Everyday sexism

What should the graphics for a news report on rape look like? #RedrawMisogyny has some ideas

Often, images depict the survivor cowering in the centre, as perpetrators lurk menacingly over her.

News reportage on sexual assault, especially rape, has increased noticeably in India since the rape and murder of a physiotherapy student in Delhi in December 2012. Unfortunately, though, this coverage has not always come with increased sensitivity – several Indian news organisations still rely on a set of ghastly “stock images” to represent rape.

In July 2016, BBC reporter and former South Asia editor Joanna Jolly wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review that the big four English language newspapers in India seemed to have greater room for reportage on rape since 2012, but their narratives were becoming less sympathetic. While this was most evident in the increased number of reports about “false rapes” (or cases of rape where the survivor retracted her case, before the court had reached a verdict), Jolly noted another problem:

“There could be better press regulation to prevent salacious and sensationalized coverage, greater sensitivity in reporting, the inclusion of non-PLU [people like us] cases, the appointment of specially-focused gender reporters and the reframing of rape from a lust crime to a political, economic, and social phenomena.”  

This February, Malayalam news channel Kairali TV was called out for their insensitive reportage on a case of sexual assault. Media platforms across the board have made similar mistakes when reporting on rape, their errors ranging from victim-blaming to divulging personal details about the survivor.

On April 16, photographers, graphic designers, artists, journalists and social workers came together in Delhi for a daylong workshop organised by non-profit Breakthrough.tv and Instagram, with support from the International Center for Journalists, to think about and possibly revise the visual representation of sexual harassment, gender-based violence and rape in mainstream media. The workshop, called #RedrawMisogyny, had a twin purpose: pinpoint what’s wrong with image-making around gendered and sexual violence currently, and present alternatives that, in the best-case scenario, could change the narrative around rape from victim-shaming to focusing on the perpetrator.

“Often, you will see the victim or survivor at the centre of the image, with the perpetrator in the shadows or a hand coming out of the corner of the picture towards the girl,” said graphic designer Shashwata Nova of Breakthrough.tv at the workshop.

Of course, an illustration or photograph made in this mould has the benefits of a cliche: the image is easily recognisable by readers as having something to do with gender-based violence. It’s also an easy go-to for copy editors who search stock photos and image banks, and may process dozens of articles a day in some cases.

“These images subtly build a narrative in your mind about the helplessness of the woman and the superiority of the man,” Nova added.

Turn the point-of-view around, however, and you draw attention to the perpetrator instead. This kind of imaging may have the benefit of being new – at least for a while – as well as turning unwanted attention away from the victim and focus it on to the perpetrator.

Created by designers at Breakthrough.
Created by designers at Breakthrough.

Trigger warnings

In May 2002, Wendy Larcombe, an associate professor at the Melbourne Law School, published an article titled The ‘Ideal’ Victim v Successful Rape Complainants: Not What You Might Expect, in the journal Feminist Legal Studies. The paper revealed biases around how a rape survivor is expected to behave and the weight appearances carry, even in a court of law to get a conviction.

“It is well established in feminist legal critique that female complainants are discredited if they fail to conform to an archaic stereotype of the genuine or ‘real’ rape victim,” Larcombe wrote. “This victim is not only morally and sexually virtuous she is also cautious, unprovocative, and consistent. Defence tactics for discrediting rape testimony involve exposing the complainant’s alleged failure to comply with the sexual and behavioural standards of the normative victim.”

Images that try to recreate the scene, or show a distraught woman whose world has seemingly fallen apart, or use colours like red and black that suggest blood and something sinister, can hold up the process of recovery. “Imagine what the rape survivor feels when she sees illustrations like these,” said Nova. “You are recreating the horror.”

So, the Breakthrough team suggested producing images that show a support structure for rape survivors: family, medical professionals and police, the justice system or support groups, or making images which focus on the victim’s life beyond the incident.

For graphic designer Bhanu Pratap, one takeaway from the workshop was the need to apply ideas of empathy, justice and agency to the image-making process. A second lesson, he said, was that you need to tag the images with proper keywords. “You can’t control the context [the images will be used in] indefinitely, but you can tag the images properly, lay out the context for which they were created,” he added.

The way forward

File images of protestors, especially the large numbers who poured out into the streets of Delhi in January 2013 to demand justice for the physiotherapy student, are still used sometimes with stories and columns about gendered violence. But there are also ways to make photos and illustrations for the specific context which are sensitive and to the point.

Among some of the interesting ideas which emerged from the workshop was making photos which show the role of the bystander, focus on support groups to highlight the process of recovery, and to build a bank of images which show up behaviours that are normalised, but should not be.

