Sluts 'r' us: Intersections of gender, protocol and agency in the digital age
First Monday

Sluts r us: Intersections of gender, protocol and agency in the digital age by Nishant Shah

When it comes to examining the relationship between digital technologies and gender, our discourse has fallen into two pre-wired sets of responses: The first set approaches gender as something that is operationalised through the digital, thus producing the rhetoric of ICT4D and women’s empowerment through access to the digital. This also gives rise to the DIY cultures that makes women responsible for the safety of their bodies and selves, and puts the blame of sexual violence or abuse back onto the body of the woman. The second set approaches the digital as something that operates gender, examining the regulations and control that the digital technologies exercise on women’s bodies, gender and desires. This focuses on practices like revenge pornography, privacy, protection and security in the age of growing cyber-bullying and attacks on women. In both these discourses, there is always the imagination of one of the two sites as passive — either the gendered body uses digital technologies for its intentions, or the digital technologies shape the gendered body following the protocols of algorithmic design. By looking at the figure of the digital slut, as it emerges in popular cultural practices and debates in regulation, that this separation of gendered intention from machine protocol fails to accommodate for the quotidian and varied engagements of bodies and technologies, and thus produces flawed regimes of regulation and law around digital gender. I propose two strategies to understand ‘digital gender’ as a moment of configuration rather than a finite resolved category: The first is to combine the protocols of technology with the metaphors of the body, producing a metaphorocol, which enables us to move beyond the aporetic production of body and technology in contemporary discourse. The second is to relocate agency and question the body as actor/the body as acted upon paradigm that is invoked in thinking of body-technology relationships. Consequently, I argue I propose two different approaches that draw from material practices of gender and the architecture of physical computing, to offer new ways of reading the practices of policing and pathology of gender in the age of ubiquitous networking. I argue in my conclusion that ‘digital gender’ as a concept helps us build upon earlier intersections of feminist thought and practice with other identity politics by opening up to other identities of regulation and control that emerge within data regimes of information societies.


1. Introduction: Slutty histories of digital gender
2. Constructing digital gender: Beyond apoerea
3. Plug and play practices: Configuring sluts
4. Stealth computing: Slutty access
5. Digital gender at intersections



1. Introduction: Slutty histories of digital gender

The history of digital gender in India is punctuated by two incredibly dramatic stories of sluttiness. In 2004, when a multimedia (MMS) clip called ‘DPS Dhamaka’ [1] showing two under-age individuals from the Delhi Public School (DPS) having sex went viral, it created quite a furor in the country (Malhotra, 2011). There was an explosion of desire and curiosity to see what ‘real porn’ with Indian bodies [2] would look like, and the short clip was much distributed, shared, searched for, and consumed. Anxieties around the DPS MMS clip, shot on a low-resolution mobile phone, were centred on the abuse of digital technologies to produce pornographic material which can be shared beyond any control or regulation. The court case that followed the clip, after an enterprising student put it up on an online auction site with intentions of making a quick buck from selling it, voiced a strong concern about the emergence of the Internet and what it bodes for Indian society.

Among the many misgivings that the judge presiding over the trial had about this clip was that it was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. He was disquieted by how the presence and emergence of digital and Internet technologies were reconfiguring the social and cultural fabric of India, producing slutty behaviour. In fact, in that case where a crime was committed but no culpable body [3] could be determined as guilty, the judgement announced that the criminal in the case was the technology itself, and that it needs to be regulated in order to prevent further such slutty activities. The court reprimanded society at large for being covert participants in this ‘lascivious act’, and suggested that the presence of the digital had rendered all the bodies involved, but especially those of the two young people in the clip, as fragile, broken, and shameful. The judgement condemns the young girl who appears in this first public instance of user-generated porn in the country for her actions, but also takes elaborate cognizance that she is now going to be caught in the double bind of being the national masturbatory fantasy while simultaneously being shamed for being a slut. In trying to protect her identity and in declaring that she had been punished enough, the judgement, in fact, goes on to slut-shame the young girl, pronouncing that she has lost her right to her future.

