior is promoted, it is a hate crime. A support coming from the youth of Bangladeshi society is extremely worrying and it indicates that something has seriously gone wrong somewhere. It is important to identify why we are growing such tendencies, which is more difficult but also is of more importance. It is easier to take legal steps, but that can only stop it for a time being.

Even if they apologise for creating such content, but the way they riled people, a rather big amount of them to shares the same mentality, to conduct such abusive behaviour, is a huge concern. How is it that such a large number of people in the support of such irrational, illogical and abusive content? We have to identify that.

We need the government to systematically include gender issues in the schooling system.

The cultural movements that were required to lessen discrimination and misogynistic approach against women did not take place. It is high time that we initiated such cultural movements and it is the responsibility of the activists and concerned citizens. There is a vacuum in cultural movements in our country, the circle of genuine activists is gradually declining and youth participation has decreased. We do not see the spirit of the anti-establishment and anti-power movements like that of the 70s’, if boys and girls could work together for such causes, they would learn to be more accepting of the other genders and get rid of harmful perspectives.

To combat such moral decline in the youth is not impossible but it is a lengthy process indeed.


‘Youtubers lack understanding of politics and culture’

As an online activist and a filmmaker you have used youtube to release your films, how do you see the rise of content-makers and youtubers who occasionally produce ‘content’ that carries the risk of reinforcing existing social bias and inequalities, asked New Age Youth to filmmaker and online activist Abdullah Mahfuz Ove

Abdullah Mahfuj Ove

Abdullah Mahfuz Ove: In the last few years Bangladesh has seen an emergence of YouTubers. Yet, the philosophic and political understanding that is needed in content creators is outright absent here. This has resulted into the production of short films such as this one attempting to mock gender inequality. They do not understand, mocking gender inequality is unacceptable. The producers are clearly devoid of the realisation that such contents have been inspiring various discrimination and disorder.

The horrifying fact about these content makers is that most of them are young, but what are we receiving from them? Their thought process and philosophy got stuck in the word ‘viral’. Their only goal is to make their videos viral through any means. A good majority of youtube viewer are constantly consuming these venomous visuals. It’s there in YouTube videos. There is no scope to put this aside.

How is all this happening? Who are making these contents? The real picture is not that hard to find with a little effort. I think if a content creator lacks the knowledge of politics and culture, they will of course spread the wrong message and walk the wrong path. Exactly that is what is happening now!

And yet, YouTube could have been turned into a significant alternate medium. Young producers could use this open platform to save themselves from syndicated marketing. They could have presented YouTube as an important medium to showcase their thoughts and works. But it didn’t happen. Instead, they made it rather difficult for the people who are fighting to create an alternate medium for their films.


‘Law has failed to create safe online environment’

In a time, when government and members of political party in power are filing cases left and right under the ICT act to suppress dissent, New Age Youth asked barrister Jyotirmoy Barua, do you think the ICT act has legal provision to combat such forms of ideologically motivated social media campaigns against women’s freedom of choice?


Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua: The plain answer to the question would be ‘no’ — there is no such provision in the existing ICT Act to tackle ideologically motivated social media campaign or spreading of gender biased hatred. The law after its enactment in 2006 had gone through several amendments targeting to repress dissent. The draconian section 57 of the Act played a vicious role since April, 2013. There had been cases for hacking websites or making threat to others, but no case under Section 57 since 2013. However, the Section includes seven unspecific ingredients with lose ends to allow the authority to victimise anyone. The need for creating safer online environment should have the main goal of the law, but we have seen that it had been enacted in a way to just repress dissent. There had been random sexual harassment against women and children online. In the name of religion, people had been preaching hatred for long with no action to prevent them. There are incidents where a good number of people have received death threats online with no visible action against the wrong doers by the law enforcing agencies.

It is a fundamental right of the people to express their opinion in whatever way they wish to. Internet is just a different medium for people to express their opinion. The punishment under Section 57 of the ICT Act is so harsh and unreasonable that it successfully imposed a self-censorship upon the internet uses in respect of expressing their opinion. It is also frustrating that there is no provision in the law to tackle actual criminal offences which defeats the main purpose of modern tool like internet. It is a bit tricky to differentiate what of freedom of expression and what expression constitutes criminal offence. One might argue that allowing someone to express opinion means we have to allow him to spread hatred causing grave effect and creating insecurity for a class or group of people. The content in the video published on youtube is definitely a targeted criminal offence not opinion. There must be new provisions in the ICT law to tackle this type of offences.



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