A fruitful discussion held under the banner of ‘UKS — Dialogue for Change’ was held here on Thursday where the rise of sexist jokes in our society was discussed, and so were the ways to prevent their spread.
The ‘This is not funny’ session had renowned journalist Ghazi Salahuddin, author Ayesha Khan and Hamna Zubair as panelists. The panelists said that as a nation we have become more sexist than we should have been, considering Pakistan is a country where the female population outweighs the male.
Mr Salahuddin said that such jokes had increased in recent years because women had started matching if not overtaking men in professional lives. “Be it in examinations or jobs at multinational companies, it is women who are ahead of men, and that makes the latter insecure so much so that they vent their frustration through sexist jokes,” he said.
He criticised TV channels for lowering their standard to fit the level of the audience instead of educating them. He narrated an incident where when he praised his wife as “my claim to fame”, his colleagues thought he was cracking a joke.
The journalist added that until we increase our intellect level through reading, and be at par with the world outside Pakistan, we will stay in our own bubble and remain content through cracking jokes when the rest of the world would be moving forward.
His words were echoed by the other panelists as Ayesha Khan agreed that although things were not changing across the board, sexual harassment was much lower in women-dominated workplaces. She blamed WhatsApp Family Groups for spreading jokes and stressed restraint by men who are against sexist jokes.
Ayesha Khan also dismissed these off-colour jokes specifically targeting one gender. She told the audience that these ‘not funny’ jokes were not acceptable as the malaise had now entered the discomfort zone. In the past, there were no repercussions for these jokes, memes, and comments, but thanks to the electronic and social media, the good voices have now found a platform to counter the bad ones.
She said that sexist jokes were now part of sexual harassment as they were aimed at women, for being women. She even quoted studies claiming that the more successful the women, the worst victims of sexual harassment they become and if sexism wasn’t curbed, it would get worse.
The panelists agreed that there was a need to popularise women-centric literature just like men-centric literature, be it the work of literary giants such as Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi or poets who talk of women as objects instead of people. They claimed that in the past, ethnic and dialect jokes were the ‘in thing’ and sexist jokes have replaced them because now women are unstoppable and working in a large number in the media.
Ghazi Salahuddin’s mention of Malala Yousafzai, Aasia Bibi, and Mukhtaran Mai earned applause from the crowd, mostly women, who appreciated the discussion. Even the comedians who refused to work with the black sheep in their ranks were praised, and they were advised by the veteran journalist to follow Saturday Night Live if they wanted to get themselves across to the audience tastefully.
Editor Hamna Zubair said that instead of wasting time on questions such as ‘Where do these jokes come from?’ and ‘How can we get rid of these jokes?’, we must ponder on the existence of such jokes in our life. They can be memes online, they can be sarcastic comments on TV or even a reply to a political opponent in a speech. She cited the example of Mustafa Kamal’s comment on a TV show as well as comedian Yasir Hussain’s ill-timed jibe at Ahsan Khan at an awards show, and both the personalities had to apologise for their comments after backlash on social media.
Originally published in Dawn, February 1st, 2019