In the resolution of this case, there is a strong warning. A woman in the public, especially one whose identity is being configured by her access to and presence on digital technologies, renders her as a potential slut. This idea of the slut that works with the reading of a ‘public’ woman is echoed in another instance of slut-shaming. In 2009, in the south Indian city of Mangalore, the conservative right-wing religious party, Sri Ram Sene, under the leadership of Pramod Muttalik, declared that sluttiness is tied not to sexual practices but to the presence of women in particular spaces and company [4]. They declared that women found in pubs or bars, wearing ‘Western clothes’, are sluts attacking traditional Indian values and cultures. This group also announced that women seen in the company of men — a date — on Valentine’s Day are also sluts; the only way to save them is to insist that they marry their male companions. On 6 February, these political goons actually visited a pub and publicly attached women present in that pub. Drunk on violence, they celebrated this as an act of victory. Muttalik suggested that these young women, empowered by access to the Internet and cell phones, have become sluts and that they have been corrupted by technologies [5].

In response to this demonic invocation of sluttiness, a ‘consortium of loose, pub-going and forward women’ [6] was formed on Facebook, to discuss questions of gender violence and safety in these fraught times. From this consortium arose the Pink Chaddi (Hindi for underwear) Campaign [7], that invited people in India to form a ‘Love Sena’ (a love army, if you will) which would collect pink underwear and send it to the headquarters of Sri Ram Sene, as a non-violent sign of protest. The campaign picked up pace via a Facebook group and mainstream media, with thousands of supporters (58,000 members before the group was deleted after being hacked) who also then donated pink underwear to playfully reclaim the politics of sluttiness. The Pink Chaddi Campaign might have been a ‘flash in a pan’, but it contributed to the Indian edition of Slut Walks — The Besharmi Morcha (the shameless march) [8] — to emerge in the subsequent years.

I invoke these stories because they bring together a particular construction of the slut that is identified, not through its biological practices or material sexuality, but through its discursive reconfiguration and virtual presence. In a persistent history of the separatedness of women’s bodies from the technological, especially in development discourse, the idea of this slut, brings a new approach to understand the coupling of technology and gender, and of body and the device in the formulation of ‘digital gender’. In unpacking contemporary debates around slut-shaming and the emergence of a pathologised ‘digital slut’ figure, I propose that we need to think about the gendered nature of human-technology interaction and regulation, and open it up to other intersections of digital identity and governance which have been kept out of our discussions on digital gender. This essay, thus, seeks to chart a point of departure from existing approaches to understanding gender and technology through the figure of the slut. It complicates our discourse on the relationship between body and device in a digital network. It opens up discourse on digital gender to intersections with other parallel and larger contexts of Internet regulation and governance.



2. Constructing digital gender: Beyond apoerea

The construction of the slut in both of the narratives of the DPS MMS and Pink Chaddi campaign betrays a larger set of historical approaches that have explained and constructed relationships between bodies (especially women’s bodies) and technologies. So strong is this approach, especially as it operates within development discourse in India, that it offers two expected and pre-wired structures through which the body and the technologies are controlled, governed and regulated. The first approach imagines the body as pure, uncontaminated, existing in a pre-lapsarian innocence, destroyed by the touch of technology. This formulation of the body has been a standard narrative that reinforces the idea of the woman’s body as the marker of purity and chastity which needs to be preserved, and the bearer of shame and admonition which it must experience when it transgresses these norms of propriety. This construction of the slut as she who transgresses, persists in the regulation of women’s access to technologies and results in absurd policing, such as banning access by women to digital devices.

