Is humour funny when it comes at the expense of women? Placards going viral as part of a new internet culture should probably look inwards in reflection of what it is exactly that they are passing off as a trend. Simply put, what the trend demands is a controversial or hot take to be held up on a signboard, preferably in public, so that it makes a statement stronger than a common social media post would.
The message on one such placard, raised by a woman, recently caught the eye of many on Twitter. The board she flashed, during a cricket match in Mohali, read, “Bohot hui biwi ki manmaani, abki baar Rohit ki kaptaani.” It was likely a reference to Virat Kohli stepping down from test captaincy, passing the baton to Rohit Sharma. The biwi in the equation, of course, is Anushka Sharma.
This signboard belongs to the same brand of sexism that is espoused by toxic, ‘dudebro’ cricket fanatic circles in India, ever since Sharma tied the knot with Kohli in 2017. A large part of any disfavour Kohli may have fallen into in recent years is unfairly attributed to his wife, whom a part of the cricket fan community views as a threat. Every time Kohli failed to perform on the field, Sharma was held responsible. She was the bad guy just by virtue of her marital relationship with the cricketer.
More recently, she was massively trolled for ‘encroaching’ the sport space by stepping onto the pitch beside her husband as he was felicitated for playing his 100th test match. Read more on that here.
What deserves questioning, with regard to these placards touting messages its holders think are witty, is what kind of consciousness they are encouraging? Are they pandering to the baser qualities and internalised biases a majority of our society holds? Is humour really harmless when it is fuelled by agendas that reinforce misogyny that women are trying so hard to fight?
Another viral photo that faced much criticism from social media users was one in which a bride held a placard reading, “He has lost his rights to flirt. #justmarried” while the groom held one that read, “Hum nahi sudhrenge.” [I won’t change.]
In India, it’s almost customary to find comedy in the liberally used ‘boys will be boys’ adage. It is applied to explain away most everything – from adultery to violence – both within and outside of marriage. Which explains the audacity with which these placards were held up, purportedly at a wedding. The concept of a philandering husband is normalised, even accepted.
Could you imagine the outcry if the groom and bride exchanged their placards? The woman’s character would have been ripped apart, bit by bit, by audiences online and offline.
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One netizen famous to thousands of his followers as ‘The Placard Guy’ prominently uses the signboard formula for producing content. A placard he held up in 2019 around the general elections took a direct shot at actor Swara Bhasker, who is often the target of trolls for a masturbation scene she did in the film Veere Di Wedding.
His sign read, “This election don’t be like Swara Bhasker… Use your finger wisely, vote wisely.” Bhasker called the message out for the “slut shaming.”
Crass content that relies on sexual overtones to deliver the humour, putting women’s dignities up as collateral damage in the process, is something a lot of creators are leaning towards today. Here’s an instance of how it plays out between Instagram influencers.
What’s worrisome is the wild popularity such content finds. It has a wide audience, which is comfortable laughing at sexism. Where is the accountability that comes with reach, for promoting ideologies that are direct or indirect attacks on women? What does this growing culture of misogyny among the youth mean for the future of women’s equality? Are we tracing our steps back in time?
Views expressed are the author’s own.