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So you think sexist jokes are funny?

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The next time anyone attempts to tell yet another chauvinist joke, think about the repercussions for a minute, advised Syerleena Abdul Rashid.

Jokes are meant to make us laugh. Plain and simple, right?

By definition, a joke is made up of words within a particular and “well-defined narrative structure” designed to make people crack a smile and express some level of amusement.

Jokes can be simple or even complex. It can be a story, a one-liner, a pun, slapstick or utter nonsense. However, there are jokes that have the opposite effect; some jokes are tasteless, crude, offensive and lewd. These are the type of jokes that joke-tellers ought to think twice before articulating.

Don’t get me wrong; I like to laugh and appreciate good humour. But, after reading a pretty darned sexist comment made by one of our ministers, I got upset.

Although his comments, which were made during a public forum – attended by hundreds of people – were meant to be tongue in cheek, they simply weren’t. They were in fact painfully pathetic and highly offensive.

Some of the men in our society think it is OK to treat women as nothing more than commodities or sexual objects – we are often told that we belong in the kitchen and exist solely for reproduction purposes.

A woman’s virginity, marriage and polygamy are topics usually made fun of. It doesn’t help when we have leaders who openly mock us without suffering any consequences, and when we tell them how offended we feel, they tell us to stop whining and question our lack of humour and our “edginess”.

They feel joking at our expense is harmless and inoffensive because it is only a joke and we shouldn’t take it too seriously. Wrong. Sexist jokes not only allow society to believe that misogyny and patriarchal values are in line with social acceptability and humanism, it also discloses deep-rooted, somewhat latent, bigotry about our place in society.

I have said this before and will say this again: sexist jokes are not funny; they are indeed hostile and rude.

Jokes about rape, domestic abuse and other stereotypical traits men mock us for normalise sexist attitudes and hostility towards us in a very dangerous way. Humour often disguises the depravity of the issues or situation, and most of us fail to realise the adverse impact these jokes will have in our society and subsequent efforts in fighting discrimination against women.

Let’s try to remember this: jokes are there to provide entertainment, not to start in-depth discourse or ideas or reinforce stereotypes. A joke is only funny when the listeners laugh; when we don’t, we can safely assume that we just heard an abysmally bad joke.

Unfortunately, there is this premeditated blindness: therein lies a level of reluctance to admit the unforgiving influences these attitudes have on a woman’s self-image and confidence.

Exposure to such humour or behavioural patterns will lead to tolerance of misogyny – humorous vilification creates the perception of a shared standard of discrimination and may steer people to believe that sexism isn’t a serious matter and, therefore, completely acceptable.

And while society is no longer able to stomach racist jokes, people have become sensitised and nonchalant to gender discrimination: shameful jokes involving women continue to be said, and the men delivering the punchline carry on doing so because society has given them a free pass.

And if you’re already rolling your eyes while reading this and trying to explain to yourself that women need to loosen up a little, you’re dismissing a very legitimate concern.

If you think equality and social inclusion have already been achieved in Malaysian society, you are gravely misinformed and mistaken. So the next time anyone attempts to tell yet another chauvinist joke, think about the repercussions for a minute. Think about that and just stop because you are not being funny at all.

Source: The Malaysian Insider

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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