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Why Women Artists Are Easier Targets for Trolls at Online Gigs

As more and more social platforms are being used as a new stage for artists to perform, a disturbing trend of women being trolled sees a rise

Lalitha Suhasini Apr 17, 2020

Hanita Bhambri, Pragnya Wakhlu, Aditi Ramesh and Monica Dogra talk about their experience with online trolls.

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Earlier this month, singer and songwriter Monica Dogra posted a distress call on her Instagram account that summed up the dystopian state of the Indian indie music scene, which, like everything else, is under lockdown. Dogra wrote: “I feel insecure about my career (triggered by social media trolls)…also triggered by the amount of people reaching out to me to be in their videos, contribute creatively to their pages and then when I do, I get trolled to the point of it being so exhausting on my spirit and so taxing on my self-worth…”

Dogra’s view is not singular, but is shared by other women artists and peers from the industry. Mumbai-based singer/songwriter Aditi Ramesh, who released her EP Leftovers last year, faced her share of trolls during an Insta live gig that she did recently. “Trolling does not happen in a space that has a smaller audience, but I did experience some trolling during the Insta live I did for Vh1 because their subscriber base is huge,” says Ramesh. From unpleasant emojis to comments, her Insta live show for the music channel was challenging in parts. But like her contemporaries, Ramesh too has come to terms with trolling, but admits that it can be unsettling. “Mostly, I don’t really take it seriously. But sometimes, these comments are in the middle of a song and it throws you off. I find it more awkward to perform to a screen,” she adds.

Monica Dogra posted a distress call on her Instagram account that summed up the dystopian state of the Indian indie music scene, which, like everything else, is under lockdown. Photograph: Toranj Kayvon

Artists are also of the opinion that a majority of trolls are men. Chennai-based singer Shilpa Natarajan of the Beef Sappad Trio, a parody band, has also noticed how trolls react differently to the male members of her group. “I’ve been told in DMs (direct messages) after an Insta live that if I had done my hair or makeup, the show would have been better. If I am doing an Insta live from home, I will look like I am at home. Other musician friends of mine who are men don’t get such comments. They get comments like ‘Sir, you’re great. Your voice is blessed.’ Or they get song requests,” says Natarajan.

Women have always been easy targets for trolls, believe both Ramesh and Natarajan.  “The trolling is also to do with how most Indian men have been conditioned to think that they have to put women in their place. That thought is naturally there,” says Natarajan. Ankur Tewari, frontman of The Ghalat Family, who wrote and released “Aainda,” a song dedicated to his trolls, last year, agrees that patriarchy is at the root of how men treat women in India. “I completely agree that there is a bias towards women artists both online and offline. Men feel less intimidated when they troll or sexualize women online. This is a sickness that needs a more long-term intervention,” says Tewari.

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Discrimination and trolling based on gender is an experience that Kashmiri singer and songwriter Pragnya Wakhlu has been familiar with since the start of her career. “It’s always a bit of a struggle for Kashmiri women in music. When I released my second album (Kahwa Speaks), which was a Kashmiri-English fusion album, I went online on a few Kashmiri music pages and performed my music live on them. While there are a lot of people that appreciate one trying something new, there is always one section of traditionalists who feel you are ‘Westernizing’ Kashmiri music and diluting the culture by doing so. Going live on these pages can be a bit unnerving sometimes, because you don’t know what will be said,” says Wakhlu. Having said that, Wakhlu’s recent Insta live shows have been well received, she adds. “A lot of women from the state are hesitant to be open about their music on social media because it isn’t accepted culturally by a small group of people. I’ve seen this changing in recent times and it makes me happy to see more women from the state come forward and be open about their music. Men wouldn’t face the same issues if they went live on these pages. It’s only by continuing to do what we’re doing that normalisation will happen,” says the vocalist.

Chennai-based singer Shilpa Natarajan of the Beef Sappad Trio, a parody band, has also noticed how trolls react differently to the male members of her group. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

One manner in which trolls can be shut down is by reporting them, says Mumbai-based harpist Nush Lewis. A couple of months ago, when Lewis witnessed an Insta live hosted by Dogra, she noticed that one of the artist’s followers, who had logged into the show, posted a distasteful and inappropriate comment. “I reported the comment. That is the one thing that you can do on Instagram. While I’ve never faced bullying or trolls online, I am not surprised this is happening to women. If they don’t get you at a gig, then this is a way to get back at you,” says Lewis. An artist page is usually a safe space because the followers that the artist has are usually fans who know and respect her, according to New Delhi-based singer/songwriter Hanita Bhambri. The singer recently wrapped up her #21days21songs project, where she engaged her social media followers to write songs during the quarantine. “Whether we are artists or not, women in general are under more scrutiny for their appearance and what they do. Artists in general are more opinionated and some are threatened by this. At the most, I have got comments like ‘I want to date you’ or ‘I want to marry you’ on my page and my community of followers is quite protective and has addressed it. So I don’t even have to get into it and can ignore it,” says Bhambri. Natarajan adds that if trolls get called out as soon as they comment, they tend to back off. “Trolls don’t feel safe when others support you and speak up on your behalf,” says Natarajan.

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At a time when everyone is grappling to remain relevant, communicate and deal with the quarantine in best way they can, artists are literally none the richer when they perform and yet, are plagued by requests to perform every other day. Still, music channels and music distribution platforms dismiss queries about women artists being more susceptible to trolling saying that they are yet to receive any complaints about any trolls. Passing the buck back to those who have been victims of trolls when offensive comments are out there for everyone to see only shows how unaware and unconcerned companies are about such issues.

Transformative social change is possible only through steady, consistent conversations. Webinars, chats and campaigns that build an audience base that respects women might be the way to weed out misogyny. “Real change will come from dialogue. It is a long process, but music channels and brands have to stop being neutral and take a stand to attract the community that will support women. It’s not just about celebrating Women’s Day for branding. Since everyone is online nowadays, now maybe the best time to do it as any,” adds Bhambri.

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