Women are being constantly targeted on the internet under the guise of casual humour, writes Fatima Khan
The word ‘meme’ was first used by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, ‘The Selfish Gene.’ He described memes (short for the Greek term mimesis) as infectious ideas that spread by imitation from person to person.
Meme culture is referred to as the mass practice of circulating infectious ideas via humorous images, videos or texts, online. For some, a meme is a mere laugh, for others it is a casual breeding ground for radical ideologies. Casual because it is all in ‘good humour,’ right?
Now, let us reflect why meme culture is so prevalent among millennials and Gen Z. Memes are not only crisp and funny, but what makes them attractive is the relatability factor attached to them. Memes add an element of warmth to the digital world by helping people connect with each other on a more personal and emotional level. Understanding a meme requires some cultural knowledge and when people get a joke circulating on the internet or they share it, they feel included in a particular social segment. This provides them with a sense of social validation. In other words, it makes them “dank” and this is what attracts most people towards this online practice. But too often people overstep the fine line that exists between being “dank” and being intellectually dull.
Memes are just another way of reflecting cultural ideals and practices in a less conventional and more light-hearted way. Now, who isn’t up for some good jokes on the internet? In fact, ‘shit-posting’ is the new cool and ‘dank-ness’ is one’s crowning glory these days but, only until it gets problematic. This tool for human entertainment is manipulated very often into becoming a nursery for nurturing toxic ideologies, political and religious hate, unreal beauty standards, and above all gender-based hate and sexism, promoting intolerance and violence in the society.
Even today, in the 21st century when gender equality is no longer just a concept, but also, a successful practice in many developed societies (if not fully then to some extent), sexism is still something that we continue to suffer from.
Gender-based hate and stereotypes are still prevailing and memes are one of the many mediums for it. Women are being constantly targeted on the internet under the guise of casual humour. These jokes range from slurs as ‘casual’ as showing women the way back to the kitchen under false wit, to issues as serious as dehumanizing people on the basis of their sexualities, but all equally toxic. In fact, not only cis and trans-gender women are being ‘called out’ on the internet, but the ideas of toxic masculinity and stereotypes against men are also being subconsciously imposed onto us.
We have witnessed many instances where meme posting has blurred the lines between laughing with someone and laughing at someone. A woman’s point of view from the kitchen window, Millie Bobby Brown’s trans-phobic slurs, Karen’s urge to talk to the manager and Shabana from LUMS who is apparently going to Jahanum for her blue dyed hair and her crop top are some common products of this effect.
No doubt meme culture has its sunny moments as well. There are times when memes help us correct ourselves politically and personally, they enlighten us about new trends, political situations and cultural practices and provide us with a channel to express our individualities and be vocal about our ideas.
The point being, the problem does not lie within the practice, but in the ignorant mindsets of the ones practicing it. When referring to a joke, we do not evaluate the underlying ideology and the future repercussions of our content. The seriousness or the validity of the information is disregarded and this just normalizes online youth radicalization.
If you think calling an opinionated woman a Karen, someone’s girlfriend a gold-digger, someone’s boyfriend an ATM, a trans a ‘fag’ and slut shaming people for embracing their bodies in mere ‘wit’ is funny, it is NOT!
‘Bois locker rooms,’ 5-1 story times and jokes that ridicule people’s clothing preferences, appearances, genders or sexualities are neither acceptable nor funny and it is about time that this is condemned.