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‘I Was Just Kidding’…Are Sexist Jokes Harmless Humour Or Disguised Disrespect?

Does calling it a joke make sexism okay? Despite changing attitudes towards women, sexist jokes seem to be surprisingly normalized.

Does calling it a joke make sexism okay? Despite changing attitudes towards women, sexist jokes seem to be surprisingly normalized.

Although I’ve been meaning to write this article for a while now, I just couldn’t get it on the paper. Reasons being laziness, writer’s block, dealing with anxiety etc. But one of my misogynist friends made me realize the importance of talking about this issue.

Sexist humour the kind of humour that stereotypes, insults, objectifies and victimizes, a person on the basis of their gender. We’ve all been subjected to sexist humour since a very young age, that we hesitate to call out, even as adults. .

If you object to sexist jokes, you are labelled a spoilsport or vibe-killer!

We come across sexist humour on a daily basis starting from WhatsApp forwards, to subtle sexist humour at the workplace or family gatherings.

When women object, they have to deal with comments like, ‘Gosh! why are you feminists always so negative?’ ‘You just have to learn to take a joke’ ‘Your extra knowledge of things makes you bitter’, ‘ Slowly but surely, things are changing’, ‘Ugh! one more feminist article’ etc.

Not many people are comfortable with the idea of calling this behaviour out, or being called out for this behaviour. Because, ‘Hey, it’s just a joke!’ right? No one wants to be a ‘spoilsport’ or a ‘drama queen’ or a ‘vibe killer’.

But I just fail to understand what is the ‘vibe’ that we are helping sustain by going along with these sexist, misogynistic jokes? Because they never make me laugh, and leave so many people uncomfortable and wishing they had evaporated before hearing that ‘joke’.

Let me take you through the types of subtle sexist jokes we come across everyday and why they are not funny at all.

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WhatsApp forwards are full of sexist jokes insulting women

We cannot not talk about WhatsApp forward messages, when talking about sexist jokes. Every morning I wake up, and check my phone, there they are, precious little packets of garbage forwards and memes.

“When a man earns a lot of money, he dreams of buying the best things for his wife, when a woman earns a lot of money she thinks she doesn’t need a man” I received this message from someone I knew, along with a laughing emoji.

I didn’t really understand which part of it was a joke because it certainly didn’t make me laugh. This so called joke was problematic because, it glamorized the gender role of the typical man, at whose mercy a woman could or couldn’t buy things. Additionally, it villainized the women who take charge of their own lives and painted men as the poor victims.

So, I wrote back to them asking where I missed the joke. There was radio silence. I liked the sound of that.  But it’s not that easy always.

The people sending these could be just wanting to start a healthy conversation or just check up on you. But don’t we all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions?

Sexist office humour is a common reality

Situations at a workplace could get tricky when it comes to dealing with sexist humour. Unfortunately, sexist jokes in the office is more than common.

According to the Women in workplace 2020 report by McKinsey, 35% of women in corporate America experience sexual harassment at some point in their careers, from hearing sexist jokes to being touched in a sexual way.

Recently, at my workplace, I was helping my colleague choose the right template for a Facebook ad. We had selected an image already, but I was simply checking my options. My colleague felt the need add “humour” by saying, ‘ You are such a typical woman who cannot decide what she wants’.

That comment was so regressive and invalidated all my experience as a professional marketer, and my curiosity to learn. I am sure, he didn’t even go back and think about this. And that’s on me because, I just brushed it off. I didn’t call him out. But it was more on him for having his head up his a**!

My friend ‘joked’ about my driving and cooking skills…

When I spoke at a masterclass on ‘Women In Leadership In Today’s Workplace’ many women asked me how to deal with casual sexist jokes at workplace. According to the Human Rights Commission’s report in 2012, sexist or offensive jokes were the most commonly reported form of harassment in Australian workplaces.

Thanks to a lot of global initiatives by feminists, people are progressively moving forward. Before you go to la la land, let me bring you back to the reality. There are several ‘educated’ people who think that men and women should stick to their gender roles and that reflects in their humour.

Recently, a ‘friend’ got in touch with me after a long time and casually said, ‘Hey! you STILL haven’t learnt driving have you? #WinkEmoji’. This was strike one. So, I gave him the benefit of doubt that after all those years of losing contact, he didn’t really know me.

There was another incident where he had the audacity to tell me, that because I live alone and have no critic who can offer me feedback on the food I cook, I just assume that I am some sort of ‘master chef’. He then  added a wink emoji.

These came from a man who assumed that it was okay to joke about my driving because I am woman and make assumptions about my cooking as women who stay alone are miserable, aren’t they?

I understand that humour is a great coping mechanism. It’s a great stress-buster as well. But it is important to use humour that is dignified and does not bring anyone down. Let’s practice healthy humour, with proper boundaries!

To the readers who want to know if I called him out or not, I did. And you you know what he said? ‘I was just kidding, no offence.’ #MeRollsEyesWithWinkEmoji

Image source: Still from Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety

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About the Author

Rohia Munavar

I write things. Some of them are words, and some of them are not. Lost in a world that doesn’t exist. Follow for thoughtful content on various aspects like feminism, workplace issues, workplace equality, read more...

7 Posts | 27,460 Views

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