By Kahini Iyer Feb. 22, 2021
We’ve had our share of laughs over the Shweta call but we are also privy to its darker side. After all, there is a real person involved – the girl Shweta was discussing. And while she thankfully remains anonymous, the conversation reveals how men talk about their partners, often to other women, when they are not around to speak for themselves.
Until a few days ago, the mention of the name “Shweta” might have brought to mind that classmate from your school whom you lost touch with, or for the Bigg Boss fans among us, actor and former contestant Shweta Tiwari. Now, however, the name is infamous and any mention of it is more likely to result in smirks, facepalms, and desperate cries of, “Shweta! Your mic is on!”
The viral video of unfortunate student Shweta, who during a Delhi University online class on Zoom, accidentally conducted a long private conversation, is the latest gift the pandemic has given us. Like the hapless lawyer who got stuck with his cat filter on, and the poor BBC interviewee whose kids came dancing into his office while he was live on-air, Shweta also fell victim to the complexities of lockdown technology, as she proceeded to broadcast a chat about her male friend and his colourful love life to the participants of the call. Some students frantically tried to alert Shweta to the fact that her mic was on and her “secret” chat with a friend was becoming public fodder; others loudly despaired as they were forced to listen to the gory details of Shweta’s friend’s sex life. And at least one of them posted a recording of the video online, where it went on to spawn an array of memes and jokes on social media, surpassing even the #IPLAuction trend. Many users have noted the hilarious irony of Shweta’s friend telling her his story in confidence, only for it to become the talk of the internet. The relatable plight of Shweta’s fellow students, whose entire class was spent either shouting at her to mute her mic or resigning themselves to a lesson dedicated to gossip, also inspired funny reactions.
By now, who among us has not been on a Zoom call where someone else frustratingly refuses to mute their mic? Hearing a toilet flush or your colleague’s mother asking them to make their bed is undeniably awkward, if not on the same cringeworthy level as Shweta’s phone call. But now that this light-hearted entertainment has gone public, we are also privy to its darker side. After all, there is a real person behind the Shweta meme: the girl she was discussing.
Shweta’s conversation shows how subtly women can be pitted against each other in the context of patriarchy.
Throughout her ill-fated phone call with a friend, Shweta was revealing her other male friend’s relationship with a girl — one who was apparently a “sex addict”. Shweta described how her friend was crazy about the girl and felt madly attracted to her, to the point where they would have sex every time they met up. On one hand, the boy obviously had intended for this account to go no further than Shweta, and has every right to share his experience with a friend. But it also reveals how men talk about their partners, often to other women, when they are not around to speak for themselves. As comic Agrima Joshua tweeted, “Instead of Shweta, can we please talk about men bitching about their girlfriends to other women.”
There are never only two people in a relationship – there is always someone you turn to for advice and sometimes just as a sounding board. Still, it’s telling when you constantly badmouth someone who you are dating; it’s worse if that relationship is over. That Shweta describes the woman involved in terms of sex addiction, while the man who is equally engaged in having sex doesn’t get the same treatment. Instead, he is characterised as being head-over-heels in love, and according to Shweta, is the aggrieved party whose intense feelings were not reciprocated. With what sounds like a sense of pride, Shweta explains that the boy had not told even his best friend about the situation but has still confided in her (at which point an exasperated student cries out that now he has told 111 people).
Any of us, like Shweta, might feel special if we were entrusted with a secret. But her unwitting revelation is an example of the kind of conversation men too often feel entitled to have about their partners. The boy in question places all the blame on the girl and in talking about her to Shweta, another girl with whom he is not particularly close, places her in a familiar context: Not Like Other Girls. If his ex-girlfriend is a sex addict who treated him badly, then by telling Shweta, he makes it clear that she is different and superior. It’s a message Shweta herself has taken onboard as she unquestioningly relates the boy’s version of events on her phone call, without stopping to ask whether the other girl deserves such harsh descriptors.
Shweta’s conversation shows how subtly women can be pitted against each other in the context of patriarchy. For a young woman like Shweta, the approval of a boy comes at the expense of another girl’s reputation — when in fact, it should say more about the boy who, according to the phone call we heard, is comfortable holding his girlfriend’s behaviour to a different standard than his own. Along with a lot of laughs, the Shweta saga has afforded us an opportunity to reflect on how men talk about women, and how other women are willing to accept it, as long as they are on the right end of the conversation.
Kahini spends an embarrassing amount of time eating Chinese food and watching Netflix. For proof that she is living her #bestlife, follow her on Instagram @kahinii.