Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Let me try again ...


Caution: this is about the same editorial in Mint that I ranted about in the previous post. You have been warned.

There were some things in that editorial -- its faux-sympathy for women's issues, its dismissive, mocking tone at the end, and other things (see below) -- which made me sense an anti-women bias in it. Here's my attempt to explain what those things are.

* * *

First, here's Mint's "critique" of the Pink Chaddi campaign:

1. The pink-bloomer war against the moral police managed a victory of sorts, but failed to raise the issue that gender injustice in India goes beyond pub-going and Valentine’s Day. [This is followed by several paragraphs with statistics about women's status in Indian society, without referring once to the Pink Chaddi campaign].

2. [The atrocious last paragraph which doesn't deserve to be elevated to the status of a "critique"; it betrays a certain callous attitude towards crimes against women.]

3. [At the end of the article, the editorial poses this question, and seeks readers' response] Did the women-in-pubs controversy grab headlines at the cost of more pressing gender issues?

Well, here's my case -- or, six different versions of my case:

  1. The business case: By any yardstick, getting 50,000+ people to support a movement in less than 10 days is an amazing feat. That the Pink Chaddi campaign used its ideas, people, technology and resources so well to beat back -- using chaddis as their non-violent weapon -- a bunch of violent street thugs is a huge achievement. A clear victory for peaceful protest. For innovative thinking. For the mobilizing ability of those who put this campaign together. For women. And also for men who are not Muthalik, SRS goons or their supporters.

    Mint cannot even bring itself to recognize this achievement. It calls it, grudgingly, "a victory of sorts." Why?

  2. The business newspaper case: Business newspapers thrive on dissecting a success story, extracting the key takeaways (lessons in management!), and peddling them to unsuspecting management types readers.

    Mint, on the other hand, does something strange with the success of the Pink Chaddi campaign: it frames it as a failure! This alleged failure is interesting: it's not a failure to achieve the stated goals, but a failure to do other things -- specifically, a failure "to raise the issue that gender injustice in India goes beyond pub-going and Valentine’s Day." It doesn't matter to Mint that this was a 10-day old campaign aimed at solving a short term problem.

    Why does Mint, a business newspaper, dive into this success story looking for failure?

  3. The Updike rule case: John Updike's first rule for reviewing a book is this: "Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt." [In the academic world of peer review, this rule is restated as follows: "don't write the paper for the authors."]

    Mint fails the Updike test when it complains that the 10-day long Pink Chaddi campaign failed to raise the centuries-old issue of gender injustice. Why should such a huge burden be placed on a group that's fighting against a gang that threatened women with imminent violence?

    [BTW, this is a critique of the internal logic of the Mint editorial. In other words, its conclusion is invalid even if its premise is valid. But I don't think the premise -- that the Pink Chaddi campaign and the issues of gender justice are two separate things -- is valid. See below.]

  4. The freedom case: The Pink Chaddi movement is about women's freedom to pursue their interests and hobbies -- including pub-going.

    Mint misrepresents the campaign by painting it as exclusively about pub-going; in fact, Mint accuses the campaign of not going "beyond pub-going and Valentine’s Day."

    Why?

  5. The management case: It doesn't take much to see the relationship between achieving gender justice and the Pink Chaddi campaign. If the former is the mission, the latter is a tactic.

    Mint talks about them as if they are distinct; it asks its readers, "Did the women-in-pubs controversy grab headlines at the cost of more pressing gender issues?"

    Why does Mint try to create the impression ("at the cost of" is the key phrase here) that the two things are mutually exclusive?

    [Consider the Tylenol recall. When the executives took various actions to deal with the crisis, would a Mint editorial scream at them? "But all your efforts are taking the attention away from the company's long-term mission!"].

  6. The jumping-to-conclusion case: Many women who enthusiastically supported this campaign have been long time activists fighting for gender justice -- some of them blog here. They are in this for the long haul; and they can be expected to use the success of the Pink Chaddi campaign for mobilizing new supporters for their cause.

    Mint insinuates that the women's groups will declare victory and go home -- or, rather, go back to the pub and get drunk, because it thinks that this campaign is just about pub-going.

