When our commercials think domestic violence is funny, how can we expect society to take it seriously?
For the second time in only a few months, several of us (hopefully millions) are baffled with the ‘sense of humour’ of the artists and creative people of our country. First, the horrendous joke about child molestation at the Hum Awards, and now the extremely offensive TV commercial talking about beating up (dhulai kerdi) your wife.
If you found the advertisement funny, then let me warn you, either this blog is going to alter your patriarchal (slightly misogynistic) mind-set or it will deeply offend you. In both cases, I hope it will start a healthy discussion as to why several people deemed it acceptable to laugh at domestic violence.
The TV commercial is wrong on so many levels that I can’t even begin to imagine that someone actually thought it was okay to write the copy, approve it, act in it, produce it and laugh at it. What’s worse is that it has spread like wildfire on different social media platforms.
Let us begin with talking about why making this advertisement was wrong. Over the past many centuries, art and artists have played a crucially important role in challenging, upsetting and subverting the societal norms. Artists, writers, singers like Jane Austen, Frida Kahlo, Yoko Ono, our very own Shaukat Thanvi, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Parveen Shakir, Fatima Surayya Bajia, Haseena Moin and Kishwar Naheed (to name a few) have fought over the years to liberate our society of the gender stereotypes. With content like the advertisement in question, we are regressing the society back to where we started several decades ago. And I am deeply concerned and disappointed to see that the creative industry is contributing to this regression. People who are supposed to challenge everything that is wrong with our society are the ones normalising these issues.
Secondly, I am not saying that everyone who laughed at this joke is a bad person, but let’s face it, these people do condone the idea of beating up your wife. These sort of jokes convey the idea that domestic violence is acceptable/ should be acceptable, it happens and should be taken as a part of life. There are many complexities within such assumptions. No doubt domestic violence is a reality, but it can never be acceptable and should never be laughed at. Making jokes about these issues trivialise the struggle of all the activists who have fought against gender stereotypes in the past and those still fighting against it. It also disparages the bravery of those who have experienced domestic violence first hand and have survived traumatic life events. Are you seriously telling me that their wounds are not to be taken seriously and can be made fun of?
Imagine losing someone you love, God forbid. Would you ever be able to laugh at jokes about orphans or widows? Or imagine losing a limb to a disease, God forbid, would you be able to laugh at jokes about amputees? Domestic violence is the same. An individual who has been physically assaulted by the person they loved or trusted the most usually lose their confidence, ability to trust others and belief in relationships. How can you mock a person who is already hurt or suffering? Their physical wounds might have healed but inside their heart is still shattered.
To many of us, empathy doesn’t come naturally, but with time, effort and experiences, we can train our minds to always put ourselves in other people’s shoes first and then act on our impulses. Obviously, you need to have faced some bitter realities of life before you are able to do this.
This brings me to a very important point of impressionable age that many of us have missed. You might be in your early 30s or 40s or perhaps even older. You are confident and have a solid personality. You don’t easily buy into everything you see in the media. You are not easily influenced. But you still laughed at the advertisement and your younger brother or teenage son saw you laugh at domestic violence. In his mind, the child has already concluded that domestic violence is funny, sexism is acceptable, insulting your spouse or mocking them behind their backs will make you appear cool in front of your friends. Do you think this is the generation of men that we want to raise and want our daughters to get married to?
Some individuals on social media are arguing that the joke was on the guy and how frightened he was of his wife. But the question remains, what sort of upbringing encourages the mentality to boast about assaulting your wife in front of your friends? Would you laugh if your father joked the same way about your mother in front of his friends? After all, he is your father, he looks after his family otherwise but it’s just that sometimes he feels the need to satisfy his masculinity by demeaning women, especially those he has been given the responsibility to protect/ look after.
If you want to honour yours truly by labelling her a feminist then please go ahead. But let me burst your South-Asian macho bubble by telling you that men also face domestic violence. And no matter who the victim is, what their gender or socio-economic status is, domestic violence is always wrong. Be it physical or sexual violence, emotional and mental torture or financial violence (yes it’s a thing!), when we bring violence into the domestic sphere, for some reason we often assume ‘it is all right’, ‘it happens’, ‘it’s their private matter’ etc.
With the limited circle of friends and family that I have, I have personally known three gentlemen getting physically assaulted by their wives. And before you even dare to mock them by making crude jokes about their masculinity, let me ask you to look deeper. Look around, talk to your neighbours, colleagues, friends, cousins and let me assure you that (if people can trust you enough to confide in) you will also find similar stories.
Lastly, I tend not to bring religion into any of my discussions or debates because you never know how your arguments can be misrepresented or taken out of context. But I would urge you all to spare only a few minutes of your day and watch this beautiful lecture by Nouman Ali Khan called “Hitting Women - That’s Messed Up” on YouTube.
If this explanation doesn’t stop you from using religion to justify your misogyny or personal vendettas, then I don’t know what will.
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