The second approach posits the body, and again, particularly a woman’s body, as essentially dirty and hence misusing and abusing the safe, sterile and clean world of the technological. Hence, the Ram Sene, in their attacks, could identified sluttiness in those women appearing in public. The body is seen as pathologised, and the digital is only seen as amplifying the already dirty impulses of this gendered body. This narrative produces another set of interventions that either seek to train and educate bodies into becoming acceptable, ideal subjects online only to perform specific tasks of value and worth. Any gendered body that performs actions outside specific boundaries is seen as forfeiting any claims to protection or safety, and is held responsible for slut-shaming or sexual violence. Shilpa Phadke, et al. (2011) identify this as a form of public regulation, where women are granted safe passage in our urban spaces only when they move with purpose from one protected enclosure to the other, but open to threats and violence if they deviate (such as pause and loiter). This narrative conflates women in danger as dangerous women, thus putting the responsibility of slut-shaming on the ‘slut’ herself.

This constant re-shuffling of agent and site as well as victim and perpetrator, between gendered bodies and technologies, performs a relationship that Asha Achuthan (2011) characterises as apoeretic [9]. Achuthan argues that while we have tried to reconcile the technological and the biological through different metaphors like cybrids, cyborgs, post-human and others, these are all identifications of a crisis rather than its resolution. Achuthan posits that in the vast multi-disciplinary literature that engages with human-technology coupling of different kinds, there is a systemic production of the body and technology as separate and discrete. The apoerea emerges because we always presume that the body and technology exist in separate domains, and hence our task, when we talk of digital gender, is to bring the two together. Achuthan shows that this burden of reconciliation, reproduces the shifting discourse of clean and dirty, of broken and breaking bodies and technologies. She concludes that the aporetic construction of women’s bodies and practices on the one hand and the apparatus and extensions of technology on the other insists upon both the biological materiality of the women’s bodies as finite, and the purport of technologies in operating on and through women’s bodies. It closes any possibility of understanding the body outside the accepted tropes of agency, autonomy and authority, reinforcing the exclusion of women from the technological.

In apoerea, then, is a perpetual re-creation of the gender-digital divide. When we say ‘gender’ we fall back upon the very narratives of our body and its practices that we are trying to escape through the digital. The gender in ‘digital gender’ is fiercely ascribed to the body and the digital only becomes either a service that we need to subscribe to or as a tool that taints us biologically. The gendered, the sexual, the messy, and the dirty parts of our gendered selves, are considered outside of the fold of the digital — our bodies remain dirty, bearers of shame, and technologies, clean. Consequently, our bodies also remain the problems to be resolved, mysteries to be solved, whereas the digital becomes the precise, the rational, the quantified and the definitive.

In the case of the DPS MMS, this emerges as the indeterminate identification of bodies that commit crime but cannot be held culpable, and technologies that have no agency but require regulation. Or in the Pink Chadi campaign, the presence of bodies in public spaces render them slutty, and their use of technologies also taints the technological, thus making it evil. In both the cases, there is an uneasy tension about the body-technology-slut triangle that is symptomatic of a majority of the discourse around gender and technology. The biological actions of the slut, in all her gendered practices, identify the body as the site of sluttiness, thus identifying it as having a perverse agency in its promiscuity. However, once the slut has been identified, she is reduced to a name — as a passive object — that is acted upon by the technological. The slippage between the technological and the biological is also mirrored in the slippage in language. The slut is a verb — to slut, or to be slutty, indicates that there is an action and agency embedded in ‘slutty’ bodies. A slut is also a noun — a name — and thus reduced to nothing but a static object which, in its naming, is robbed of its agency. This binary of being active and passive, of being a verb and a noun [10], of being a slut and acting slutty, is a response to this apoerea. Our efforts then don’t need to be on resolving these paradoxes, but actually in maintaining and unravelling them to look at the larger landscapes of power and politics.

