After the call-out, the audience that demands justice to be served is constituted of people who are involved the most in the process, who continue the struggle, and who undertake a lot of responsibility.
Even though the patriarchal system has been with us since time immemorial, in recent years, we see that different violent faces of this system ranging from dating violence to sexual assault are more frequently made public both in Turkey and in the rest of world. The role played by social media in our lives increases with each passing day, and consequently, the shifting of call-outs to this form of media not only influence the number of call-outs but also completely change their dynamics and methods.
It has been voiced multiple times that call-outs in social media are sometimes the last resort for justice which is not or cannot be served in and through social circles or the legal system. However, after the call-outs, more often than not, what is served is not justice but a chain of discussions. In this piece, I want to focus on the possibilities and impossibilities offered by a position which is occupied by many of us in these chains of discussions which are sometimes backed up by fruitful arguments that reveal patriarchal dynamics and at other times become fixated on the actors and hit a dead-end: the position of the audience of call-outs. I think that this position, which is occupied but hardly talked about by many of us harbors a potential to effectively transform the processes pertaining to call-outs.
If we offer a periodization in terms of before and after social media, in the period before the social media, the issue was discussed among the close circles before the call-out. The audience of the statements were usually people who were coded as “trustworthy”. These people, depending on the social situation, were family members, friends, a person whose opinions could be trusted (such as a teacher) or someone who is in one way or another involved in feminism. Due to the ineffectiveness or lack of institutional mechanisms, it was not possible to make public one’s statements institutionally. If the social support was solid, and the mechanisms to which one has previously applied were ineffective, people were able to call-out with the support of their close circles. However, call-out was not a method that was frequently used and the whole process was usually limited to the immediate circles of the person who did the call-out and the one who has been called out.
Today, the influence and effects of social media are immense; and under these novel conditions, although previous mechanisms are still available, call-outs over social media have become the primary method. Thus, the scale of the audience of the call-out expanded beyond the “immediate circles”; the audience today –the size of which changes in accordance with the rate at which a post is shared– is composed of large number of people who are not organized, and in most cases, who do not know each other. With the increase in numbers, we witnessed that the position of the audience has gained immense significance. However, we also saw that the individuals forming this large crowd –which is not a homogenous group of people– usually occupy different and sometimes hostile positions and hurl the process into dead-end discussions. All this affects both the call-out process and the struggle formed around it in different ways.
It has been stated over and over again that masculine reactions feed upon sexism and the patriarchal social order exposed by the call-outs, therefore they neither contribute to the call-out process or the struggle built around this process, on the contrary, they fetter the processes. Therefore, leaving aside those who adopt this attitude I want to talk about the positions of those people who have the potential to positively transform the call-out process. I think it is possible to talk about three positions here: The position of those who choose to remain silent, the position of those who try to be “objective”, and the position of those who demand the justice which the call-out is expected to serve. I have no intention of ordering these fluid positions which do not have clear cut boundaries in terms of their accuracy or rightfulness. I will rather open to discussion the impact of each of these positions on the call-out process and address their positive and contradictory aspects.
Remaining silent is a position that many people opt for due to various reasons even though it has the least transformative impact on the call-out process. Many different reasons ranging from concerns about adopting the right attitude, the frustration of having been through similar experiences, personal relationships with the people involved in the call-out, and especially the shared circles of friends with the person who has been called out, can push people to remaining silent. Silence has negative effects, such as rendering weak the struggle formed around the call-out or creating negative feelings in the person who called out especially when this person is left alone or not sufficiently supported. Thus, remaining silent might have a negative impact on the person who called out and the struggle formed around the call-out. On the one hand, it is probable that sudden, rushed and not well-thought and expressed reactions can lead to consequences worse than remaining silent. In this sense, it may not always be right to ask or force people in the audience to take positions which they are not ready to take. However, it is clear that the position of silence will hinder us and prevent us from being active, political subjects by precluding the opportunity to strengthen and empower the struggle by positively intervening in the process.
