Of the long list of the many things that irk me, coming up for podium finish would definitely be the slew of Whatsapp jokes that belittle a ‘wife’. What irks me even more is that these jokes are often blithely forwarded by women themselves, completely tone deaf to how misogynist and sexist these jokes actually are.
A casual Google search for Whatsapp wife jokes is an indication of how popular these are, throwing up about 34,40,000 search results of all variants. Jokes in English, Hindi, other Indian languages, image jokes, ‘veg’ jokes, ‘non veg’ jokes, all available to pick and choose from. Copy paste, hit send, at the touch of a finger casual sexism gets bombarded, disseminated and reinforced. India is the world’s biggest market for Whatsapp, and all of them, it would seem, rabid consumers of sexist jokes, good morning messages and of course, tweets from the Whatsapp factory of manufactured information.
Do I cringe as I read these jokes? Yes. Do I call the senders of these jokes out, yes I do, and have been removed from a few Whatsapp groups for my ‘lack of sense of humour’. I’m not complaining. I get all bristly in porcupine manner, and call it out. And more so when it is a woman forwarding one of these. Perhaps I lack a sense of humour because I completely fail to see the humour in these. At the best, they’re reductive. At worse, they’re vicious. They reduce women to mistrustful, sexless, avaricious harridans. And also, we’re in 2018, and these marriage jokes often not very flattering to the wife, are based on the stereotype of a heterosexual marriage.
What do these jokes promote? The Utopian ideal that a man would have a much better life without a wife around to constantly nag him and spend ‘his’ money, in a hedonistic display of consumerism. The man is presumed to be the sole provider in these Whatsapp forwards, that many women earn an independent income these days is conveniently neglected
The hapless husband seems compelled to stay on in a marriage much against his will, and seems to seek any opportunity to escape from his terrifying wife. I look around me and wonder, are these husbands who populate the territory of these Whatsapp forwards for real? I don’t see any of them around me. The husband of the Whatsapp forward is very different from the husband of everyday life. Most urban families are dual income. Wives, even if they’re not working in standard nine to five jobs are earning additional incomes to contribute to the household income through entrepreneurship, through flexi work, and more. So why is this financially and emotionally ‘victimised’ husband trope so popular in the Whatsapp world? In contrast, popular culture has emancipated women quite ruling the roost, whether in the movies, in stand-up or in fiction. In our advertising too, the wife is slowly emerging from being the sole in charge of all domestic arrangements and morphing into a professional woman with an independent income all her own to spend as she chooses. The Whatsapp joke wife though continues to be stuck in a time warp as far as professional achievements and financial independence are concerned.
Pointer of social mindset
Whatsapp jokes are telling of a social mindset, of what is acceptable enough for a people to find humour in it, and not be offended. A joke is always more than a joke, they are tacit acknowledgements of a shared perception, agreed to by a limited cohort, in this case a Whatsapp cohort. Jokes acknowledge inherent biases and expectations, laughter is evoked by underlining these, and more often than not the jokes on wives and marriage shared on Whatsapp are deeply sexist and misogynist. What is worse is that we propagate them without a second thought, perpetuating this casual sexism, normalising it. Jokes on women and wives will continue to be shared and laughed at, as long as women themselves see nothing wrong with it, and don’t call it out.
Repeated silences when such jokes are forwarded legitimises the sexism they propagate. And sadly, by our silence as women, or our complicity in sharing these, we endorse and legitimise sexism against our own gender.
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