Hence, when we coin ‘digital gender’ as a category, we need to be aware that we cannot perpetuate these forms and practices of separating and reconciling the body and the technological. The labour of ‘digital gender’ cannot be examined from the perspective of how bodies are affected by technologies, or how technologies are operationalised by the bodies. Instead, it has to perform a labour of ‘unseparation’ (what Achuthan calls ‘re:wiring’) and help complicate and blur the boundaries between the digital and gender in contemporary times. I invoke the figure of the slut to illustrate this task — of making porous the boundaries of body and technology, digital and gender. Instead of privileging either the body or technology as actor or site, I propose a framework of not separating gender and the digital, where we use concepts and processes to make digital technologies or gendered bodies ambiguous. I will introduce two different conceptual examples that might illustrate this moment of ‘unseparating’ and thus bringing together new ways by which ‘digital gender’ can be discursively constructed without performing the aporetic.



3. Plug and play practices: Configuring sluts

Within computing, plug and play (PnP) is a self-configuration process where new hardware devices within a connected network are discovered, interacting with the rest of the network without human intervention. PnP has a long history beginning with the emergence of NuBus in 1984, which ensured that previously incompatible computers could communicate with each other through established protocols (Spinellis, 2003). NuBus introduced the idea of an agnostic peripheral interface that tests the devices in a network against various protocols and drivers before establishing a temporary bridge between them. Since the early days of NuBus, PnP has become one of the most important paradigm for the various distributed components of computing networks to work with each other.

Harry Henderson (2009) introduced PnP as a process of automatically loading drivers for different devices and ‘of concern only if there is a hardware failure or incompatibility’ [11]. PnP, following Henderson’s description, is a protocol — it is hidden and it hides the mechanisms and machinations behind our computing practices. It is also a process of writing and being written. It is temporary and activates at the sign of trouble. PnP devices, in their temporary connections, open themselves up, allowing deep penetration and an exchange of encoded information. The connections are always short lived, dependent on proximity and connectivity. Any sign of connectivity dysfunctionality or hardware failure terminates the connection, and often removes all traces of that brief encounter. PnP devices are designed to be essentially adulterous, moving from machine to machine, performing multiple pairings, creating a redundancy of connections which are not always on, but are always ready to be activated.

I propose that we read plug and play, as a metaphorocol — a way by which the scope of the protocol is expanded to go beyond explaining technological exchanges and configurations, and also a way by which the practices of sluttiness are not ascribed only to the biological body, but are firmly established within the context of computational network design. The plug and play metaphorocol defines the ways in which our computational social networks operate — establishing a state that is temporary, ephemeral, momentary; a brief encounter, a slight interaction, the minimal touch, no lasting connections, and yet a permanence that carries with it the finality of contagion, of termination and of a system crash. Plug and play, the ability to insert a device into an existing infrastructure of computing, enabling brief but intense exchanges, and then parting, redefines access and connections within computing. Instead of permanence and design, it promotes polygamy and randomness, installing a condition that Elizabeth Bernstein (2007) in her compelling study of intimacy and commerce of sex, calls the condition of being ‘temporarily yours.’ The digital slut emerges then not as identified either through the material body or through its practices. Instead, it emerges as a moment of configuration — of writing and being written as sluts. As in the DPS MMS case, the slut was written in the bodies of the actors, in the identities of those consuming it, and in the networks of sharing. In the Pink Chaddi campaign, individuals configured themselves as sluts — not just writing themselves as such, not actually providing a testimony of slutty practices — but as making themselves accessible as sluts to plug and play as defined by the political temperament of the moment.

