Sexist divorce jokes: One of India’s top industrialists recently took to Twitter to share a joke about Bill and Melinda Gates’ divorce and the subsequent alimony (which no one knows much about as of yet, mind you). The joke at best reads like a WhatsApp forward, that should have been deleted the minute it had been conceived. And yet, the businessman’s “joke” has amassed close to seven thousand likes 891 retweets.
The “moral” of the joke, which begins with how two of the richest men on our planet, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are now divorced, is that men shouldn’t “earn so much money that the wife finds divorce alimony more appealing than the husband. Keep spending money on yourself.”
Bill Gates divorced.
Jeff Bezos divorced.
Moral: Don’t earn so much money that the wife finds divorce alimony more appealing than the husband. Keep spending money on yourself.
— Harsh Goenka (@hvgoenka) May 17, 2021
The only part one can approve of is the last line. Men should spend more money on themselves. Men are brought up to be breadwinners and financial planners. Society tells them that their responsibility is to provide for their family and to spend their money on themselves is selfish. As a result of which we see so many dads who see every purchase on basis of its utility for the whole family. Spending on self is splurging that is seldom allowed and often comes riddled with guilt. But everyone deserves a little pampering. So yes, keep spending money on yourself.
However, this one line isn’t good enough to take our attention away from the problematic portrayal of wives reflected in this tweet, that is so commonplace among men globally. Why is it that alimony is seen as unfair and wives who demand it are painted as freeloaders? It is because we still see building of wealth as a pay cheque exercise. By this logic, many people believe that it is unjust to ask any man to part a considerable amount of his hard-earned money in the name of alimony.
But is building wealth all about earning money? What about the endless hours of work women put into performing unpaid chores like household work and caring for their wards? What about the money homemakers save for their household every month with their monthly budget and planning, spreading out the family’s combined earning to last through the month and even try to save some?
Additionally, so many women sacrifice their careers to support the dreams of their husbands, picking up their load of household duties, or even supporting them financially during the initial days of their careers? If Melinda French Gates or MacKenzie Scott had worked for the business empires their husbands created in an unofficial capacity, then are they wrong in asking for their share of wealth? When these ambitious men achieve success, should their wives have no claim in it? How should a woman fend for herself, if she put herself and her financial security last for most of her marital life, when her marriage doesn’t work out?
If Melinda French Gates or MacKenzie Scott had worked for the business empires their husbands created in unofficial capacity, then are they wrong in asking for their share of wealth?
Sadly, the conversation around alimony among people like the said industrialist, isn’t focused on ensuring financial independence of women or on our understanding of wealth creation. It is limited to cracking sexist jokes that paint women in poor light.
These jokes are everywhere, you’ll find them on family WhatsApp groups, locker rooms, social media, garden parties, bars and every other place in between. People who conform to such mindset laugh at them as if they haven’t heard anything funnier. What do the rest of us do? We scroll past and pretend we didn’t read or hear it. Why? Because people cracking them are way up in the hierarchy and we dare not call them out, without either incurring troll brigades, or worse, family spats.
It is difficult to call out a politician or an influential online personality on Twitter as much as it is to take a stand against a misogynist uncle who has a lot to say when it comes to how women should lead their lives and what rights do they deserve. But by not taking a stand, we let such people sugarcoat a bitter mindset that is passed on from generation to generation. This mindset keeps us from seeing why financial equality is imperative in marriages from day one.
So while it is difficult to stand up, we can start by asking these questions and force our elders and influencers to rethink their sexist and seemingly harmless WhatsApp forwards and tweet.
The views expressed are the author’s own.