    Why does Mint try so hard to portray the campaign as a frivolous effort by non-serious people whose sole interest is in getting drunk in pubs?

* * *

I have to wonder how much of what Mint has written is because the Pink Chaddi campaign was conceived, designed, implemented and marketed by women.

Just consider the novelty of it all, the savvy use of social networks, and the very viral marketing. Throw in the right kind of mid-course corrections -- for example, the campaign changed the blog's header image because its organizer had "no interest in annoying people or upsetting people's religious beliefs." These are all examples of great organization and management.

But the Mint editorialists are grudging in their praise -- "a victory of sorts". Worse, they locate the source of the campaign's successful "spill into the real world" elsewhere -- "the speed of the internet" -- rather than in the tech-savviness and organizational abilities of the campaign's leaders.

Instead, the Mint folks are overly keen to frame the campaigners as one-shot wonders and frivolous pub-goers. They are unwilling to wait to see how the movement proceeded after the Valentine's Day, because they seem to have concluded that the campaigners are a bunch of non-serious hobbyists who don't care about the 'serious' issues of gender equity, and that their only interest is in pub-going! They place the short-term, highly focused campaign within a frame of failure using the "failure to work towards gender justice" trope. [And don't even get me started on that last paragraph ...].

* * *

Does the editorial, then, represent?

A one-off mis-speak at Mint?

Anti-women bias at the business broadsheet?

Misogyny at Mint?

24 Comments:

  1. Anonymous said...

    I was going to comment, but then got this as my verification word, sounds quite appropriate! :)

    ballism

  2. Vikas Gupta said...

    HT, TOI and sister cousins need reform more than any other media group on this planet!

    P.S.: BTW did your following decrease?! Check out this: http://shilpaprabhu.blogspot.com/2009/02/update-blogger-followers-disappearance.html

    Also this: http://lifeofanindianhomemaker.blogspot.com/2009/02/i-did-not-stop-following.html

    ..to note the hullabaloo on this error.

  3. Neil said...

    well, i don't see any issues with the mint article. and fyi - the muthalik group is not a "Hindutva" group(at least they don't call themselves so; and if somebody wants to impose this terminology, it's ignorance at it's worst) - not a sangh parivaar group and certainly doesn't belong to BJP.

    I really don't understand what the PC campaigners were doing when freedom of men and women was brutally butchered in numerous more serious and damning instances. Will they send chaddis to the mullahs who issued fatwa on Rushdie or those who hounded Taslima Nasreen out of our "secular" country! or why no internet campaigns were carried out against the people who recently did this in Kolkata. Or is it that these PC wallas have selective blindness? Do u have any answers?

  4. karatalaamalaka said...

    Another instance of Indian media's hypocritical self-righteousness. Elsewhere, Sagarika Ghose (http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/sagarikaghose/223/53147/panties-and-perverts.html) has written an article which has a curious Maughamesque titled "Panties and Perverts". Really! Why doesn't anyone look at it as trivializing Sri Rama Sene's activities? Sigh. If you have read Freakonomics, I'd like to point to a story in the book- About how the final nail in Ku Klux Klan's coffin was a radio show featuring Superman vs. a comical KKK. The point is that such trivialization is like a slap in the face of bigots. Sri Rama Sene and their ilk are the kind of people whose egos crave that people take them seriously. Well, the point of this comment being - the media is wrong in criticizing the Pink Chaddi campaign as being mischief mongering, elite kids. Sometimes that kind of frivolity is just what is needed.

    I know it is unethical, but I will shamelessly peddle my thoughts about Sagarika Ghose's criticism:

    http://karatalaamalaka.wordpress.com/2009/02/16/moral-police-math/

  5. Anonymous said...

    Lots of hot air.

    What did the campaign achieve?

  6. Anindita said...

    Thank you for the thoughtful post. Liked your Updike rule.

    And yes, considering the fact that HT also published a similar hot-airy piece by Ghose, it does make one wonder about the group's editorial policies. You know, some of us had framed a response to Ghose's piece and sent it to Sanjoy Narayan and Indrajit Hajra. No acknowledgment! Very strange and disappointing.

