TW: Mentions of rape
The rape threats that Shubham Mishra hurled at the stand-up comedian Agrima Joshua has left me stirred for days. This does not happen very often, considering how most issues and crimes against women have been so normalised. But this time, watching the video that ‘badass’ Shubham (his monicker on social media) posted on YouTube threatening to rape Agrima Joshua over her ‘insensitive’ joke towards Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj left me perplexed. I held my anger as he described to the goriest detail how he planned to ‘fuck’ the comedian. At first, the only thing I thought was about how it was wrong, no matter however offended one feels, is to threaten to rape someone. This was before the realisation that Agrima Joshua’s position as a female comedian and one who dared to make a ‘political’ joke that too, hit me.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that some rape threats are less bad than others. In any situation, and to any person, a rape threat must be treated as a heinous crime. But with Agrima belonging in the comedy business, where women are scarce as it is, rape threats can have more consequences than one can imagine.
When it comes to a woman who represents a minority of her gender’s population in a mainstream profession dominated by men, or a profession that inevitably requires her to voice an opinion, rape threats insinuate a disregard not only to her ‘dignity’ as a woman, but also become a drawback to the continuation of the woman’s career as well as women in the same field.
Have we ever tried to wonder why there are such less female comedians in India? People generally have a strong foundational belief that women just ‘aren’t funny’. But why does such a belief exist?
It is a fact that there are more men as comedians than women in India as well as the rest of the world. Mathematically speaking, that inevitably implies that there will be funnier male comedians than their female counterparts because the number of male comedians in itself is greater in totality.
When we see a bad male comedian, or two, we judge them objectively and believe that those one or two male comedians are bad individually. But, with a lesser percentage of female comedians itself in the business, one or two bad female comedians leads to the generalisation that “women are not funny”, thus judging not individually, but on the basis of their gender.
This very prejudice ends up contributing the most to holding them back from success. Because if the overriding belief is that women are not funny, why would anybody invest in producing shows with women and why at all, would anyone buy tickets to watch them? If, say, a woman screws up her gig, she can best believe the audience will end up retaining faith in their prejudice, whereas a man can just go back home after what was a ‘bad show’.
Female comedians have to go through hell and beyond to get to a substantial platform. It is a fact that women, from childhood, are not encouraged to be funny the way boys are. It comes as no wonder that there are less women as comedians in the business. But this is not it, apparently. Then come the rape threats.
Rape threats to women, especially in professions with more men, is not something new at all. Women being subjected to these threats simply by speaking their opinion (or even the truth) has been happening since forever. It was only a few days ago that journalist Rana Ayyub was at the receiving end of endless hate messages and abuses from men in her inbox laced with death and rape threats after speaking out against the killing of a Kashmiri civilian Bashir Ahmed Khan.
So what really happens when you threaten a female comedian with rape? By virtue of being a woman and because they are already lesser in number, leads to double oppression of the women comedians. Had Agrima been a man, yes, there would be a massive outrage, abuses too, but rape threats? In all probability, not. That does not mean a man cannot receive rape threats, but comparing the reactions male comedians receive (even when the joke is ‘insensitive’ to religion) with the rape threat(s) Agrima got, the hostility and threat of sexual abuse towards male comedians is much lesser, if not none.
A rape threat to anyone leads to major mental trauma and a constant fear of what may happen. Further, an underlying consequence of this is also the general discouragement for other women to take up stand-up comedy as a profession despite being good at what they do. The lack in numbers of female comedians in India could lead to a less strong sense of sisterhood arising from their lived experiences, which in turn could only lead to an increased sense of helplessness among the current crop of female comedians.
With what hope could Agrima perform again? When there is rampant hate and abuses on social media, and party activists vandalise the studio where she performed, what hope is left? What hope is left for women professionals who have a fairly large public and social media footprint when ‘badass Shubhams’ hurl rape threats making them feel unsafe and with a large part of the public even attempting to justify it?
Akshita Gupta is a second year B.com Hons student who writes on economics, philosophy, film, and identity. She can be found on Instagram.
Featured Image Source: Deadant.co