To illustrate the metaphorocol of plug and play, we will thus have to look at sluttiness both as a biological as well as technological practice. To the traditionally understood body of the gendered slut, I offer as a complement, the USB flash drive that I dub as the Universally Slutty Being. That tiny thing that comes in different colours, shapes and sizes, rests in your hands, slides within your fingers, changing hands and owners and masters, and travels without discernment, infecting and being infected by data in obscene surpluses, is probably the sluttiest computing device in our possession. In fact, the flash drive is promiscuity and stealth all rolled in to one. Unlike our always turned on devices of pleasure and perversion, the flash drive is actually off-line. It stays off the grid. It surfs under the radar. And yet, wherever there is a network of digital transactions, like persistent rashes, the flash drive appears. The flash drive, like the drives of the flesh, leaks and leaves traces and residues, imprints and vulnerabilities that expose the very infrastructure of sluttiness, rather than just the user in practice. Just like in the case of the biological plug and play slut created in the repetitive, compulsive, neurotic need of the digital to count, recount and reveal, the flash drive creates an environment of suspicion, containment, security and threats. While its actions might have a sexual structure, it also lays bare for us different intersections of the sexual with the world of the digital [12].

In thinking of the slutty body without destiny and the slutty flash drive without destination together, we can look at digital gender not as a name, not as a description of a body that is engendered by the technological, or indeed as technology being tainted by the practices of the body. Instead we take ‘digital gender’ as a moment of configuration. As the slutty body and object both are configured at the moment of usage and infection, leakage and distribution, we escape the apoerea of the slut as a noun and verb, as active and passive, as writing and written.



4. Stealth computing: Slutty access

The slut in configuration, rather than a slut in being or practice, complicates the discourse of agency as it has emerged in scholarship around digital gender. Agency, even when not equated with action, has been variously identified in binaries of bodies gaining access to or bodies accessed by the technological. While there is a rich debate about the notions of agency, it has been unable to escape from the anxieties of what we do with technologies and what technologies do to us. In the figure of the configurable slut, agency takes on a different connotation. In the development discourse of Achuthan or the feminist essentialism of Haraway, there has been the tendency to think about the lack of complete agency as a position of victimhood — of being fractured or broken. Instead of thinking about the location of agency in either the gendered body or working technology, digital gender, as a moment of configuration, offers the possibility of thinking of agency as distributed and stealthy.

Wendy Chun (2006) argues that the function of digital is to convert memory into storage. We work with machines that remember, and thus reduce our own capacities for recall. We live with devices that write themselves, but this writing happens in a stealth mode. In stealth computing [13] or promiscuous modes [14], computing devices perform a series of actions that are dictated by software, algorithms and network protocols. We know, in the post-NSA age that devices and networks have a long memory. The emergence of privacy as one of the key concerns of our times, is not just about the presence of invasive technologies, but also about the ways in which we no longer know the total uses of our machines and technologies. It is also indicative of the number of operations that our digital devices perform in order to disguise their uses. The agency of the digital subject, then, is located in how we perform acts of stealth and visibility.

It is one of the biggest paradoxes of the digital subject — especially the quantified subject — that we simultaneously crave hypervisibility and extreme anonymity, constantly performing critical trade-offs between our need to be seen and our right to be forgotten. The digital slut, in the moments of configuration, embodies this paradox to the extreme. These debates can be best understood in the recent controversies that have surrounded the rise of revenge porn Web sites, that have made notorious heroes out of people like Hunter Moore, who was recently crowned with the title of being ‘the most hated man on the Internet’ (Lee, 2012). Revenge porn, a particularly noxious form of user-generated content, invites people to upload images and videos of their sexual escapades for public viewing. Women and men in these videos are generally unaware of their bodies being recorded in various activities of undressing, stripping or sexual intercourse. These bodies are identified, named, linked to digital identities and used as a form of shaming and ridicule for the victims, identified as ‘sluts’.

Slut shaming is a prime example of the distributed and stealthy nature of agency in processes of configuration. Those identified as ‘victims’ of revenge ponography are sluts, not because they are necessarily engaged in slutty practices. In fact, most of them are defined as ‘good’ women engaged in intimate activities with men whom they trust. They become ‘slutty’ as their images migrate and reproduce by the perpetual memory machine of the Web. The lack of agency, however, is not in the women’s relationship with the images but with the ways in which these images are read. Women in these videos are identified as ‘sluts’ and subsequently shamed. In the interventions that emerge, these women are only portrayed as victims of non-consensual pornography, denying them agency in their sexual practices and precluding them from negotiating with these images. In this double denial of agency, these ‘sluts’ are then shamed for putting themselves in situations which make them precarious and subject to technologies of sharing and distribution beyond our control.

