Dear Society, There Is No Such Thing As “Harmless” Sexist Jokes

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Recently, my brother was “joking” about how he will keep his wife in control after he gets married. He said, “I won’t let her mingle with you, a feminist sister, and get her mind corrupted.” The “joke” did everything apart from making me laugh out loud. It amused me that my brother saw my feminist thoughts as manipulative and corrupt. The joke also undermined my agency as a woman to speak up, ask or bring a change. Why do so many people believe that there is such a thing as harmless sexist jokes?

Who gets affected and who gets to laugh at sexist jokes itself shows the power relation based on gender at play. While my brother was laughing out loud, I couldn’t speak a word out of rage and disappointment.

Have you seen this Instagram reel in which a wedding party is dancing to the song “Gadi wala aaya ghar se kachda nikal” during a bride’s bidaai? The reel reduces women to being trash that is to be disposed of by parents as soon as someone comes to pick it up. And yet, so many people seem to be finding this funny.

I have often heard that sexist jokes are harmless. But I don’t think so. Sexist jokes contribute as much to women’s oppression as any patriarchal norm. They harm not only harm women’s self-respect but also make them question their relevance in society or that of the issues that impact their life.

Whenever a person cracks a sexist joke, they assume that women are placed so low in the social hierarchy that any joke on them will cause no harm. Sometimes, few people who endorse equality also crack sexist jokes thinking that women won’t mind it anymore now that they are aware of their rights. But let me tell you dear people that every sexist comment or joke is an attack on women’s identity, no matter how educated and empowered a woman is.

Sexist jokes rob women of their voice by trivilaising their opinion, issues, lifestyle and existence. Women hesitate in speaking up despite knowing that someone demeaning them due to lack of confidence brought on by being at the receiving end of sexist jokes. They are forced to either go with the flow to have a friend circle or stay away from long debates for opposing such jokes. Is that not harm to women’s freedom of speech and their confidence? Is this not a breach of a woman’s right to argue and opine to present their views or save their kind from being demeaned?

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Sexist jokes, especially those cracked by people who masquerade as upholders of equality, are a proof that most people operate on double standards to suit their convenience. On surface many people agree that women have been oppressed for generations by patriarchy, but they also feel that their issues are not serious enough to stop laughing and start taking action. This approach leave women feeling lonely in their battle for equality despite all the visual support that comes their way.

To harm someone, it is not necessary to give them a visible wound that bleeds. Wounds can be invisible too and women have been bearing these invisible wounds for a long time. They have been kept away from the right to safety, right to education, right to employment and right to opine. And sexist jokes just act as salt to invisible wounds that reduce their agony to a funny one liner.

So it is high time we stop considering sexist jokes harmless. In fact, anything that is sexist should not be approved for any reason.

Views expressed are the author’s own.