Sunday, November 5, 2017

On the “Name and Shame” method of Combating Sexism and Sexual Harassment

                                                            A. Mani
In this article, I will try to provide an assessment of aspects of the “Anonymously Name and Shame” method of combating sexism and sexual harassment. The method has precedents, but has not been as visible as it has been in the recent past in the Indian media (especially in the social media). A few lists are out in the open — two of these are due to Raya Sarkar and one is due to an anonymous unverified person. There have been many discussions of the strategies in the Indian media including the right wing media. At one level, at least one of the lists seems to be influenced by right-wing agenda and the overall credibility of the lists is low. In this article I will focus on strategies, and less on political motivations that have been considered elsewhere.

The patriarchy/discriminatory order structure imposes rigid oppressive roles on women and adversely affects their well-being. It also tries to convert men into sexist zombies, and prevents them from learning anything about humans. A relevant primer on the psychology of sexual harassment is this article. In addition, it should be noted that in the Indian context women (especially religious women) are far less likely to report sexual harassment and misconduct due to societal brain washing.

Name and Shame Dynamics:

The basic strategy of the “Name and Shame” method are as follows:

0. Form a small group of qualified honest feminists (referred to as “list makers” below) for vetting information supplied by sexually harassed women in academia.

1. Collect and Verify data from sexually harassed women in academia

2. Name and shame accused people to the extent possible.

3. Publicize the list.

This process primarily helps:

  1.  The victims to overcome (to an extent) the shaming and brainwashing imposed on them by the patriarchy/discriminatory social structure. For example, one of the messages (read bullshit) that the patriarchy pounds into women is that of purity and chastity
  2.  The victims to escape retaliation and
  3.  Women to be wary of potential predators.

The quality of the resulting list is naturally limited by various factors and the scope of possible vetting processes is limited. Factors that can potentially influence the vetting process include:

  1.  Biases of the list makers,
  2.  Verifiability of the 'Victim's credentials' and 'veridicality of the Victim's Account'. Apparently, Raya Sarkar does not have anything in place (including online verification) on the matter.
  3.  History of incidents reported against the perpetrator: It is known that offenders tend to be repeat past offenses,
  4.  Amount of information collected: The form used by Raya Sarkar does not have 'caste' fields in the form. In practice, caste can be used by the harasser to intensify objectification of the victim — the omission does not reflect in favor of the list maker.
  5.  Proactive verification of accounts.

All Hindutva apologists and other religious extremists are potential sexual harassers and misogynists capable of inappropriate sexual conduct by way of their beliefs — should not some questions on the information aggregation form used by Raya Sarkar bear upon this class?


Well known stuff:

Some other 'lists' that have been used to combat sexual harassment, microaggressions, stalking and sexual misconduct include:
  1.  Callisto-Campus: The reports on people and incidents collected is not publicized at all, but victims have the option of initiating action through the people managing the portal.
  2.  Microaggressions Aggregator : The people managing the list focus on microaggressions only and avoid naming apparently.

At the end of the day, guerilla lists created by the method are likely to include:

  1.  Names of serial offenders,
  2.  Names of offenders whose victims are no longer under their sphere of influence and
  3.  Names of innocents planted by their opponents/detractors.

Personal Experiences:

I have experienced plenty of discrimination, misogyny and some sexual harassment. Covert discrimination is very hard to combat because perpetrators can easily hide behind vagueness at multiple levels. I believe in free software philosophy and am part of the movement. So at times, I fight my battles openly — open security models are better and it is always a good idea to teach basics of feminism. Not every battle can be fought that way and I may find mature lists of some use. The dynamics of the lists mentioned in this article are also of interest to me from a formal perspective — how does one define ideas of such strategies being successful?

I do interact with plenty of people in academia, in the free software ecosystem and activist spaces. Yes, men in Indian academia are also often conservative, misogynist and may be sexual harassers. These people have dialethical views on these matters. A name and shame strategy cannot solve much.



Problems with 'due process' (as per Visakha guidelines) in India at the implementation level are well-known and have been worked upon to different extents by GSCASH committees. Most of the problems are due to the lack of enough eyes on such committees and limitations imposed on their power. Mature name and shame strategies with enough safeguards can complement them because the patriarchy does not try to think.



[1] Example Reactions on Guerilla Lists: Tag: Name and Shame

[2]  Reactions

[3] Sexual Harassment:  Basics

[4] Callisto-Campus: Link

[5] Microaggression Aggregator:  Link

[6]. JNU GSCASH Archives: Archives