Those who are concerned about being objective also have many reasons as to why they adopt this attitude. The reason for trying to be objective may lie in the desire to learn all the details before making a decision. However, the position of objectivity sometimes amounts to walking on the borders of the principle “woman’s testimony is fundamental” and runs the risk of evolving into sentences that begin with a “but”. Another reason for the concern of objectivity may be the desire to reveal an objective whole from the subjective narratives and to support the struggle from this position. Nonetheless, the pursuit of objective information may ultimately lead to taking the responsibility of deciding on the accuracy of the call-out and to adopt the position of a prosecutor/judge. This situation renders the process more difficult in two ways. Answering questions may be wearisome and tedious for the people who call out not only because it would require them to explain and define over and over again what has happened but also because they might think that their credibility is on the line. Additionally, the effort to define the crime with correct information can result in the call-out evolving into a very technical/legal process, which in turn, runs the risk of bypassing the necessity of reparative mechanisms for addressing the fatigue and weariness that the person who called out feels. It is a fact that some mechanisms need to be operationalized in terms of the burden of proof, which lies with the person who has been called out, in order for the call-out process to be carried out. However, given the fact that the call-out takes place on social media, is it really possible to talk about total objectivity both in terms of the mechanisms and the persons involved? This issue necessitates another discussion.
After the call-out, the audience that demands justice to be served is constituted of people who are involved the most in the process, who continue the struggle, and who undertake a lot of responsibility. These people can often be a part/constituent of the feminist struggle. In fact, we can see this group of people as the replacement of the social circles which were involved in and supported the call-out process in the pre-social media era. Yet, since we are talking about social media, it is useful to keep in mind that these people, who mostly do not know each other, do not form a homogenous group and that they are not a part of any organization. For this reason, instead of mechanisms such as collective attitude, collective decision making, and collective command of the field, the struggle often takes the form of one-on-one conflicts. As we have recently witnessed, of course many valuable gains are made from this struggle. However, this method also runs the risk of damaging both the person who calls-out and the ones who are supporting. Since the expected justice does not always coincide with the justice that is realized, since people don’t always share expectations and engage in common forms of struggle, and since the struggle is sometimes rather intensive, the call-out process can have corrosive effects. Additionally, the risk of losing the achievements (for instance, if the harasser who lost his job finds another one shortly after the call-out) can increase the effect of corrosiveness and make it difficult for the people who called out to work through their traumas. Another important point is that those who struggle can over-identify with the people who have been exposed to sexual violence and take on their feelings. In this case, those who need to remain strong are also traumatized, distanced from objectivity, and this situation can result in a cycle which may be detrimental to everyone.
Although all these positions have qualities that can orient the process towards positive results, I think that it is necessary to keep in mind that due to the priority given to the person who has been called-out, the fact that although the “serving of justice” (and it can be said that the definition of the expected justice has a very subjective definition) can provide some degree of healing for those who call-out, the expected justice cannot always be served and the expected and the realized justice differ, the possible roll-backs (such as the re-acceptance of the person who has been called-out into the social circles), thinking healing solely in terms of pursuit of justice may have corrosive rather than therapeutic results for the person who called-out. On the other hand, the “punishment” of the person who has been called-out will not make right all the difficulties and losses that the person who called-out has lived and endured. Therefore, I think that as the audience of call-outs we need other positions, positions which prioritize and recognize the struggle of the person who called-out, and care about forming solidarity from this position. In other words, positions which strengthen feminist struggle from this solidarity.