    I'm so amused by these people shouting about 'there are greater causes' -- they're usually the ones who don't do anything for any causes, greater or otherwise. Now, I'll stop hogging comment space. :)

  7. Vikas Gupta said...

    "WE NEVER SUCCEED AT ANYTHING UNLESS WE HAVE FUN DOING IT."

    "THE BEST WAY TO BRING DOWN A DESPOT IS TO MAKE FUN OF HIM!"

    All those criticizing Pink Chaddi campaign are barking up the wrong tree.
    It was lot more than hot air! Among other things, It had a great symbolic value and it stirred collective conscience of Indians.

    Muthalik and Co. began distributing Sarees instead of physically harming them (a la Pub) and there were media reports too that they decided to withdraw their proposed agitation fearing reprisal! That is a great achievement.

    It was a social movement in its own right and it was so quick; it deserves to be researched by social scientists!

    People who comment anonymously know it more than anyone else! ;)

    AS FOR HT, it is arguable the most unethical newspaper today. To give just one example, it did not publish the results of I LOVE DELHI competition organised in Jan 2007 (and all award moneys from 40 k to 1 Lac Rupees remained with it!). Even the website of I Love Delhi is still on! So shameless these guys. HT (and Vir Sanghvi) never replied to my emails; and I regret not finding time then to petition the Press Council of India.:( The I Love Delhi poem is still on my blog.

    HT is also firing employees indiscriminately (even physically driving them out; an MP raised this issue recently)!

  8. Anonymous said...

    There is this organisation called Goonj, they make low-cost sanitary pads for rural women. See more about them here:

    http://www.goodnewsindia.com/index.php/Magazine/story/goonj/

    If the 35,000 people who joined the Facebook group had each sent their 15 rupees postal fare and the cost of the chaddi to Goonj, that would've done a lot more for the dignity of Indian women than what was achieved by the campaign.

    There are real actions that make a difference, and actions that create a lot of noise. If you cannot distinguish between the two, you cannot think beyond media hype.

  9. Vikas Gupta said...

    @Anonymous's Goonj idea,

    Why just that?! If people permanently quit tea, coffee, soft drinks and cigarette like me, the world will save billions of Rupees that we could use for poverty removal.

    If Americans stop spending on Cosmetics or Pet food and divert those billions of dollars to noble causes, it would easily eliminate the poverty of Africa in a few years!

    If fundamentalist organisations from RSS to Muthalik's do not hold the state to ransom, it would save us millions of rupees that is spent on riot prevention and law and order maintenance (and which we could use for Goonj)!

    And there can be endless logic of this kind.

    You have noble intentions anonymous but they are not applicable here! You do not measure things like this!

    Your intentions may be pious but the logic does not hold water.

  10. Anonymous said...

    >Your intentions may be pious but the logic does not hold water.

    Sure does. The argument is:

    Action A is better than Action B,
    because it benefits more women in real terms, at the same cost.

    Your response is:

    There are lots of other possible actions like A. So B is good, or better than A.

    What you need to show is:

    B is better than A, in terms of real effects

    Go learn some critical thinking.

    For the record, I consider Facebook a sophisticated version of the famous Pet Rock. The only difference is that people in Facebook are hugging/playing with their profiles and friend lists, instead of colored rocks. Incidentally, the Pet Rock people made money, Facebook is still drooling.

    My response to Facebook activism, or reports of such, is to smile/frown, and move on. The world doesn't change by people clicking on profiles, or by idiots mailing chaddis and sarees to each other and making lots of noise about it. Change needs focus, and work in the real world.

  11. Abi said...

    Anon: Please tell me, how would a contribution to Goonj have helped in making belligerent people like Muthalik stop executing his threats of violent action against women on the Valentine's Day?

    If you thought this campaign was "just" Facebook activism, just ask sk Muthalik, who had to find ways distributing Chaddis -- not virtual ones, but real Chaddis. It is this 'spill into the real world' that made media (everywhere) take notice of this phenomenon.

  12. Vikas Gupta said...

    @ Anon's replies

    You are splitting hairs! I was suggesting 'common sense' but you are dragging me into "critical thinking". I will conclude that "common sense is not so common" while you are free to doubt my intelligence (and it will be no skin off my nose).

