Misogyny In Memes: Sexist Jokes Are Not Harmless Entertainment

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 sukanya@feminisminindia.com


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.

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 

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.

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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.

Also read: Microaggressions As Memes: A Digitised World Of Misogyny

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. 

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

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.

28-back-in-my-day-sexist-meme | PMSLweb
Image: PMSL Web

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.

Also read: Feminist Memes – Subverting Patriarchy With Humour!


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2 COMMENTS

  1. There is no such thing as equality. Women have all the privileges in society. When a ship is sinking, women have lifeboats reserved for them, women are saved first in hostage situations, women are rescued first from burning buildings, women get to spend men’s earnings, women are preferred in divorce courts, women are handed child custody in the majority of cases, women get less jail time for the same crimes committed by men, innocent men rot in jail in false cases, society laughs at male victims of domestic violence, no shelters for male victims of domestic violence, media does not cover men’s issues, news reporters announce deaths of ‘women’ and children, no one cares about men’s deaths, majority of war deaths are of men (97%), majority of workplace deaths are of men (93%), majority of suicides are of men (80%), majority of homicide victims are men (77%), majority of homeless are men, most dangerous jobs are worked by men, more men die from prostate cancer than women from breast cancer yet no awareness for prostate cancer, majority of funding is spent on women’s health, less deserving women get hired over more deserving men if they are pretty, households are controlled by mothers-in-law, girls are treated better than boys in schools and colleges, seats in buses and metros are reserved for women, men’s life savings are spent in alimony and child support payments, even in two income families men bear the monetary burden, men face mandatory conscription, men are victims of paternity fraud, women receive the same social standing as their husband overnight after marriage, a jobless man is a loser but a jobless woman is a homemaker, men suffer from hypertension due to work related issues, men have shorter life expectancy, men work longer and die younger, men are reduced to disposable ATMs.

    • Ah, my tears runneth over for the struggles of straight cis men! Ah, how heavy is their cross to bear! That they force themselves into boxes by the will of a system they created! And now they actually have to not think about themselves for a span of two seconds! By Jove, I cannot thank you enough, sir, for illustrating to my weak, deficient woman brain that you, who are, no doubt, a strong masculine man, have struggles far more real and far more valid than mine! But I cannot bear the stress of this enlightenment.

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