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Jokes apart

Published Apr 19, 2013 01:50pm


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The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says: “It’s a girl.” – Shirley Chisholm

In the West it’s mother-in-law jokes. And dumb blonde jokes. And women driver jokes. Funnily enough I can’t recall ever hearing a father-in-law joke. Or one about a dumb male blond and of course, everyone knows that all men are perfect drivers (even the ones who drive trucks and mow down people standing on pavements.)

No, jokes are about women (and if you’re politically incorrect, Sikhs and Memons and any other community of your choice.) But never about men per se.

In our part of the world, men joke about wives being spendthrift and fashion conscious; of being jealous, suspicious and bad cooks. About how the word is actually pronounced ‘bay-gham’.

And then there are the second-wife jokes. I recently got an extremely unpleasant dose of this brand of humour when I had the misfortune of catching one of the ubiquitous morning shows.

I thought I’d seen every example of inanity that these shows could throw at us. I had seen Nadia Khan interrupt a social worker talking about AIDS awareness to ask her if ‘Priety Zinta has had Botox.’ I had watched in disgust when a host invited members from the transgender community to discuss their problems and issues — then asked them to dance to the tune of Munni Badnam Hui. I was appalled when yet another brought a group of children abandoned (or worse still, sold into labour) by their parents who had been rescued by an NGO. The children looked happy and well cared for but were soon reduced to tears because the host kept asking them how much they missed their parents.

So you’d think things couldn’t get worse. Wrong. This morning show took the word ‘revolting’ to a whole new level; it was like watching a train wreck in progress: you couldn’t bear to watch, yet you couldn’t look away.

The host had assembled a sizable audience including a few of our so-called ‘celebrity experts.’ In front of them, lined up in a row, were seated six women.

Apparently these women had been told by the host that one of them was in for a big shock: her husband had another wife. The audience were invited to guess which woman was the ‘poor wife.’ The selected women were then asked in turn ‘do you think your husband has a second wife?’ Each bravely answered ‘no’ but one could hear the doubt in their voices.

In between, the ‘celebrity experts’ were asked for advice and each one stated, loud and clear that the aggrieved wife should ‘adjust and compromise’. (Note: Adjust. Compromise. ‘Sabar karo’. These words are reserved only for women in our society — apparently men never have needed to practise these virtues.)

Finally the host, with a dramatically lowered voice, laid her hand on one wife’s shoulder and told her that she was the one: the woman whose husband had been married to another for 27 years. The husband was brought on stage along with his ‘second wife.’ After allowing the audience to revel in the poor woman’s misery for a few minutes, the host finally delivered the punch line: it was all a big hoax. Of course your husband isn't married. We were just joking.

Well, excuse me if I don’t laugh.

Sexist jokes are nothing new; not here, not in any part of the world. But in some societies they are at least frowned upon; in some countries sexist jokes even come under the category of sexual harassment. A study undertaken by the Western Carolina University in 2007 found that exposure to sexist humour increases bias and prejudice against women. Unfortunately, in our country, many people may still need a definition as to what constitutes sexist humour. In short, any joke or comment that objectifies, stereotypes or demeans a woman (or a man, for that matter) is sexist.

Making a joke about a man’s second marriage underlines a wife’s deepest fears and insecurities; it’s a sharp reminder that her husband can turn her world upside down in a moment, leaving her humiliated, rejected and an object of pity. To turn this into a joke is bad enough; to do so on national TV is downright sadistic.

The sad thing is that sexist humour is such an ingrained part of our culture that sometimes women are the bigger culprits than the men (as proved by the above mentioned morning show) and often the victim doesn't even realise that she has a right to be offended. Well maybe it’s time to take a stand; to understand ourselves and explain to others why disrespect towards a woman — or a man — is no laughing matter. And second-wife jokes are not funny.


