Editor’s Note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for November, 2021 is Popular Culture Narratives. We invite submissions on various aspects of pop culture, throughout this month. If you’d like to contribute, kindly email your articles to firstname.lastname@example.org
We are familiar with numerous memes on the internet that use the degradation of women for humour. Contrary to popular belief, such memes are not just “innocent jokes” as they have damaging consequences. These memes spread misogyny and sexist ideologies under the veil of benign amusement.
Memes reinforcing gender stereotypes, objectification of women, and anti-feminism are always just a scroll away. They encourage casual sexism and promote tolerance towards such attitudes by making it seem less offensive. For decades, sexist jokes have been a part of patriarchal cultures. Sexist ideas about women’s inferiority are at the root of such humour. With the advent of the internet and the ever-increasing popularity of “memes“, sexist comedy has found a huge opportunity for expression.
We know that memes are only effective if they resonate with a notion already existent in the user’s head, which explains why sexist memes are so popular. We can infer the mainstream view on gender equality in society from trending memes since extremely popular internet content is a direct mirror of the society.
We have all seen popular memes explicitly exhibiting gender-related prejudices on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and so on. They eventually produce and strengthen gender stereotypes among the masses. Such sexist joking promotes unjustified, exaggerated generalisations that paint an unrealistically poor picture of women. They also widen the difference between the dominant and suppressed genders and encourage gender-related prejudice and biases.
A wide number of memes target women focusing on their appearance and intellectual capabilities. They manifest dominance, male chauvinism, and the belief that men are superior in terms of ability and intelligence. This often leads to sexual objectification of women where women are reduced to their mere physical attributes. Exposure to such content eradicates any possibility of positive body-image and self-respect in women.
A popular pattern that we can see in memes is the depiction of women as opportunists who use the idea of gender equality at their own convenience. These memes indicate that women are manipulators who use feminist concepts according to their own changing suitability. This is a clear attempt to trivialise the importance of gender- equality and feminism.
Such memes aim to create a misconception about feminists and portray them as hypocrites. These memes convey the idea that women strive for equality while refusing to leave the privileges they enjoy only because of their gender identity. Numerous memes also have content that constructs and mocks certain blanket female identities such as ‘‘the Blonde’’, ‘‘the terrible wife’’ or “the crazy girlfriend”.
The global propagation of such memes, with unrestricted access to almost all internet users, has the potential to incite misogyny among people. They implicitly influence men to express antagonistic attitudes in their behavior towards women, and this also adds to the incidence of gender based violence.
American author, computer programmer and speaker Richard Brodie opines, “The most interesting thing about memes is not whether they are true or false, it is that they are the building blocks of your mind.” There is no doubt that memes are “contagious”. Our negligence to address sexist memes and misogynistic humour has made this kind of expression one of the most “acceptable” forms of sexism.
This tolerance of sexist beliefs allows people to freely express sexism without the fear of retaliation. This further leads to the internalisation of casual sexism, where sexism is so normalised that it becomes embedded into our subconscious. Therefore, unchecked misogyny in memes threaten the very notion of gender equality.
Memes act as a medium for transmitting cultural ideas and practices from one mind to another. Adolescents are the most affected in this regard, as they spend a large amount of time each day on the internet, are more impressionable and are frequently exposed to sexist humor.
Since adolescence is a time of identity formation, these memes act as a pervasive and influential socialisng agent, instilling ethics and values in young internet users in accordance with problematic cultural prejudice, stereotypes, and gender discrimination. Those who refuse to accept that memes represent sexist ideologies diminish the seriousness of the situation by trivialising it as “just a meme”. We must collectively resist sexist humor in popular culture, and call out its role in legitimising gender bias in the society under the pretext of harmless entertainment.