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Women at Wit’s End

  • Published at 08:05 pm November 8th, 2018

Are women gaining ground in comedy just because it is an age of visual culture?

Can we consciously uncouple literature and social media? No. There is one school of thought that believes social media is a subset of literature, as it reflects current cultural and social practices, there is another that upholds that they are ‘fused’, as we now have Twitter novels and Facebook statuses that progress onto becoming published works of writing, and there is yet another that views social media with its clickbait visual content as the nemesis of written texts of literature. There are plenty more discussions regarding the dynamics of the interactions between social media and literature, so good luck trying to draw a boundary line between them (I wouldn’t bother).

Now the advent of social media has not only transformed the production, exchange, and consumption of humour worldwide, it has also changed the styles and substance of humour. For me, 71 born and raised in Dhaka, the most noticeable aspect is the manner in which young Bangladeshi women are creatively using the platform to depict interpersonal relationships through comedic mimesis. 

Why noticeable? Because I grew up conditioned with the norm that a woman has to make herself as feminine and as attractive as possible, she has to perform her gender roles, and maintain a bhodro demeanor. Oh, and despite being highly intelligent (not that I was), she must not question the status quo. And she is supremely virtuous if she demonstrates suffering (I haven’t reached that stage as yet). 

And what about women and wit? Wit?? Why on earth would women display wit? A sense of humour had no place in apropos femininity or attractiveness or virtue. Being sharp-witted was akin to being bettomeez, pakku, faizlami, and beshi kotha bole. It was also in direct opposition to intelligence, which was proven by stellar grades and due solemnity. 

So, I suppose it was alright to laugh, but not too loudly or too much, and that too only within restricted social spaces, and it was okay to be the butt of jokes, but not okay to take the initiative to say something funny.  Ironically, it was acceptable to look for a sense of humour in a prospective husband, as he was able to retain both his masculinity and his appeal, in spite of seeing the funny side of things. 

After all, cheleder shaat khun maaf, irreverence and disrespect to name a few. That is probably why we have the misogynistic pagli, buri, bou, shaali and shashuri anecdotes continuously making the rounds. 

I wonder if it was like that in other parts of the globe. The stark gender gap in comedy worldwide speaks volumes about the differences between men and women, does it not? Are women just not as funny as men? Is the emergence of humorous women on the social media platforms a temporary disruption? Are women less intelligent than men, and more attention seeking? Are women gaining ground in comedy just because it is an age of visual culture? And most importantly, are such matters even worthy of discussion when there is #MeToo?

Somehow, I get the feeling that the answers to the questions above, if and when I have them, will not be funny at all. And I also get the feeling that try as we may, we cannot separate wit, humour, and comedy from gender issues, or from literature for that matter.

See you at the Dhaka Lit Fest!

Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveller, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.