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Buzzfeed’s Imaan Sheikh & Rape Culture

A few years ago, I dated someone who got a lot of attention for his loud views on women’s rights, gay rights and child abuse. He also frequently said things like ‘faggotty shit’ and ‘Don’t be such a vagina’ and ‘stop PMSing all over the place’. When I pointed out these fallacies, he called me uncool because I didn’t get it. And when I pressed on, he insisted that joking about something reduced its sting.

This afternoon, Imaan Sheikh (Buzzfeed’s current darling) got into a conversation on Twitter. I’ve been a fan of her take on popular Bollywood. But this screenshot of her tweets from 2012 stopped me dead in my tracks. It made me want to throw up.

I tweeted about this tagging her and she replied. Here is the conversation we had.

Let’s talk about rape humour. Rape is an act of extreme brutality and violence carried on women in systematic and fully-supported ways, in every part of the world. It is aimed at and usually succeeds in leaving a woman stripped of health, self-esteem, dignity, emotional stability and security. Rape culture is all the conversations, rituals and social practices that simultaneously encourages the propagators and demonises the victims. Joking about rape makes it exactly that — a joke. It trivialises the victim’s trauma, minimises all the work being done to overturn it and permits propagators & supporters to go along in the notion that their actions are ‘cool’ or okay.

Now let’s look at Imaan Sheikh. I got the distinct impression that I was being indulged the way a troublesome but not quite trolley minion would be, on Twitter. Imaan’s attitude to the whole thing seemed to be “What that again? Aren’t you guys over it? How uncool of you. Still, I will deign to respond because you know, you guys do read my stuff.”

All of us have things in our past we aren’t thrilled about. But aren’t there degrees to even what parts of that can be brushed away as ‘I was young and stupid’? I cannot imagine rape humour ever being okay, especially when propagated by an educated, savvy woman.

This last because, the onus of standing for women’s rights falls to us even more than it does to other factions of society. Women on the internet, especially highly influential ones, enjoy the kind of freedom that is a privilege, not a basic right for most women. These women also inevitably become role models for younger women and prototypes for the image of strong women. What does it say about strong, influential women when one of them supports rape culture?

I’m afraid Imaan, this is one of those massive blunders that you are going to have to keep apologising for, for the rest of your life. I hope this happens because if it doesn’t, it means our world continues to believe that rape is a minor infraction. And that is not going to be a good world for either you or I to live in, Imaan.

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