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Category: I OPINE (Page 1 of 14)

WhatsApp and Sexism – part 2

Read part 1 here.

I couldn’t quite cover the other side of the coin with my earlier post. So, penning down this sequel in an attempt to cover more vantage points.

So when I discussed how lack of social responsibility leads to a trend with WhatsApp forwards that portray men as victims of marriage at the hands of women, I also had a look at the other side. Are there no jokes about men? Of course, there are. In fact, I would argue, the same jokes that target women are the most insulting ones to men. They portray men to be weak dummies in a marriage, they show men as incapable of being independent, taking part in running a household, unable to cook… the list is endless. One counter-point to my earlier post was that men take such jokes lightly. Well, they shouldn’t. If I were a man, I would be terribly offended by this trend. Especially when the men are equally equipped with household, help out in parenting, do everything they can to pitch in. These jokes are totally unfair to them.

If we analyze the direction in which the scales tip when you see the statistics, even with generalization, there are a lot more jokes that target women than men. This, as I said earlier, is just how the meme/joke creation process. Whichever jokes go viral, their themes are the trendy ones. So if a certain theme is more prevalent, we only have ourselves to blame. So how do we achieve balance or equality? There are quite a few ways to go about it. The easier way would be to take everything lightly and make fun of both men and women equally. Or the longer route would be not to use social media as a platform to target any particular faction. Unbiased social media! Well, that’s the dream 🙂

Let’s also look at another way of taking things sportively than to blindly make fun of everyone. Let’s say, a husband makes fun that his wife can’t cook, straight to her face, and she gets back with an equally funny response about him being useless in the kitchen and the family enjoys a laugh. This scenario is less nefarious because it is a personal situation handled directly within the family. There is no stereotyping that all women cannot cook. There is no generalization that all men are useless. This is about a couple/family laughing together over a funny comment about themselves. They know what boundaries not to cross. However, when we take this scenario, share it on all social platforms, influence the audience who might or might not have an opinion about it, that becomes a meme. Slowly as the meme feeds on colored opinions and conditioned mindsets, the boundaries fade into non existence. And eventually it ends up offending some while others say it is not so bad.

Now, let’s go one step further and remove gender from the main premise. Even if a meme is just about how bad married life is, think about the message being conveyed. And if the number of times you listen to this message keeps growing exponentially over the years? It is easy enough to be influenced. After all, we live in the digital age. If we look at a particular brand’s advertisements often, we are tempted to choose it over others. How hard is it for teenagers or younger children to think that marriage as a concept is just a joke? How can we explain to them about the value or culture of marriage after feeding them years of bias? If we are fine with them taking this message in, then we shouldn’t be cribbing about how the culture of this country is going downhill because youngsters no longer want to get married, they prefer live-in relationships and the such.

Social media is bad enough with the privacy invasion, tracking users and their behavior, mining users’ data and selling it for profit. Throw bias and prejudice into the mix and you get one colorful cocktail. One that will make you feel on top of the cloud while actually robbing you of your personality, individuality, and credibility.

Until later 🙂

WhatsApp and Sexism

Of all the evils that WhatsApp represents, sexism is the one that I resent most often. Although I am not an active user, I am (unavoidably) a member of a lot of WhatsApp groups – Family groups, work groups, friends’ groups.. you get it. There is one thing that stands out as a common factor in all the groups, no matter what the group is or who the members are – the never-ending sexist jokes on women, marriage, and how men are victims of these two factors. I experience a lot of reactions to these jokes that range from ignoring them for the sake of keeping my peace to getting into arguments with people who forward these jokes.

Note how I emphasize on the action of forwarding these messages. It is typical of any social media user to think that forwarding/sharing/liking a message does not transfer any onus to them about the message. In my opinion, “Forwarded as received” is the most outrageous phrase that exhibits a total disregard for your friends, family, and other contacts. These memes or messages are created based on the responses they gather. The more they are forwarded, the more they are created. So there is an implicit responsibility in forwarding or liking these messages even if you don’t create them.

The ultimate defense when someone raises an issue, is always – It is just a joke, why are you being so sensitive?, be a sport, and the like. If the argument goes beyond a threshold, they turn it around on you and mention that perhaps you shouldn’t be on social media if you cannot take it lightly. They think they can escape with the lame I-just-forwarded-it excuse.

I am astounded by the fact that none of these people stop to think that they are actually showing their support or their preference for these messages by forwarding it. It is not about taking a joke. It is about taking a stand. As a set of generations who experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly of social media first-hand, is this the message we want to pass to our next generation? Let’s think for a minute – our kids read such information and consider this bias as normal. Our daughters will think that it is normal for them to be made out to be a joke. Our sons will think that it is not wrong to repeatedly make jokes at someone’s expense, even if the underlying message is not true. What hope is there for a better world if our kids see this as the reality? As a parent, wouldn’t you cringe inside if your son-in-law or someone in his family makes a joke out of your daughter? How can we expect younger generations to believe in the concept of marriage or take it seriously after we have repeatedly joked about it?

Do the men who forward such messages really have such women in their life ? Do the women who endorse these messages (apparently for fun) really behave this way and do they not wish the men in their lives were more attuned to their feelings? And then there are people who remain silent because the sender is either your boss, a close friend, or a family member. How can we aspire for equality when we groom our attitude with such daily doses of biased humor? How can we claim to be educated when our education isn’t helping us identify the stand we are taking? How can we claim to be sophisticated when it isn’t stopping us from endorsing a wrong message, however implicitly?

