Standing Up To Patriarchy On Family WhatsApp Groups: Each one of us knows that one uncle, who thinks wife-bashing jokes are still funny in 2021 and thus continues to share them liberally on family WhatsApp group. While such jokes and memes will earn you instant backlash for their inappropriate nature on social networking platforms like Twitter, on messaging groups that solely consist of family member, they earn you a scroll by at worse, and a laughing emoji at best. Why does this happen? Why is it easier to pull a stranger or a social media acquaintance for a sexist tweet, but equally difficult to stand up to a relative for the same?
If we are unable to raise our voice against patriarchy and sexism within our own family circles, then do we even have the right to call ourselves advocates of equality? However, standing up to sexism, misogyny and stereotypes in our family and friend circles is easier said than done. To rephrase, it is easier to pick some battles with strangers than our loved ones and extended family. The reason- lack of obligation and familial pressure on social networking websites like Twitter.
In family WhatsApp groups such messages are not posted by a person you know tangentially, or an anonymous handle. These memes and forwards don’t just have a name attached to them on Family WhatsApp groups, there is a family equation latching on to it. You know this person, you are related to them, your family expects you to treat them with utmost respect.
To raise your voice against them wouldn’t be online activism, it would be disobedience, badtameezi, insult. It could spoil relationship dynamics within the family forever. It could also have repercussions for your parents, sister or brother, the tremors of which will take the news far and wide, to various nooks and corners of the family. Who is willing to take that risk? Who wants to deal with the earful that will come from parents and elders of family?
But that’s not all. In most families, the dynamics are not just set by patriarchal values and hierarchy in relationships. Obligation and good will plays a big role too.
What if the uncle cracking wife-bashing joke in the family WhatsApp group helped your father out during his tough times? What if your aunt who shared a meme criticising girls for wearing shorts and skirts financially helped your parents when they needed money for your college admission?
We have to remember that people, in flesh and blood, are not as black and white as social media want us to believe. These may be good people, who believe in outdated values or advocate a problematic mindset in the name of culture.
So what does one do in such a situation? When you know you or your parents or a dear relative feels obligated towards a family member with upsetting views, do you call them out or let it go? If you choose to scroll past their messages, does that make an ally to their cause- simply by virtue of silence?
There are no easy answers here. Sometimes what you can do is go behind their back and chat up with other relatives regarding their messages. Express how you feel, raise questions, test the waters. Delicate problems require a covert approach, what matters though is that you try. Scrolling past doesn’t make you an accomplice altogether, but then, you are not helping your cause either. I guess that’s Indian families for you- a long maze of tangled relationships that has the potential to strengthen you, but somehow ends up restraining you.
The views expressed are the author’s own.