Thursday, June 25, 2015

It's not a joke and it is not funny

A few weeks ago I was running near my office in broad daylight. A man wearing an IT tag riding his bike, grabbed my breasts. And he sped off before I had a chance to stop him or even take down his vehicle number. I felt violated but I kept running. I came back to my office and checked my messages. There is a meme with a woman wearing next to nothing appeasing a man. A part of me got chipped away.

A month ago I was sitting at work late into the night. I had work to do and things to accomplish and I was very tired. I was aware that I may have make do with a plain cheese sandwich once I get home. A message arrives under the garb of a joke. It says that a woman's place in life is to be in kitchen and make mayo and cheese sandwich. Another part of me got chipped away.

A few days ago, I was hugging my mother after she returned home from a long tryst in the US. She wanted to go visit her parents and was deciding on whether she needs to get back to work or retire for good. She was telling me that I need to be more careful with my financial investments. A meme arrives. A naked woman whose breasts are being suckled by a man. She is wearing a doctor's costume and the joke is that men will line up for such a service. I feel physically tired looking at this.

I had to muster every ounce of courage I had but I finally broke down and voiced my opinion that I didn't like these jokes at all. They aren't funny. I have never laughed at them. Most of them make no sense and are not remotely clever. They all follow the similar train of thought - to reduce women. A woman belongs in the kitchen, claims one. A woman will beat up her husband jokes another (how is domestic violence ever ok? Imagine a victim of domestic violence in that Whatsapp group who had to see that joke. Imagine how much that must have hurt them). One joke is that a married man is playing darts on his wife's face and keeps "missing" her (again with the domestic violence). There are jokes about male rape (how will men ever come forward to report rape if you turn them into jokes????!).

Honestly, I don't know any woman in my life who has ever laughed at these jokes. They may not always speak up against them (maybe the person who cracks the joke is their boyfriend, maybe they don't want others to think they are humorless, maybe they have just reached a point where they no longer want to point out the misogyny inherent in these jokes) but I know no one who laughs at them. How can they? Women in general get painted by broad brushstrokes - emotional, vain, nagging, unable to understand technical things ("oh jaanu I don't understand this code" joke), or are objects to be pulled apart. Let's reduce her to her ass, her tits, her lips and other body parts. Let's post a picture of her naked body for the consumption of others. Would you ever send such a joke to your mother? Your wife? Would you be ok if your sister is mocked for her divorce? Why do you think such jokes are then things that can be passed down from group to group?

Here's the thing. Offensive humor can be very very funny. Amy Schumer is crass and funny. Louis CK is a funny comedian who happens to be ridiculously original too. Tina Fey, John Oliver, Aziz Anasari, Amy Poehler, are all some of the most celebrated comedians today and they deliver jokes that are a commentary on the society as it exists right now. And they offend. And they call out hypocrisy. And they are funny. And they manage to do so without becoming unoriginal and saying - hey women can't work. Who will cook for you? (Again, how is this remotely funny?).

Studies have shown that jokes such as these are very harmful as they reinforce the inherent patriarchal mores that our society functions in (The very fancy research article here). The jokes create hostility. They make it unsafe for women to be themselves. How can we be when we are forced to "take the joke" and not express our outrage as a result of it? How can we tell our male friends that a man grabbed our breasts and we feel violated when they were joking about male rape earlier that day? And when we do say that we are offended by those jokes, we are told to ignore them. We are lectured on the freedom of speech (it's funny that freedom of speech only exists in the context of sexist jokes. They don't apply to me telling you that you have crossed the line).

Jokes can be funny and comedy can effect change (Another fancy research and its stats). Why can't we be part of the change that creates a world that is inclusive of men and women (also I cannot stand LGBT's never funny to mock those who are already being subjugated)?

So, what happened you ask, when I finally spoke my mind? It hasn't been fun but it has resulted in a lot of introspection. For one I decided to no longer be in a space I didn't feel welcome in. I left the groups that I thought quietly chipped away parts of me. I tried to convey my discomfort, I was put down time and again and I realized that my voice was being stifled and it was my choice to walk away. I was told that I will lose friends as a result of my being "sensitive" and that made me feel really sad. But I pushed through. I don't want friends who just want an audience and are unwilling to see things from anyone's perspective but their own. How are we equal then? How are we friends? Of course I was told other things too. I was told that men do not find feminists "attractive". I was told that this was the reason people who are like me need to "get laid" (how to spot a sexist? Well, if the sexist male feels like he is losing the argument, he will immediately tell you that you are less desirable to the opposite sex...because that is what matters right?). Other parts of me got chipped away but I quietly rejected all those notions and stuck to my own convictions.I passive aggressively posted feminist memes on Facebook . It was not my smartest of moves but I wanted to create a safe space for me and just remind myself that females are strong as hell (it is a reference to indomitable Tina Fey's TV show - Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, not me making a grammatical mistake). I wrote this blog and reclaimed a part of my voice that was still afraid of ruffling feathers. I also learnt some important lessons along the way.

Fancy lessons learnt by Aishu in the past two weeks:
  • Never expect anyone to stand up for you just because you think or you know you are in the right. It is their prerogative. You just have to deal with it. 
  • Don't be afraid not to be the "cool girl". If you think you need to stand up for yourself and it goes against the status quo that has been established, don't let that drown your voice away. You have to always believe in yourself no matter what. Your opinions do not make you "hormonal" or "crazy". Don't let such men or women dictate your life and your voice. 
  • Women need to stand up for other women (also men). We need to come together and support one another and help one another. And that starts with me. I won't support hypocrisy (that holds true for both men and women). I won't support a woman just because she is a woman. But if a woman expresses that she is uncomfortable due to someone's casual sexism (or heavy handed sexism), then I pledge to come to her defense and support her (or him if it is the case of a guy). I know what it feels like to be all alone in a fight and I will in my power never let that happen to anyone else ever again. 
  • Welcome men into the conversation. I used to go by the old trope ("no uterus? No opinion"). But the truth is men constitute half the population and there are some fantastic men out there who want to help make the society equal for both sexes and we are pushing them away just because we feel their experiences as men invalidates them from fighting for equality of the genders. I am guilty of having done this in the past. I won't do this ever again. The fight is against a patriarchal system that imprisons both men AND women. Let's fight that together. 
  • Unicorns are real. They will always be real. And they will always be awesome. Yes. I learnt that in the last two weeks. 
So, this is where I am right now in life. A little bruised and chipped away but still sparkling and awesome. I have discarded things from my life I no longer need and found a strength I didn't think I had. I would say that this is the modern day fairy tale. The modern day romantic comedy. I want to say that this is my happily ever after but I know better. This is my beginning.