A friend shared your video on bra shopping with me and he said it was hilarious. I watched it. And then, somewhere in the end, you made a joke on men groping women’s breasts in crowded public places.
Humour which relates to ascribing specific roles and behavioural attitudes to individuals based on their gender, a.k.a. sexist humour, isn’t a strain of humour which I am able to, or want to, resonate with.
You are widely followed, your work widely appreciated and enjoyed. By making humour out of harassment, your work contributes to normalizing harassment. Normalizing a set of behaviours is a rendition of these behaviours (and behavioural attitudes) as those which we, as a society, perceive to be normal behaviours. Normalizing, simply put, is conveying that it is normal for something to happen. Many who watch your show will continue to believe in the mundane normalcy of sexual harassment.
The blaring message jokes on sexual harassment disseminate is that sexual harassment is normal, regular, frequent and omnipresent. This is, unfortunately, true. But normalizing sexual harassment, in any intensity, is problematic. It also normalizes the idea that violation of consent is normal behaviour. Psychologists believe that exposure to sexist humour can make us comfortable with expressions of sexism because it alters or perpetuates our perception of our surrounding and of what is ‘normal’. It contributes to, and enrichens, the ubiquitous rape culture, a culture which objectifies women, blames survivors and trivializes the impact of sexual assault. And this, for many, legitimizes sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. Studies have, in fact, shown that sexist humour results in an increased self-reported propensity to rape. Normalization of sexual harassment is not okay.
I used to normalize sexual harassment. As a woman in India I have grown up to normalize men leering at my body when I walk on the street. I have normalized men brushing their hands against my breasts in a crowded metro. I have normalized eyes dropping to my cleavage when they should hover around my eyes. I have normalized a warm bulge pressing against my thigh when I am on a crowded bus. Each time I consciously denigrated the significance of these acts. And in this effort, I used to find generous servings of support from my immediate world. I have been told enough that “be brave”, “it happens”, “everyone has their harassment stories” and “men are like that”. Because it is normal and it happens, among others, to every single female. As a society, we have grown to believe that it’s normal for some to lack bodily autonomy and that consent is a fallacy. And, there, our rape culture is alive and flourishing.
We, as a society, are not trying enough to condemn rape culture. Many of us are failing to do so by ‘simply’ normalizing sexual harassment, and, in turn, sexual assault and, in turn, rape. And, the most horrific of crimes that our imaginations can fail to fathom.
Today I see that same man who tries to cup my breast as someone who has no regard for bodily autonomy, no respect for consent, not just as a groper whom I will never see again. I see a man who has potential to rape. Had he caught me in different circumstances he might have raped me. He might be the same man who goes home and rapes another woman. And I do not want to normalize his ideas of (the lack of) consent. I want to stop normalizing the rape culture. I want to fight against each facet of rape culture. And I am trying. In different ways, I am taking tiny steps. Sexual harassment might be regular, frequent, and the lived reality for so many of us, but I will not let it be our ‘normal’. Every single transgression of consent is problematic, no matter what the intensity. Micro aggressions are the battles we need to fight to bring in consent culture, to brutally slaughter the rape culture and make this world a safer place.
I hope, in future, your work shuns the levity when it comes to sexual harassment.