    Cost-benefit analysis, "real benefits" and whatnot will deprive human endeavours of a lot of humanity (if not all the humanity). It is not Mathematics or business or Natural Sciences which are amenable to such measurements.

    There was a newspaper report yesterday that Muthalik is planning to file a libel suit against the Pink Chaddi organizers! :) I think this is probably the first time these goons have been taught some lesson. Only recently something so shocking happened to some women in Bangalore; it has also stirred people in action and Shobha De has even suggested forming a Sita Sena (though the more apt name is Durga Sena)!


    As for your Pet Rock and Facebook analogy, I think you should post your two cents in any of those 'I love Facebook' groups. I am sure they will be very happy to debate with you on this and enhance your understanding, contradict it or give you mouth-breaking replies. I regret my inability to do that thanks to lack of time but you would appreciate my giving you leads. Even Google was an underdog once upon a time! Above all, Zukerberg's primary/overwhelming motive was not money (though he has in his mind of course and why not)! <b>Remember the Updike rule above: !don't write the paper for the authors'!</b>

    Your response ("smile/frown/move on") will sooner or later will make you the odd (wo)man out (or may be not; the world is full of people who find reasons to belittle/mock causes!). Many great endeavours that led to change in this world began as a small point/dot and sooner or later the whole geometry was weaved round it! Burn the bra movement, Gandhi's resistance to apartheid (train SA), Ambedkar burning the Manusmriti will all appear 'hot air'/'idiocy' to you but history testifies otherwise anon! :)

    George Bernand Shaw said, "when a thing is funny, search it carefully for a hidden truth!" Lend an ear to him and you may find reasons not to smile/frown and move on. Also anon, 'a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow!'

    "Kites rise against the wind and not with it'! So all opposition to Pink Chaddi will actually enhance the debate. I am glad you are not one of those 'hit-and-run' anons! Among other things, you let out incongrous smiles/frowns! Not everyone is endowed is good sense of humour anon! ;)

  13. Vikas Gupta said...

    err... Typo in last line: "is good sense of humour" is 'with good sense of humour!' :)

  14. Arvind said...

    Why is it difficult for so many to comprehend that the PC campaign is basically about freedom of women to go out in public without becoming victims of violent goons?

    I can't understand all those like Neil and one of the anonymous commenters who think the focus should have been on loftier causes!

    Tomorrow, if I protest against someone stealing my money, I am sure Neil and anon would ask me to stop protesting such trivial things and instead concentrate on the bigger issues like murder and poverty.

    @anon :
    Applying your own argument :
    >>Action A is better than Action B,
    because it benefits more women in real terms, at the same cost.

    How about calling A the Pink Chaddi campaign and B, your hot headed irrational and pointless criticism of it?

    Which do you think benefits more women?

    @Abi,
    I don't quite agree with
    >>Why does Mint, a business newspaper, dive into this success story looking for failure?

    Why should they be praising this campaign simply because business newspapers usually do that? This should be called a success simply because it qualifies as one!

  15. Anonymous said...

    >how would a contribution to Goonj have helped in making belligerent people like Muthalik stop executing his threats of violent action against women on the Valentine's Day?

    It doesn't. There are other mechanisms in place for it, like the police, and just plain goondaism from the alcohol lobby. When I think of women's rights and dignity, the right to drink is low down in my priority list (especially given the higher chance of addiction, and the causal link to cancer). So is celebrating Valentine's Day. There is something called opportunity cost.

    The chaddi campaign is the equivalent of Mumbai journalists crying foul because terrorists attacked their watering holes. They don't care about terrorists bombing suburban trains. Muthalik is a big deal because if his campaign gets traction, Nisha whoever and her facebook cronies could be among the people getting beat up. They don't care two hoots about women and their rights outside that circle.

    I don't believe that the chaddi campaign has achieved anything beyond driving people like Muthalik underground. The next time there is an attack, you won't know who did it, and there won't be an address to sent chaddis to. That is actually a more dangerous development than Muthalik.

    Vikas, sorry, I don't have much to say to your soaring optimism about the power of the Internet to change the world. BTW, Facebook is no Google, Yahoo or Geocities would be more like it.

