Propaganda at its worst

Negative Notions

Propaganda at its worst

There’s a fine line between humour and disrespect and never has this boundary been so hotly contested as in the case of gender stereotypes. Blatant discrimination against women may be a thing of the past — at least in urban set-ups — but negative notions about the fairer sex still persist, even if only in a funny context.

Cutesy jokes of the ‘women-are-from-Venus’ category, for instance, are still popular and sandwich and kitchen-related memes are common on most social networking sites.

But when do these jokes stop being funny and start to touch a nerve? One of the first hits to pop up in a standard Google search for women-related jokes is this — ‘I was raping a woman the other night and she cried, ‘Please, think of my children!’ Kinky bitch’. This cavalier attitude towards rape, at least on the internet, is more common than one would assume. In fact, Sunny Leone was recently accused of stating that rape is nothing more than ‘surprise sex’ — a charge she later denied vehemently, of course.

Some of these jokes have made it off the internet. Posters on the backs of cars and autorickshaws and tee shirts sporting witty one-liners sometimes carry this form of humour as well.

On occasion, they’re funny; otherwise, they’re simply derogatory. The sad part, says Spoorthi, a professional, is that it’s tough to draw a line between the two. “Jokes like these are common on social networking sites and the blogosphere. At the most basic level, they portray men as being superior to women in every sphere of life — whether personal or professional. But it’s difficult to pinpoint where they start to get offensive since that limit varies from person to person,” she reflects.

When it comes to rape-related humour, though, most women draw the line. Jiya, a design student, says that the most alarming aspect of these jokes is that they mirror the general perception of women in society. “People might not outrightly discriminate about women but negative notions about the gender do exist — especially in movies and television serials. These jokes, such as the ones that suggest that the fairer sex should stay in the kitchen, send the message that women don’t have the freedom to do what they want to and unfortunately, this is true,” she states.

But no matter how degrading, it’s tough to contain the floating mass of anti-woman humour. One option could be a forced form of censorship but Anamika, a software engineer, is skeptical of how effective this would be. “How do you ‘censor’ a person’s attitude? I once saw a sticker on the windshield of a car, which read, ‘Be a man. Keep your woman under control’.

In all probability, the idiot who drives that car probably sticks by that philosophy. I might be able to push for a law which prohibits him from displaying a sticker like that but will it alter his thinking?” she questions. She goes on to add that in her opinion, censorship is one of the least effective ways to change a mindset. “It’s a short cut which is generally used by over-sensitive groups and thugs. I don’t think that censorship will do anything for the cause of women,” she states.

But in that case, what could make a difference? Jiya believes that strong and continuous positive campaigning could do the trick. “The problem with social campaigning today is that initially, everyone is inspired and defiant but after a while, the enthusiasm dies down. Positive campaigning shouldn’t be a one-off thing — it should be a constant process and a part of our day-to-day lives. Whenever you see someone taking a woman for granted it, stand up and react to it. There should be zero tolerance for negative propaganda — only that can make a difference,” she concludes.

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