Representation of sexual harassment on digital media, its viral reach, degree of perpetrator accountability (or lack thereof), and affect around it, feed into users’ perceptions of such issues, either supporting or challenging oppressive gender discourses. When done right, digital communication can help us reimagine our currently fractured social, cultural and gendered spheres by including different voices and respecting marginalized perspectives. Our paper explores this possibility by studying the inclusive role of digital feminist activism in India’s recent #MeToo movement. To do this we identified themes of sexual harassment, related to #MeTooIndia, from articles published in the popular digital zine Feminism in India or FII (feminisminindia.com). FII publishes gender-empowering news features and posters in an online inclusive space and claims to “unravel the F-word and demystify all the negativity surrounding it” (feminisminindia.com/) - the F-word being feminism in the Indian context that has customarily been dismissed or disrespected.
Our research objective was to locate the presence or absence of transnational feminist intersectionality (Milevska 2011; Patil 2013) in the framing of stories about India’s #MeToo mobilization, and to theorize what makes Indian women's experiences of sexual harassment similar, yet locally distinct from global discourses of #MeToo. We conducted a thematic textual analysis of 12 representative news features containing the hashtag #MeTooIndia, published in FII between October 2018 - January 2019, a period of substantial digital activity around this gender movement. Four themes relating to #MeTooIndia and sexual harassment (SH) emerged, including (1) Types, responses, spaces and contexts (2) Use and abuse of power, (3) Systemic blame, shame and excuses, and (4) Media awareness, support and solutions. Our themes reveal intersectional layers of misogyny that are both local and transnational to India’s #MeToo stories of sexual oppression, thus reiterating the need for “cross-regional research and theoretical exchange [that] can actually assist in producing relevant instruments for locating and embracing urgent issues in the transnational feminist context” (Milevska 2011, 52; emphasis added). The themes also reveal that Feminism in India has a reciprocal relation with its connective publics - it helps them make informed sense of the local forms, frames, and systems that comprise sexual harassment in India, and gives Indian women and gender advocates the tools to contextualize the power of digital movements and the need for culturally-sensitive interventions. We believe our study’s contribution furthers our understanding of how participatory digital cultures like Feminism in India can support inclusiveness, respect and reciprocity among stakeholders, survivors and activists of global and local gender and social movements.