These ‘sluts’ are configured not by their sexual engagement with men. Instead they are configured as ‘sluts’ by exposing themselves to technologies. It is the act, fact and moment of access that formats them as ‘sluts’. Hunter Moore, the founder of the revenge porn site, suggested in an interview that these women were ‘sluts’ not because they were sexual beings, but because they made themselves accessible digitally (Dodero, 2013). Ironically, a case against Hunter Moore and his associates was eventually fought on grounds of access. Illegal use to images, which could otherwise be called sexual selfies, became objects of slut-shaming through protocols and conditions of access. It was as if not only the body and technologies were ‘slutty’, but the processes of digital access were ‘slutty’.

Agency, thus, is attributed to conditions of promiscuity and stealth and what is made accessible and shareable within the digital. Agency is not located either in the sexual consent of the body, its desire and effect or its negotiations with meanings attached to images. Instead, agency is produced entirely by the body’s promiscuity, and the stealth with which it can be rendered ‘slutty’ by hidden devices and the opaque intentions of those initiating non-consensual replication and distribution of images. The responsibility of the body, then, is to curb promiscuity, and police its engagements with sexual desire and intimacy, in the fear that stealthy technologies will configure it as ‘slutty’ and subject it to shame. We need to recognise that stealth and promiscuous computing are the default of the connected digital technologies around us. Thus, a body that is rendered legible and intelligible to these technologies will be configured as a shared and distributed object. Its agency will need to be recognized not only by its appearance in digital content, but in its ability to control and contest the processes of replication, transmission, streaming, downloading, storage, sharing, and consumption.

If we think of agency in these distributed processes of information and data management, it is possible to argue that the construction of the digital slut is in its negotiations with these agencies. The gendered body is rendered slutty through access, transgression of protocols, question of design, making itself available as data streams distributed through stealth and promiscuity. Sluttiness online, then, is not a specific state attributed to the sexualised body, but rather an ontological state that determines that all digital configurations of bodies are essentially slutty. Through exposure, repetition, sharing, replication, and uncontrolled proliferation, it reconfigures our bodies and genders towards specific purposes. In other words, to be digital is to be slutty. We are all sluts. And if we are all sluts, then two questions are telling: Why are only certain kinds of slutty bodies punished? Which are the other policed and contained identities that emerge with data practices in information societies, which might have intersections with the digital slut and need to be engendered by feminist practices and discourse?



5. Digital gender at intersections

In order to answer these questions I need to recapitulate a thesis I proposed earlier. Digital gender, as a moment of configuration, seeks to go beyond human-computer interaction discourse which thinks of the body and technology either through an aporetic relationship or through access and usage. In looking at the digital slut and instances of slut shaming, I have argued that we need to find a way to combine the protocols of technology with the metaphors of the body, and look at them as inseparable, inextricable, and inalienable. Digital gender offers us new possibilities of embedding gender in digital activism, opening interventions and discourse of gender to new technologies of control and freedom that are a part of the universe of Internet governance and regulation.

Currently, conversations around data revolve around hackers and storage. Information traffic analysis concentrates on interception, encryption and new kinds of leakages that arise through whistleblowing and collective information activism. Concerns of privacy and protection remain focused on defining the ‘victims’ of the Internet, those on the receiving end of Internet hate and bullying. Each of these discourses creates other conditions of digital shame and control — pirates, pornographers, whistleblowers, terrorists, perverts, trolls and crackers.