The workshop was designed to come up with broad guidelines for what an image about gendered violence should look like, and help designers, artists and writers to create images which avoid obvious traps like stripping the victim of agency, recreating the assault, perpetuating ideas around the helplessness of the victim or the shame and stigma that are often attached with rape.

At the end of two weeks, Breakthrough will again meet with the artists and designers, and ask them to share their work under the Creative Commons licence and with media houses.

Created by designers at Breakthrough.
Created by designers at Breakthrough.
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How technology is changing the way Indians work

An extensive survey reveals the forces that are shaping our new workforce 

Shreya Srivastav, 28, a sales professional, logs in from a cafe. After catching up on email, she connects with her colleagues to discuss, exchange notes and crunch numbers coming in from across India and the world. Shreya who works out of the café most of the time, is employed with an MNC and is a ‘remote worker’. At her company headquarters, there are many who defy the stereotype of a big company workforce - the marketing professional who by necessity is a ‘meeting-hopper’ on the office campus or those who have no fixed desks and are often found hobnobbing with their colleagues in the corridors for work. There are also the typical deskbound knowledge workers.

These represent a new breed of professionals in India. Gone are the days when an employee was bound to a desk and the timings of the workplace – the new set of professionals thrive on flexibility which leads to better creativity and productivity as well as work-life balance. There is one common thread to all of them – technology, tailored to their work styles, which delivers on speed and ease of interactions. Several influential industry studies and economists have predicted that digital technologies have been as impactful as the Industrial Revolution in shaping the way people work. India is at the forefront of this change because of the lack of legacy barriers, a fast-growing economy and young workers. Five factors are enabling the birth of this new workforce:

Smart is the way forward

According to the Future Workforce Study conducted by Dell, three in five working Indians surveyed said that they were likely to quit their job if their work technology did not meet their standards. Everyone knows the frustration caused by slow or broken technology – in fact 41% of the working Indians surveyed identified this as the biggest waste of time at work. A ‘Smart workplace’ translates into fast, efficient and anytime-anywhere access to data, applications and other resources. Technology adoption is thus a major factor in an employee’s choice of place of work.

Openness to new technologies

While young professionals want their companies to get the basics right, they are also open to new technologies like Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence. The Dell study clearly reflects this trend — 93% of Indians surveyed are willing to use Augmented/Virtual Reality at work and 90% say Artificial Intelligence would make their jobs easier. The use of these technologies is no longer just a novelty project at firms. For example, ThysenKrupp, the elevator manufacturer uses VR to help its maintenance technician visualize an elevator repair job before he reaches the site. In India, startups such as vPhrase and Fluid AI are evolving AI solutions in the field of data processing and predictive analysis.

Desire for flexibility 

A majority of Indians surveyed rate freedom to bring their own devices (laptops, tablets, smartphones etc.) to work very highly. This should not be surprising, personal devices are usually highly customized to an individual’s requirements and help increase their productivity. For example, some may prefer a high-performance system while others may prioritize portability over anything else. Half the working Indians surveyed also feel that the flexibility of work location enhances productivity and enables better work-life balance. Work-life balance is fast emerging as one of the top drivers of workplace happiness for employees and initiatives aimed at it are finding their way to the priority list of business leaders.

Maintaining close collaboration 

While flexible working is here to stay, there is great value in collaborating in person in the office. When people work face to face, they can pick up verbal and body language cues, respond to each other better and build connections. Thus, companies are trying to implement technology that boosts seamless collaboration, even when teams are working remotely. Work place collaboration tools like Slack and Trello help employees keep in touch and manage projects from different locations. The usage of Skype has also become common. Companies like Dell are also working on hi-tech tools such as devices which boost connectivity in the most remote locations and responsive videos screens which make people across geographies feel like they are interacting face to face.

Rise of Data Security 

All these trends involve a massive amount of data being stored and exchanged online. With this comes the inevitable anxiety around data security. Apart from more data being online, security threats have also evolved to become sophisticated cyber-attacks which traditional security systems cannot handle. The Dell study shows that about 74% of those surveyed ranked data security measures as their number one priority. This level of concern about data security has made the new Indian workforce very willing to consider new solutions such as biometric authentication and advanced encryption in work systems.

Technology is at the core of change, whether in the context of an enterprise as a whole, the workforce or the individual employee. Dell, in their study of working professionals, identified five distinct personas — the Remote Workers, the On-The-Go Workers, the Desk-centric Workers, the Corridor Warriors and the Specialized Workers.

Dell has developed a range of laptops in the Dell Latitude series to suit each of these personas and match their requirements in terms of ease, speed and power. To know more about the ‘types of professionals’ and how the Dell Latitude laptops serve each, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Dell and not by the Scroll editorial team.