Yeah, as humanity we just hit a new low. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me give you a brief synopsis. A few weeks ago, news hit of an airplane (operated by a company called Transavia) having to divert to Portugal (instead of the Netherlands which was the original destination) to make an emergency landing and having to offload a passenger. This passenger was said to have had an awful body odour (enough to make other passengers sick). Predictably, this immediately made it to the news internationally with everybody speculating that the passenger probably hadn’t cleaned himself or showered in weeks. Ew!
Well, turns out the man (who was a Russian musician) died of organ failure from tissue necrosis yesterday. His disease wasn’t treated properly when he went to the doctors and his condition worsened. So yes, instead of taking a moment to think about why the man was smelling so bad, we all jumped on the “he must have had personal hygiene” bandwagon and judged a man who was literally dying on the inside.
I’m not saying that it was ok for that man to have been on the flight or that his co-passengers did not suffer. What I find abhorrent is that the news about this man spread so quickly because it made for a really interesting headline.
Your reaction might be “Let’s blame the media!”. But actually, let’s not. The media only feeds us those sensationalist ‘thumb stopping’ headline stories because that is what we all seem to have an appetite for these days. No? When was the last time you actually read a piece of news such as an editorial or an analysis, that was not bullet pointed, had no accompanying images or graphs, was longer than 1000 words, in one go?
Irrespective of whether you agree with the studies that human attention spans have reduced than that of a gold fish since the advent of smart phones and social media, the truth of the matter is that most of us (myself included) do not have time for anything more than a like on a post.
Another piece of news that added some more fuel to the fire that is already polarising a nation was that “India was now the world’s most dangerous country for women”. If the aim was to grab the attention, this headline promptly made a few hundred million people pay attention. The research, conducted by Thomson Reuters Foundation, took the opinion of a few hundred experts and these experts pronounced that India was the most unsafe country in the world for women.
A subject as profound as women’s rights and safety should never be reduced to a screaming headline and yet invariably this is what the Reuters study did. One part of the population vocal on social media in India immediately hailed the news as the confirmation of what they already knew and the other part of the population reduced it to fake news by fake agencies. The truth as always lies somewhere in between.
Is India perfectly safe for women? No
Does an woman in Delhi feel safe to go out by herself on the streets after 8pm? No
Do women commuters in major metropolises feel safe to go in mixed gender carriages without fear of being groped or molested? No
Does the trend of rape and violence against women continue? Yes
Do women carry the majority of the shame and burden of accusations for crimes against women in India ? Yes
Does female infanticide occur? Yes
Are women in India more unsafe than women in failed states or war zones? No
In such a large country like India, there are places where women feel safe to pursue their education and careers without being subject to molestation and abuse from men. There are also places in the country where women are subject to the most unimaginable horrors.
India may not be THE most unsafe place for women, but in a lot of places, it definitely is no country for women.
What I found most appalling was the amount of hate that people on social media directed towards anybody (journalist, writer, feminists, anyone at all) who retweeted or posted their agreement with the study. Surely this kind of hate only went towards confirming the very notion that women were unsafe in the country.
But hatred on social media is nothing new. People find the anonymity of their twitter handles very empowering and find it easy to bully, abuse and harass anyone who does not hold the same opinion they do.
Maybe a month ago, I came across Vogue having posted a photograph of a female model proudly sporting underarm hair on its instagram feed. A few days later H&M posted a photograph of a woman of normal proportions (to be read as not super thin) sporting their swim wear. In both instances, the amount of hate that women poured on themselves was simply astounding. Women declared the former model unclean (so every man on this planet who has underarm hair is unclean?) and the latter woman as having unhealthy dietary habits or obese (so I guess I’m obese then). How have we been brainwashed so much to believe that in our normal states we are dirty and unhealthy?
For three days last week I avoided instagram. I normally open the app after a few hours of work (to take a break) or on my commute. I noticed that the amount of time I was spending on instagram kept creeping up and so I avoided the app entirely (a friend of mine likened this to a modern day Gandhian fast- I find the notion hilarious) for three days. Every time I felt an itch to open instagram I went instead and opened newsletters from other websites and publications that I had subscribed to but never read. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) I found this experience very gratifying. The only thing that I missed from instagram were really the cute cat videos (in proof, here’s the world’s most amazing cat video, please watch with volume up), the bookstagramers (it’s a love hate relationship with me and them, but instagram is not my primary source for book news anyway) and the latest in animal rescue/ vegan news etc., Instagram also consumes an incredible amount of data so restricting usage in a day is probably not a bad thing.
But to cut a long story short, can we all resolve to dig a little bit deeper the next time we are confronted with a sensationalist bit of headline?