As we move into data societies, with our plug and play bodies and devices, we need to recognize that surveillance is ubiquitous and anonymity a nostalgic artefact. As we produce data and information, construct profiles, add friends, update statuses, upload pictures and share thoughts and emotions, the configuration of digital gender needs to find intersections with digital regulatory mechanisms. We will have to find solidarity with activists working on questions of intellectual property, data retention and security, free speech and expression. Digital gender has to be located in a post-Snowden world. It has to be understood in the context of a universe where Aaron Swartz is dead (Atkinson and Fitzgerald, 2014). It needs to be seen both in Jada the Twitter warrior [15] who fights back, but also Amanda Todd (Todd, 2014), who kills herself because she is slut shamed by her peers.

Conversations on gender illustrate how other categories of discrimination — class, caste, religion, race, location, sexuality — are amplified digitally. However these conversations do not recognize the metaphorical and regulatory functions of architecture, policy, code, protocol, algorithms as metaphors and narratives that form, inform and format our identities. Considerations of digital gender should allow us to build intersections between digital regulation and bodies, with clear implications and intentions. End of article


About the author

Nishant Shah is the founder and director of research for the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society.
E-mail: itsnishant [at] gmail [dot] com



1. Dhamaka is the Hindi word for explosion. User generated clips like these have now found their own sub-genre which often distribute under the names of ‘Dhamaka’, ‘Masala’ (spicy), ‘Kand’ (prank/scandal) and ‘Masti’ (fun) on different video sharing sites like YouTube. On the auction site, where the clip was put up for sale, and came under the radar of regulation, it was presented as ‘Item 27877408 — DPS Girl having fun!!! Full video + Bazee points’.

2. In a subsequent ‘scandal’ where a home video documenting sexual engagement between two young people, allegedly in the city of Mysore, went viral, film-maker Bharath Murthy (2009) made a documentary entitled The Jasmine of Mysore, where he re-enacted parts of the hour-long viral video with his girlfriend. The documentary also interviews people about their interest in the original clip, and also produces a ‘response video’ of groups of young men watching the clip online. Murthy captures the need for ‘real porn’ quite elegantly, eliciting responses from Indian viewers, about the eroticism of watching ‘bodies like us’ in these otherwise badly shot and grainy videos online. An interview with Murthy, about the making of the film and its impact is available at

3. The final judgement of the case, Avnish Bajaj v. State, on 29 May 2008 by J. Muralidhar is available online at

4. This notion of sluts as women visible in public, and constructed through their presence in particular spaces and at certain times, still persists in India. After the very high-profile Delhi rape case of 2012, where a young woman returning home after watching a movie with her friend, was gang raped so brutally that she died, there were still people who implied, if not insisted, that she was asking for it. Despite the fact that she was a good, educated, middle-class girl, training to be a doctor, and chaperoned by a male escort approved by her parents, the fact that she was loitering in public late in the night seemed to be a reason enough to label her as a slut. Hence, the argument goes, while we are very sorry this happened, she must have been responsible for it in some way. The defence lawyer who was defending the gang of men who raped the woman on a moving bus, went on record to say that the young woman, now dead, was to blame. If it was his daughter returning home so late in the night, in the company of a male friend, he would have shot her. Another politico, representing the women and children welfare ministry in Karnataka, questioned the clothing choices that the rape victim was wearing and suggesting that these slutty practices and choices were at least partially to blame. Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade, in their compelling book Why loiter? Women and risk on Mumbai streets (New Delhi: Penguin, 2011), provide a great historical analysis of how the entry of women in public spaces has always been regulated by either the threat of rape and assault or by deriding them as available and slutty.

5. Pramod Nayar (2011), in his essay ‘Vernacularization of online protests: A case study from India’, produces an exhaustive and insightful narrative of the different tropes of protest, parody and politics involved in the Pink Chaddi campaign.

