It's easier to quit or mute these groups but we must learn how to take on prejudice in our intimate circles, too.

Is your family WhatsApp group driving you crazy with prejudiced jokes Theres help at handImage for representation
Blog Prejudice Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 19:56

Wife: Let's go watch Raees

Husband: I'm not kaabil (capable) enough for that

Wife: Let's go watch Kaabil then

Husband: I'm not that Raees (rich)

The wife then picked up the rolling pin and the kids watched Dangal at home.

Funny? Let me tell you another joke.

Husband: Let's go watch Raees

Wife: I'm not kaabil (capable) enough for that

Husband: Let's go watch Kaabil then

Wife: I'm not that Raees (rich)

The husband then picked up the rolling pin and the kids watched Dangal at home. 

Not as funny when sexism and misogyny disguised as humour stand exposed, is it? This is a neat little trick Bengaluru-based architect, Anjana Mohan, employs when someone sends a sexist 'joke' on one of the many WhatsApp groups she is part of. And while people don't reply usually to avoid confrontation, many a time, there's at least an acknowledgement when someone says, "Hmm, interesting."

So clearly, I am not the only one who doesn't find these jokes funny. And it's not just me who’s unable to ROFL when a slew of these forwarded messages perpetuate the whimsical, attention-seeking, gold-digging woman stereotype? Or, the ‘woman is the pride, the honour, the glue that holds families together’ idea, for that matter.

A brief conversation with my peers and some internet research revealed that there are many like me who are bothered by their casually-prejudiced-but-otherwise-nice family members partaking in this assertion of archaic ideas. I’m also not the only one who has consequently muted all the family groups because it’s considered rude to exit one.

And let’s face it – confronting family about these issues is more difficult. You're just not going to have the same kind of debate as you might with peers or colleagues. And if you do argue on such a group, especially to an elder, it may just be considered disrespectful.

When it comes to family, especially the extended family which forms part of these groups, it’s easier to turn a blind eye to their ideologies and put on a happy face when you meet them for a few days once a year.

But how effective is our pursuit of political correctness and social justice when we aren’t able to confront the misogyny, exclusion and stereotypes inherent in our intimate circles? For me, the thought is like a persistent itch that won't go away.

And so, I've come up with a few (ideally non-confrontational) strategies to deal with the everyday prejudice in family WhatsApp groups.

1. Get passive-aggressive sarcastic

Have you ever told off two sports enthusiasts bantering about how team A was ‘raped’ by team B? Chances are, you’ve heard the take-a-chill-pill-it’s-a-joke response. And it’s a response you’re likely to hear on that family group from well-meaning elders and cousins if you have raised an objection against one of the vile forwards doing the rounds.

Your views may also be discounted if you’re young (or a woman, duh), because pfft…kids, they think they know everything.

So, here’s a thought: get sarcastic and turn the “learn to take a joke” argument on its head. *evil smile*

Next time someone cracks a “woman gives heaving husband ten bags of shopping” joke, tell them how silly it must be of her parents to teach her that women can’t carry their own shopping bags. You can get into the dissection of stereotype itself later.

Baby steps, baby steps.

2. You can spam with ‘forwards’ too

If you think your arguments are going to be brushed off as ‘young blood’, go ahead and unleash your own forwards.

You can send ‘fun’ links (like this one by The Guardian - The Best Comebacks to Sexist Comebacks, or this video by FilterCopy called Stuff Women Are Tired of Hearing) on the group. Add two laughing emojis to go.   

Why this could work is because unlike Facebook and Twitter, where a message can be acknowledged with a like or share, WhatsApp generally warrants a response, especially among close circles.

And even if your cousin’s aunt’s sister’s baby pictures have more heart eye emojis and ‘awww!’ responses than the thought provoking link/message you forwarded, don’t worry. Chances are, they’ve read it, but have chosen not to engage. The idea has been introduced and that’s a beginning, too.

3. Don’t use jargon

We know you know all about normalization of gender violence and indoctrination of casteism. Phew. But those arguments, as apt and intellectual as they are, aren’t going to work if your family is full of people who've never touched the Humanities with even a barge pole.

Know your audience and do not try to give them a crash course in jargon. It won’t work, as knowledgeable as it sounds to you. Keep the fancy terms to the academic papers and speak a language they will understand. Send them an emotional ‘forward’ about a man bottling up his emotions because “boys don’t cry” and you have a better chance. 

Anjana's method of switching genders (or whatever other identity) could work, too, because it makes people think about the privilege that a certain identity carries - one which we always take for granted. 

And memes! Find memes! Aunty Acid to the rescue.

4. Move beyond the digital

No, we don’t mean bring up the WhatsApp thread when you meet your family members next. But take it to the dinner table perhaps. While quoting Judith Butler over you Sunday meal of pasta is not a great idea, perhaps casually asking your father/uncle/brother why he doesn’t take his plate to the sink after dinner could work.

Or ask your grandparents about why they didn’t want their son/daughter to get married to a person from another caste. Initiate a conversation like the curious person that you are and try to keep teeth-grinding to a minimum. Hear them out and patiently engage even if you want to smash your head against a wall.

5. Pick your battles

Understand that it’s difficult for people to rid themselves of ideas that they have grown up with, no matter how irrational they may seem to you. In such a scenario, every little step counts as progress. It’s probably not a good idea to pick a bone every time someone in the family says something remotely prejudiced. So, choose your battles.

For instance, if you’re home for a few days and your parents prefer you home by 9pm, try to comply if it means you can talk about how horribly sexist the jokes on their favourite comedy show are. If your cousins want you to take a joke about how women only care about their looks but are more willing to engage on the topic of homosexuality, take the latter up.

Yes, it's hard and you might feel like a hypocrite at times but it might help you stay sane. And make a teeny tiny difference. 


So, unmute, crack your knuckles, and get typing, guys. You can start by sharing this article too! *wink*


(Views expressed are personal opinions of the author.)

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.