  16. Anonymous said...

    >the PC campaign is basically about freedom of women to go out in public without becoming victims of violent goons

    Yeah, and now women everywhere can go out without fear.

    Sorry, you guys obviously think the PC campaign is the Indian equivalent of burn the bra or something, and has transformed women's rights in India. I think it was a nice distraction worth a smile, like a lot of Internet campaigns (with or without real world extensions). It would be great if it becomes something beyond the distraction, but I will celebrate it when it achieves that status.

    I have already spent more than the smile time I have for such distractions. Nice talking to you!

  17. Abi said...

    Anon: Don't side-step the main issue here: A bunch of goons attacked some women violently, and threatened to do so again.

    So, tell me: Why would you want to assign a lower priority to this protest against this violence (and the threat of further violence)?

  18. Vikas Gupta said...

    @the debate,

    In a lighter vein (no offence meant), Rome is burning while Nero (anon) is playing the fiddle!

  19. Anonymous said...

    >Why would you want to assign a lower priority to this protest against this violence

    Because such violence happens everyday in all parts of India, and the only reason for this protest is because the "right" people got targeted, and those "right" people have always been low in my priority list. Plus, the protest has achieved nothing in terms of this broader violence. It is, as I said, an interesting distraction. Goonj isn't.

    Now, if the Chaddi folks are really serious, they can do something about the broader violence -- they have the people, they have the resources, the momentum, the publicity. If they use all these, and grow beyond sending chaddis, they will move up my priority list.

  20. karatalaamalaka said...

    @Anon: Why are the Pink Chaddi folks obliged to do something about the broader issue? It is like complaining that your doctor is not capable of repairing your car. Pink Chaddi was meant to trivialize Sri Rama Sene, and they did just that. May be in the future they will fight general injustice, may be they won't. But they will be remembered for an effective campaign against Sri Rama Sene. It is pointless to criticize them because, while they at least did *something* about it, the people at Mint, you and I were sitting idle, ignoring all the millions of problems faced by Indian women. If you can criticize the Pink Chaddi campaign for not doing anything about the general problems of Indian women, then I can equally well criticize you for doing nothing about the genocide in Darfur.

  21. Anonymous said...

    I didn't criticize them, I just said they are just an interesting distraction for me. I am more interested in other folks. I didn't say they should not send more chaddis, for instance.

    By your analogy, I am interested in the mechanics, not the doctors, who I find rather boring people. They may be saving lives, but they bore me. What to do?

    And sure, you can criticize me for not solving Darfur. And find me boring as well.

  22. Anonymous said...

    I have answered many questions, so let me ask a couple for a change.

    Why is trivialization being celebrated? In my line of work, trivialization is a sign of laziness, of not standing up to the problem. It never solves anything.

    Give me one instance of trivialization solving a problem. Don't go on about Muthalik, him not having a response to the Chaddi campaign doesn't mean he has given up on slapping women in bars.

    If trivialization is such a potent weapon, why don't we try these:

    --send green chaddis to the LET and ISI to stop terrorism

    --send Star of David chaddis to Netanyahu to stop the occupation of Palestine

    --send big fat chaddis with holes in them to bankers to stop the credit crisis

    -- insert your original suggestion for chaddis here to solve the climate change

    All these folks won't know how to respond to chaddis. Doesn't mean all the issues they create for us will be gone.

    First principle of design: just because a solution is original doesn't mean it will solve the problem.

  23. Anonymous said...

    you seem to be pretty big on original ideas anon. Let us hear one of your ideas to protest against the uncalled for and rather disgusting violence against the women and to combat it in general. You can leave police and other such institutions because they are not working in their present form, as you might very well be knowing.
    -Richa

  24. Anonymous said...

    That the Pink chaddi campaign would initially focus on the pub going crowd is fine with me, after all as a middle class urbanite that is what affects me. Why should I be more concerned about gender inequalities or other such remote concerns. I will work hard and save enough to send my daughter to the best of places. Just because I reside in India why does everything have to be about the poor illiterate people and their fucked up lives ? Shameonyou, shameonyou, shameonyou Mint.