So, how should these audiences who are in solidarity with the person who calls-out position themselves? I think that the key point here is to make the person who calls-out not alone but safe and surrounded by a social network. For an audience who has in one way or another came into contact with feminism, this process may proceed more smoothly; however, in the digital environments, even if there is a possibility for creating solidarity, realizing this can be difficult and require creativity. It is also very important to clarify one’s attitude to the person who called-out. Neither pushing the boundaries of empathy with the person who called-out and taking on their emotions to the extent of losing all objectivity nor completely abstracting one’s self from the person and the experiences of that person would prove to be solidaristic or therapeutic for the person who called-out and positively transformative for the call-out process. Being able to stand in solidarity with the person who called-out from an objective position and being able to listen to this person without being judgmental can be a solid stance which demands a lot of work. The person who calls-out can live many different emotions –fragile, anxious– and these emotions may sometimes be in contradiction; or there may be no change in their emotional state. While trying to be in solidarity, one should not expect or force the person who called-out to feel certain emotions that they do not feel, one should not expect the person who is feeling injured to be strong, or who is feeling normal to adopt the role of a victim. Expecting the people who called-out to forget what had happened to them and to move on with their lives would amount to forcing these people to something they are not ready for. The person who is there to listen should be prepared to hear the stories over and over again and be prepared for the emotions that may be triggered in oneself. It is important for the person who listens to prioritize the other person without getting caught up in personal feelings. The effort to comfort may not always work, and sometimes standing side by side in silence could say a lot of things. Each call-out process is a singular event, the call-outs of different forms of sexism can differ and different call-out processes may proceed differently. Seeing what the people who have called-out want and not leaving them alone in their demands and considering the demands of the people who have called-out not as the only compass but as demands which would help draw a common map in line with the struggle, solidarity and commonality as well as transforming the call-out from a single-person action into a process that is carried out by a social network will strengthen the call-out process and the person who calls-out. In this process, it is also necessary not to force the people who called-out to take steps which they do not want or which would be unnecessarily tiresome. It is important to see the justice pursuit of the person who called out and remember and remind others that healing is not solely dependent on justice even when we demand justice based on the statements of the person who has called-out. It should be noted that, besides the manifestation of justice, the person who calls-out may need a lot of support to heal. If there is a need for security, it is necessary to work to provide safe spaces. It will also be reassuring for people who call-out if people around them are open to support and show it clearly and consistently. If the situation exceeds possibilities of those who listen, sharing information about possible places where the person who calls-out can ask for help or support can be an effective method of solidarity. Considering that asking for help or support can sometimes be difficult, caring about and paying attention to the needs and wants of the people who call-out is important. Once the first wave begins to fade away, staying in touch in one way or another can prevent the feelings of loneliness and abandonment –feelings that can be quite debilitating for the person who has called-out. And finally, not labelling the people who called-out as a victim, makes it possible for these people to see that they are a survivor, and own this position. That said, the sweetest of solidarity is to continue living our lives together, share our lives, water the plants, stare at the sun and laugh, and laugh until we suppress all the moralist voices surrounding and we are convinced that sexism and violence cannot “victimize” us.
Another position that the audience can occupy independent of the person who call-outs entails the fact that the people who are called-out are not individual persons but patterns of sexism. So, keeping this in mind and the possibility that justice can be partially attained through call-outs, one can act knowing that the system will not be transformed in one day, that the patriarchal and heteronormative patterns will envelop women and LGBTIs, and that we will continue to confront new types of inequalities in the days to come. It is important to organize in our own social and political circles in our fight against sexism for rendering call-outs, which can be corrosive processes, unnecessary. It is important to create and be a part of secure networks and mechanisms to combat sexism. It is important to question and not be a part, constituent, supporter of the sexist environments. It is important that when we witness sexist behaviors, we turn them into a “problem” and disturb and unsettle people.
In conclusion, I think that our attitudes, our testimonies, and our positions as the audience of call-outs are not secondary but critical for the call-out process and the struggle and solidarity formed around it. I also think that we should demand justice in the call-out process, but we should not limit the process to the call-out and that we should recognize and prioritize the person who calls-out. It is of utmost importance to stand together and organize our lives knowing that sexism neither begins nor ends at the moment of a call-out and that there are many steps to be taken in this long struggle. Remembering the fact that we are strong subjects in our daily lives is our magical power to change the world.
Translator: İpek Tabur
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan