Breaking stereotypesOftentimes, we justify our prejudiced views as being just jokes
One fine afternoon, I was having tea with an “educated” group of people. The conversation was taking its turn from politics and climate change to food. Someone casually remarked that she was tired of making tea at her workplace and would love to have someone to do so for her. A modern guy in his branded clothes commented, “Oh! So you actually need a wife!” Not tolerant to such sexist comments, I raised my eyebrow and was just about to respond when he added, “I was just joking Paridhi, take it easy.” As usual he used the most convenient weapon people use to excuse behaviour that others find offensive or inappropriate; he was “just joking”. This has happened to me countless times. When I have reservations about derogatory songs, when I cannot laugh at jokes that demean women or deride people from different ethnic communities, people have found me to be an uptight person.
However, the world that we live in has a long history of discrimination and injustice towards women, people of different sexual orientation or from different ethnicity and race. It is high time that we challenged such stereotypical viewpoints. We need to start looking at our language, behaviour and viewpoints that hinder us from feeling equal to others. The society we live in continues to use stereotypical viewpoints to project its prejudices against other groups. Attitudes like “just joking” help to reinforce such ideas.
The proverbs and languages we use in our daily lives which reinforce gender stereotypical roles such as pothi baseko ramro hudiana, and the advertisements we see on TV that tell us no matter how successful a woman is, she is a good woman only if she also cooks and looks after everyone in the family need to be reappraised. For instance, top models acting as career-oriented women yet using all the home appliances to make everyone happy in the family probably make many girls feel they can be successful only if they learn how to cook, maintain their figure and also reach office on time. The examples we use in our textbooks for children to tell them what it is to be a man or a woman by creating distinct roles for different sexes need to be changed. Textbook pictures—which usually show men going to office and women working in the kitchen—need to have some men washing clothes and women flying planes. The stereotypical images of people belonging to different ethnic communities and races that are portrayed in our movies in the name of humour need to be reconsidered. Potrayal of people in stereotypical settings, such as people belonging to a particular region having a specific skin tone, needs to be reassessed. The general belief that tells us a homosexual person will demonstrate particular characteristics needs to be questioned.
I have seen and met men who cook and I have many female friends who do not know how to cook and stitch clothes. I have many friends who are vegetarians even if they come from ethnicities that traditionally eat meat. I have friends who do not drink alcoholic beverages even if their culture allows them to. I have seen many fathers taking care of their children as lovingly as the mothers do. I have met men who enjoy taking care of themselves and visit beauty parlours regularly. I have interacted with people whose first language is not Nepali, yet they speak and write much better Nepali than I do. I have also met couples in which the female earns more than the male. I have met people from different cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities who do not easily fit into the box that society usually tries to fit them into. And I have interacted with different kinds of people who have made me believe that the world is a much more complex place than it might appear.
I am not someone who is against fun or jokes. However, as a well known Indian feminist Kamala Bhasin rightly said, “If you are someone who truly believes in equality among all human beings, you cannot laugh at most of the jokes that are the product of our society’s constructed notions against a particular group of people.” Maybe this attitude of mine makes me look like a rigid and stiff person. But I am not going to be apologetic about it. Laughing with friends is a one thing; but laughing at the expense of other people by projecting them as inferior is something completely different and against my values and principles.
Acharya has a master’s in Gender Studies from Tribhuvan University