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Rihanna, Women Of Opinion, And The Fragile Male Ego

. 5 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
Rihanna, Women Of Opinion, And The Fragile Male Ego

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author.

If someone had told a 15-year-old me that the Indian government would be getting into a tiff with Rihanna – my favourite popstar – on the internet, I’d have manic-laughed my way out of it. I can’t say the same in 2021.

It goes without saying that the farmers protest is one of the biggest events taking place in the country at the moment. Braving the harsh winters, violent police attacks, and other threats perpetrated by the state authorities, farmers from Punjab, UP, Uttarakhand and other regions have been protesting the contentious farm laws since September 2020.

Multiple rounds of talks and zero solutions later, it’s not surprising that the authorities have now resorted to the age-old trick of cutting off internet facilities in the areas of protest. But what shook the internet this week was an international personality recognising this as a problem.

Not just any personality, though; it was the epitome of masculine insecurity – a woman. 

Pop Star Rihanna Tweeted About The Farmers Protest, And The Slut-Shaming Began

Rihanna is a household name amongst most urban Indian youngsters. Known for her smashing songs, wildly successful business, and tireless philanthropic work, Rihanna has several accomplishments to her name. In 2017, Rihanna was named ‘Humanitarian of the Year’ by Harvard University. 

But none of these things matter because she is a woman with an opinion ™  , which is always a bad thing in the eyes of the Indian media.

On February 2nd, Rihanna tweeted a CNN article about the farmers protest and said, “Why aren’t we talking about this?” What ensued was hate, trolling, and abuse – a lot of abuse. 

Within a day, Rihanna was told to ‘stay out of India’s internal matters’, bombarded with conspiracy theories, and of course, trolled by our very own troll machine, Kangana Ranaut. After Rihanna, teen climate activist Greta Thunberg and former adult film star Mia Khalifa also tweeted in support of the farmer protests. They were met with the same fate.

Trolling on the internet isn’t new to us. We’ve seen a dramatic rise in it of late, and we’ve seen just how bad it can get in the case of Rhea Chakraborty and others.

But what’s truly violent is how trolls – now weirdly synonymous with the Indian news media – strip women off their intellect and skills and portray them as sexually forward, ‘shameless’ people.

By doing that, they perpetuate the horrible, outdated myth that a ‘good’ woman never has opinions, and she is incidentally also sexually ‘pure’.

A similar episode unfolded during the series of drug busting cases against celebrities. News channels would flash half-naked pictures of actresses who were being questioned, in an attempt to equate drug use with sexual immorality. It is clear that according to trolls, women who question the government are involuntarily putting their morals – and bodies – up for scrutiny.

Women Aren’t Expected To Have Opinions On Matters Widely Considered To Be ‘Masculine’

A recent global study showed that nearly 60% of girls and women have faced online harassment, which has driven them off social media. The kind of harassment women, in particular, receive online tells us one thing – there’s no place for a woman with an opinion on the internet.

Soon after Rihanna’s daring attempt to type, trolls attempted to silence her by re-sharing the infamous pictures of her battered face, which she had shared back in 2009 following her separation from singer Chris Brown, who had abused her.

Messages such as “I’m sure she must have done something to deserve it” circulated along with the photos.

This family of trolls is mighty aware of women with opinions ™ , and they’ve been trained to ‘handle’ them a certain way. Whether it’s Swara Bhasker, Richa Chaddha, Taapsee Pannu, or Rhea Chakraborty, women who dare to speak out are portrayed as sexually available, immoral, ‘modern’ or ‘witches’. This trend of harassment isn’t limited to the political discourse – women gamers, for instance, are harassed and trolled online as well.

They are shut down using misogyny and sexual violence, as it is an age-old tactic to silence women who question masculine dominance.

Again pertaining to the farmers protest, less than a month ago, the Chief Justice of India, S.A. Bobde, made a statement that didn’t go down with many. While denying an order that stated that ‘citizens should not protest’ and chastising the Centre for handling the protest poorly, he asked, “Why are women and elders kept in the protest?”

The statement was heavily criticised, as it subtly looked down upon women and assumed that women didn’t have enough knowledge to protest against anything, let alone laws. Women are considered silent spectators, quietly dealing with whatever comes their way and being thankful that things aren’t worse. Farmers are almost always assumed to be men; the same goes for protestors. 

Contrasting this statement with Rihanna’s, it is obvious that the root cause is not a woman’s opinion – it is a man’s idea of what women ought to do, think, and feel.

When women are conditioned to live their lives within the confines of their home, discouraged to ‘speak over the elders’, forced to leave their jobs and focus only on child-rearing,  those who dare to transgress those boundaries are punished.

Rihanna isn’t just a woman in the eyes of the trolls – she is a ‘Western’ woman with ‘Western’ values – values that are inherently against the above-mentioned ‘Indian’ morals of purity and chastity.

Her opinions, thus, aren’t just unwelcome – they are worthy of attack.

Several events have unfolded since Rihanna sent out that tweet – the entire cricket fraternity, for instance, has come out against the tweet, begging Indians to ‘amicably’ resolve the issue and stand united – and not a single person has apologised for the trolling Rihanna, Greta, or Mia are dealing with.

After all, in a man’s world, women will – in some capacity – be on the receiving end of violence.

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