6. The Facebook page for the group, which also captures the dramatic turns of the campaign, can be accessed at

7. The Pink Chaddi Campaign was the brain child of Nisha Susan, a then reporter with the news magazine Tehelka, Jasmeen Patheja, the founder of the Blank Noise Project that does public intervention around gender in public spaces, and co-conspirators Mihira Sood and Isha Manchanda. More details about the campaign can be found on its blog at

8. Nitya Vasudevan (2011) has a great op-ed in Bangalore TimeOut, where she looks at the correlations between ‘shamelessness’ and ‘sluttiness’ in the Indian context.

9. Building upon Thomas Kuhn’s (1962) notions of apoerea as an irresolvable point of encounter, where the claim to truth and the validation of truth both cannot be verified and hence remain irresolvable and irreconciliable.

10. This moment of simultaneity is what Donna Haraway (1991) characterises as ‘irony’ in the construction of the cyborg. For Haraway, the irony was not just in the cyborg’s bringing together of part machine, part biology. Instead, her cyborg was an ironical creature because it resisted the essentialising myths that imagine a history of the pristine body as untainted by science and technology. Haraway traces the cyborg as having its origins in systems and industries of domination and warfare, and thus essentially a monstrous thing. The monstrosity of the cyborg, enables it to escape the codes of legibility and protocols of legitimacy, and producing an entwined duality where the hermeneutic tools of one system challenge the meaning making processes of the other. At the same time, the monstrous produces the cyborg as precarious, outside of regulation and governance, and subject to rules of informatics and design.

11. Henderson, 2009, p. 50.

12. In their ongoing research, presented at a conference on Asian Video Cultures at Brown University in October 2013, Rahul Mukherjee and Abhigyan Singh study a phenomenon call ‘Micro SDing’ — a way by which the Micro SD card travels across phones, is shared and produces circulation of local ‘Mewati Videos’ in the interiors of India. The way that they track the exchange of these memory cards, in a universe of viral sharing and sharing viruses, is a compelling example of the Universal Slutty Being. Conference details can be found at

13. Stealth computing refers to a range of practices that the computer performs without showing them — for instance, performing a virus scan and filtering attacks on our devices. This, however, is more under the control of the user. There are stealth modes which are endemic to the very architecture of networked computing devices. Network cards, for instance, read all data that comes to a local network, and then deletes what is not addressed specifically to them. Our computing devices reveal and share, leak and transmit data and information surreptitiously, plugging in here, probing there, gently nudging and shaking hands without ever making it known. David Salomon (2006), in Foundations In computer security, shows how stealth is also a tactic by which viruses embed themselves into various programmes and ‘lie’ to users as well as our machines about the actual nature of what they are accessing (p. 83). Richard Fisher (2008), in his study of China’s militarization tactics, reminds us that stealth modes and operations are a part of the Internet’s history and even now, stealth devices pervade our everyday life ranging from backdoors in our cellphones for governments to spy on our data to drones that invisibly circle the skies.

14. In network computing, the promiscuous mode is a particular form of interaction where a network device is allowed to intercept and read each network packet that arrives to the network, in its entirety instead of only reading those packets which are actually targeted at it. In this mode, there is no longer a one-to-one device-data correspondence. Everything that come onto the network becomes accessible and shared by all network devices, making it possible for others in the network to be unwilling or unknowing bearers of information that one device might be accessing. This data transaction, sniffing, and analysis is often hidden from the human user. Wendy Chun (2006) has described this in great detail, in her analysis of packet sniffers and information surveillance.

15. Cate Matthews (2014) does a great job of recounting the events and how Jada, a ‘revenge porn and rape victim’, refuses to be a victim, emerging stronger her trending #IAmJada hashtag and accompanying video.



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Editorial history

Received 3 March 2015; accepted 24 March 2015.

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“Sluts ‘r’ us: Intersections of gender, protocol and agency in the digital age” by Nishant Shah is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Sluts ‘r’ us: Intersections of gender, protocol and agency in the digital age
by Nishant Shah.
First Monday, Volume 20, Number 4 - 6 April 2015

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