Misogyny in the time of coronavirus lockdown: Can the sexist jokes stop now?

The patriarchal idea that men are breadwinners and not ‘bread-bakers’ has become so fixed that any attempt or opportunity to make a change is looked down upon with contempt.
 Misogyny in the time of coronavirus lockdown: Can the sexist jokes stop now?
Misogyny in the time of coronavirus lockdown: Can the sexist jokes stop now?
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It’s a 21-day lockdown across the country to fight the coronavirus pandemic that has gripped the world. But it seems that it is not just a new virus, but a horde of deep-rooted, infectious ideas too that need to be flushed out. Even in the times of a global crisis, sexism reveals its fangs and spews venom on social media, adorned by innumerable smileys, most of them about how the husband prefers hospital quarantine to staying at home with his wife, how one needs to pamper his wife to get food, men lamenting over doing the dishes or washing clothes, and even tips for a man to avoid household chores and manipulating his wife into believing that he cares about her. There have been forward messages in the name of ‘husbands welfare associations’ too. And if anyone feels offended, get ready to face more smileys, similar taunts in the guise of smiley-ridden jokes and get branded as ‘a silly person who can’t get a joke’. (Those who want to be unbranded can add ‘not all men’).

Only while checking where these jokes come from can the gravity of the issue be assessed.

“What irks me is that these groups where they share sexist jokes comprise people who call themselves ‘progressive’,” says actor and social activist Sajitha Madathil. “These people who always voice against injustice and get intimidated by any post or comment against caste or religion, find gender-based jokes normal; so normal that it has become so dangerous.”  

The lockdown is frustrating for all family members as all have to stay at home and their only contact with outsiders is through the virtual world. With no meetings with friends or outdoor activities, people might feel they are stuck indoors, bored and losing interest in even binge-watching TV. But all these are applicable to men and children, well, most of them. There might not be a boring moment for a woman who runs the household and if they have a job outside the home, working eight hours from home while managing the daily chores. Asking for help or expecting to be assisted results in ‘jokes they don’t get’.

“Many find these jokes they circulate to be funny. Why is it still funny? It’s time the laughter died,” says NP Ashley, social commentator and assistant professor at St Stephen’s College, Delhi.

The patriarchal idea that men are breadwinners and not ‘bread-bakers’ has become so fixed that any attempt or opportunity to make a change is looked down upon with contempt. Ashley adds, “In a pragmatic sense, patriarchy in homes refers to laziness. The laziness to cook, serve, do the dishes, wash the clothes and clean the home has been forced upon as something men can afford in the guise of ‘hard and fast social structure’.”

Irked by social media forwards that belittle women and tired of fighting with many over insensitivity, activist Aysha Mahmood calls out the glorification of domestic violence and gaslighting in a Facebook post.

It reads, “It’s a difficult time. Mentally and physically. And I really don’t want to be battling sexism also on the sides. I am up-to-my-eyeballs fed up of the sexist, misogynist, tasteless jokes being circulated every day on Whatsapp groups and social media circles of how hard it is for you to survive with your wife. And how you never thought you would have to spend so much time with the person you married. And you would choose Corona over your wife and kids. And the power of makeup is wearing off and I don’t know who is this woman in bed with me. And How Corona is like wives- there is no use hitting or scolding them – soap idanam ennaale kaaryamulloo. Don’t. Just don’t. Don’t use a hard time to glorify domestic violence and gaslighting. Don’t use this time to validate and make light of all the victims who live with this every day and now have to 24/7. Don’t let those perpetrators of violence feel that this is a norm.”

Unlike men, a 21-day stay-at-home period is easier for homemakers as home has always been where they are. In fact, kids and husbands at home might only add to her burden as she is deprived of any rest if men choose to enjoy the ‘break’ and stay at peace, without bothering to share the responsibilities. Any attempt to disturb his hard-earned leisure time or slumber might kick up a storm or turn into seemingly-harmless jokes circulated by like-minded hubbies. Why do some find the endless physical labour of a person funny?

“Misogynistic jokes like these that get circulated at a time of a global epidemic stem from men’s frustrations,” opines Sajitha, who points out that a home has always been considered by women as their own space. “It’s a time when the whole family can stay together, but most men can’t handle a lockdown like this as they do not consider home as their place. Denied a chance to be in their friends’ circles, booze parties and spaces which have been men’s prerogatives for long, they feel that they are trapped in a space which is not theirs. And it’s these frustrations that they vent out through social media as insensitive comments and vile posts on womenfolk,” she says.

Concurring, Ashley explains, “The work of women doesn’t seem to end. Those who have a job outside their homes are now working from home eight hours a day, and they are expected to do the chores at home too. Will their work end, ever, unless everyone shares the job? With everyone staying indoors and with no public places, this is the perfect time to make it a habit to share all the work between family members and change the social structure. Or else, only women will bear the brunt of the stay-at-home system.”

If not now, when will men start to build new habits? “Have they even thought about what would happen if women start writing and circulating similar jokes? Would that be funny? Actually, I feel we should make trolls, not to humiliate but to let them know that they should respect persons from other genders, consider home as their space too, explore their home and try to make posts and comments about that. Isn’t this the ideal time for that?” asks Sajitha.

Hoping that home remains a happy space for everyone, Ashley adds, “By doing all the chores together, women will be freed of the exploitation they face at home. Household chores are not nuclear science; everyone can learn it. Also teach yourself and your children that cooking and serving food is a great task. A home becomes a secure place only when everyone shares the work and appreciates each other.”

Sajitha also notes that those who share these jokes include men and women. “They just go with the flow and share these without thinking. Had they given it a thought, many, especially women, wouldn’t be forwarding these. And if someone really feels that it is funny, I’d say there’s something wrong with them.”

Well, the lockdown has prompted a good share of men to open their eyes and responsibly manage their home, finding time to see things clearly, sharing the housework and spending time with family. But, not all men! Hope the tasteless jokes find their way to the bin as equality prevails. In the time of coronavirus, home can be a school too, where one can introspect, learn new lessons, practise and become better human beings.


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