Shagufta Naaz is a Dawn staffer



The following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Shagufta Naaz is a Dawn staffer

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (28) Closed

mariam Apr 19, 2013 09:03am
thank you for pointing such a big flaw in our society :))
Omer Apr 19, 2013 09:22am
really nice article. But sometimes I wonder that for humans, the following might be true now: "Eye on the TV, 'cause tragedy thrills me Whatever flavour, it happens to be;" (lyrics of a song by Tool)
Devil Apr 19, 2013 09:24am
Yaaaawn !!!
karenmcfly Apr 19, 2013 09:33am
Thanks for sharing this, Shagufta Naaz, even though it nearly made me return my breakfast. I hope that things will change, in both Eastern and Western societies. It seems that it's still a bit of a way until men and women can peacefully live together, but I am sure we'll get there one day :D
Rabba Apr 19, 2013 10:02am
Nice article..
Samar Apr 19, 2013 10:16am
Women here are taken as a men property. We cannot even get national identity, school admission, or any basic necessity without the approval of men. So its natural sexist jokes are considered 'ok'.
Azmul Apr 19, 2013 10:24am
Indeed, they aren't funny at all. But if any woman gets offended, she is again blamed to be lacking sense of humor or she is faced with another such type of joke on her character. This society is growing worse. I wonder how is it going to change?
Iqbal Apr 19, 2013 10:44am
there are also jokes about men... just that you haven't come across them Shagufta... :) and just a question... have you ever heard about a fight between son-in-law and father-in-law? :P
shubham Apr 19, 2013 10:52am
Are there any second-husband jokes?
Ali Apr 19, 2013 11:07am
What about Sikh jokes and Pathan... they are all about guys...
Maryam Apr 19, 2013 11:15am
Such a wnoderful piece of writing, Keep it up Shagufta. Loved the thoughts.
Maryam Apr 19, 2013 11:16am
They all are about a particular community, not about the specific gender.
RAW is WAR Apr 19, 2013 11:19am
"Making a joke about a man
anand singh Apr 19, 2013 11:37am
Shagufta My compliments for a well written piece . The media has really gone overboard and we encourage them to do so.
Lalaland Apr 19, 2013 11:43am
no, they are about sikhs and pathans. not about "guys".
saleem Apr 19, 2013 12:05pm
well, It is all down economic and finances. Women should stand up for their rights. We must empower women and that is the way forward. We all know that if the mother is educated, have her own identity and thought process, how much influence that will have on her children. The next childen will be better behaved, well educated, well looked after. Without this we cannot do. Men are useless at brining children and they must educate themselve and take part in children upbriniging. By the I am man with two children :)
Karan Apr 19, 2013 12:28pm
Very nice thots.. Men definitely need to improve big time!!
Pady Apr 19, 2013 12:30pm
Sonal Apr 19, 2013 12:35pm
I actually love the article, and I'm female, but you have a point here :)
Iram Apr 19, 2013 01:05pm
Don't be obtuse. I have never in my whole life heard a 'joke' about fighting between sons- and fathers- in law. I am sure there are fights but it's not an ingrained stereotype used to demean men.
raika45 Apr 19, 2013 01:06pm
A lot of comments, but the major question arises as to why should a muslim take another wife? Has anybody taking another wife really read what your Holy Prophet said on taking a second or other wife? Up to four in number.What were the condition he laid on? I am not a muslim but a Sikh yet I see how you people "bend" these rules to marry more than one.Put yourself in the place of your first wife and children then you males might feel the pain and angst.
Iram Apr 19, 2013 01:06pm
Yeah, any woman who refuses to stand this demeaning crap is supposed to be a 'bad sport'.
asif Apr 19, 2013 01:16pm
Why do women fear man's second marriage or even third or fourth. Isn't it something allowed by Allah and He sure knows better than us. What's the fuss about?
Saeed Apr 19, 2013 01:42pm
Saeed Good Article bringing out the bias and prejudice against women. How would Nadia feel if she was in her shoe. She wont find it funny or humor.
Mandeep Apr 19, 2013 03:28pm
Both are equally bad...discrimination based on religion or ethnicity is as bad as the one based on gender..
haariskalan Apr 19, 2013 04:50pm
Those morning shows are absolutely ridiculous. I understand that it's just TV fodder for housewives, but maybe that segment actually affected the consumer audience of these TV shows? I mean, if your only purpose in life is living with your husband and children and delegating tasks to your servants/slaves, your life would truly fall apart if your husband took another wife. Just saying.
Neer Nayan Apr 19, 2013 06:43pm
Brilliant article! An eye-opener for insensitive mindsets!
Srkhan Apr 19, 2013 06:58pm
That's because son-in-laws and father-in-laws rarely live in the same home. And as for men jokes; look, there is a profound difference between jokes about a (relatively) free group of people[men] and a group that has been oppressed and trampled upon for millenia [women]. Joke about the former doesn't reinforce any prejudice because hardly any exists, joke about the latter solidifies hateful/suspicious attitudes.