In the end, unlike most of us think, this doesn’t boil down to men vs. women. It boils down to people vs. prejudice. It boils down to taking responsibility for the information we share with our contacts who trusted us with their contact number and time. Do we have the guts to do that?

Until later 🙂

Kids and gender bias

I admit that I was that rebel kid who constantly questioned unfair treatment, just because I am a girl. To the question whether rebellion got me anywhere, the answer is – it’s complicated. It solved my issues at times but it made things worse at other times. But my stand has always been and is still that, just because you cannot change anything about it at the moment, it is not right to stay compliant and swallow the pill forced down your throat.

If I trace back, gender bias is so seeped into our lifestyle that I am shocked to discover the many, many, normal things that we do are colored by unwanted stereotypes. Like when we unconsciously pick out a barbie doll or a cooking set for a girl’s birthday party while cars and trucks are piling up for a boy’s birthday. Like when we unconsciously tell a story or pretend play, where amma is cooking and appa is watching TV. Like when you find only pink colored shoes for girls and not for boys. These are the most famous stereotypes and given the struggle I have to go through to avoid these, I am pretty sure that there are many more where these came from.

It is not news that kids are easily suggestible, impressionable, and more importantly, super observant. Fighting against open oppression seems easy than weeding out the ideologies that are intertwined into our lives. But the reality is that neither is easy. Each demands a different method, voice, and effort. That’s a topic for another post. So with kids, it is super important to question yourself on every word (you can use the 5 whys method) before you tell them something.

Some things that I do, in an attempt to create a gender-neutral growing environment for my daughter:

I go out of my way to pick neutral colors for my daughter’s toys, clothes etc. Sometimes I encourage her to pick a blue toy, when given the choice. This does not mean I don’t pick pink at all. I just ensure that she does not associate any labels with the colors. This is not easy because the market out there does not have enough choices unless you are willing to do the stereotype ride.

I talk about my husband cooking in the kitchen, even if it is a small attempt. I openly appreciate my husband for making dosas for me. Some people may think this is overkill but I think that this is necessary to balance the scale to neutral.

In any story that I tell her, I twist the narrative from time to time to create a gender neutral scene. For example, if I tell a story about a family, I present the scene in such a way that the dad is seen doing a household chore (or something else that is often unconsciously perceived as a woman’s chore) and the mom helping him out. The next time, I do it in the reverse so that my daughter does not associate gender with a chore. And every time, I need to get something done by my husband or vice versa, we call it as asking for help. I think this encourages children to think of a family as a group of people helping and supporting each other, rather than taking things for granted.

When we go to my parent’s place, I addressed it as “grandmother’s place”. It is such a simple thing but you wouldn’t believe the unease that registered because everyone else was calling it as her “grandfather’s place”. No matter what others addressed it as, I stuck to my narrative.

I teach her household chores as life skills to her. It is not because she is a girl but because she needs to learn to be independent. Since she is our only kid, I often refer to my nephew and his activities when I teach her household chores, pointing out that my nephew, her cousin, learnt it and how he is able to handle things independently. I think this helps her focus on the skill and not who does it.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Every time I do a new activity with my daughter, I analyze it for any bias, not just gender bias, and try to see if there is a way out of it. You could even say that I am obsessed about doing things the right way. Some people say that this is not sustainable but I don’t see any other way out of it. We, as adults, created this biased, judgmental environment, based on our context, our opinions, and our thoughts which are purely subjective. And when you experience the innocence of a kid, as a parent, your core is shaken. Kids are the epitome of pure, non contextual, non judgmental love. Why teach them something bad and then crib that the society is filled with ungrateful youngsters?

Do you know any other ways to break out of this destructive shell? How do you engage your kids in gender neutral activities? Think now, act today.

Until later 🙂

Stop giving us what we already have

Before thinking about providing salaries to women who manage the household, before debating if this is a right idea or is it putting a price on things done out of love, before arguing about whether this is a pride or an insult, how about we do a few basic things?

Before talking about money, status, and pride, let’s talk respect, compassion, sharing the load, treating them lovingly. Let’s stop the empowerment rage for one second and let’s talk why the necessity for empowerment was born. Let’s stop the oppression (not just for women). Let’s stop the patriarchy that is conditioned into each cell of this society. Let’s stop forwarding the distasteful jokes about marriage and how women spoil men’s life after marriage. Stop kidding yourselves.

Women don’t need protectors. Women don’t need someone else to justify their work. They need one thing – just letting them be. Treat them fair. Respect them for who they are. Women who need someone else to voice their concern won’t exist today if they were not fed years of implicit and explicit patriarchy.

For every brand that uses women’s day as a campaign premise,
For every politician who uses women empowerment just for the vote bank,
For every single person who thinks the marriage/husband-wife jokes on WhatsApp are funny,
For every brand that makes a sexist ad for cheap popularity,
Stop creating the problem and you wouldn’t have to search for the solution. Stop doing what you do and you wouldn’t need to empower women. Women are empowered, more than you’d think, more than you’d know, more than you could ever imagine. Just stop being a jerk and start being unconditionally unbiased.

Until later 🙂

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