Feminist campaigners and activists have raised the question of the possible conflicts between the "I don't forward violence" action and the push to map gender-based violence. Does it contradict each other? How can we report on violence without spreading it, and forcing victims to relive their experience?
A valid question. And a tough one.
The short answer is we can't. Worse, by showing the sheer extent of gender-based violence worldwide, both its volume and its ferocity, we run the risk of "normalizing" this behaviour. This is something we absolutely do not want.
But the long answer is that there are many ways to bear witness. As Take Back the Tech! coordinator, Jac Sm Kee puts it:
"Looking is a political act. The act of looking, seeing, changes what is being seen. When you see something, you are witnessing an act. It becomes embedded in you as part of history in both a personal, social and political sense.
Personal -- because it can change how you understand the world, and in turn, your opinions, behaviour, attitudes and values. You have become connected to the act you witnessed and it has become part of who you are.
Social -- because each individual is an integral node in society, and each change at the personal level will ripple into the society that s/he is part of, and affect the value and norms that that society holds regarding that incident.
Political -- because if enough nodes stand up for a shared value, this can
change how we respond to the situation."
Like the proverbial electron, the mere act of witnessing something changes it. So the important question isn't whether we look at violence, but how we look at it: in what context, through what lens and what is the politics that we bring into the act of witnessing?
As raised by Jac:
"Are we witnessing in a way that understands the complex power relations between the person looking and the person being looked at? Is our gaze an interrogative one, that is asking hard questions about why we are *able* to see this act, and how does this change social relations and power? Do we see because we are motivated by a desire for change and what is this change we are thinking of? This is the feminist question."
Whether we choose to look or not, violence against women exists -- and persists.
I think it all boils down to intent. Are we reporting, sharing and witnessing this violence for the spectacle of it, or because we are motivated to put it to an end? Are we coming from a perspective of indifference or engagement?
Where abusers see only spectacle, we see a call to action. As Jac puts it:
"We are calling on people to intervene, take action, and change the situation. We want to:
a) Harness the power of technology to end violence against women, because they have access to technology and that is power;
b) Put technology and the power of technology into the hands of women, into the hands of survivors, and as such, the ability to control what is being seen about them;
c) Speak out and take a stand against discriminatory and sexist values and norms that allow violence
against women to take place, and demand change and accountability;
d) Transform the gendered communication culture that we are part of and choose to reinforce or disrupt everyday through our communications practices.
So it's a feminist way of knowing, of representing, of bearing witness."
One cannot help but be moved by reading some of the reports. And it's important to remember that by choosing to share their experience, these women are taking back some small measure of power. These aren't just stories about violence; they are stories about survival and fighting back.
And that makes all the difference.
Thanks to Jac Sm Kee and Take Back the Tech! campaigners for a great conversation around this tough question.