“What’s the most desirable quality in a man for you?”
“He gotta be funny, Dad”, I didn’t miss a beat, “If he can’t make me laugh then I’m not even remotely interested in any prospects that he has to offer”.
My dad laughed and went back to watching one of his favorite TV shows, Seinfeld, a show we both liked for its social observation and real-life tragedies that had happened to both of us.
While most people still love shows like Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, Friends, How I Met Your Mother, That 70’s Show, The Office, we all know that the shows have an undercurrent of misogynistic jokes that basically run the comedy industry. Had it not been for marital jokes, relationship jokes, sexual jokes, queer jokes, the comedy industry would’ve gone up in tiny wisps of smoke a long time ago.
When I was younger I used to watch Comedy Central and SNL religiously. Why? Because it was a family tradition. Laughing at their jokes was too. I became a fan of Seth McFarlane, Anthony Jeselnik, Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman, George Carlin, Chris Rock, and many others. Everyone laughed at their jokes and I did too. Slowly, the jokes became a part of my internalized ideas of misogyny. Slowly I became a patriarch.
However, like all unfortunate people, I eventually grew up too. I watched Dave Chapelle, Jeff Ross, Kathy Griffin and others more closely. In a rapidly changing world where my own life was unexpectedly changing faster, wrapped in a whirlwind of misogyny and racism, the jokes stopped being funny.
The laughter that rang around us when we watched SNL together died down. My siblings and I, growing up in millennial Pakistan, spent our perturbed youths processing the world’s comfort with soul-crushing comedy and our own discomfort with it. Our parents thought we weren’t happy because they had done something. What happened, they asked! This used to get belly laughs by you all, they wondered loudly! Are you guys in love or using something you shouldn’t? Sadly their lives and worries didn’t account for much beyond sex and drugs with teenagers and young adults in the house.
My dad set me up with many men that he suspected I would like. He was always amazed at my lack of interest. He thought he knew me, a woman so like him but essentially the complete opposite. He finally gave up. You grew up to be pretty boring, he’d joke. I don’t like jokes at the expense of women, I’d retort. It’s just a joke, he’d turn to the TV again, lighten up!
“Lighten up” is a good advice when you’re not on fire. It’s a great way to walk away unless you’re in the fight and can’t turn your back on your enemy. “Lighten up” is what people tell women when women say something, express their needs, ask for their rights, get angry at not being heard and finally silence themselves because the exhaustion is real.
I guess we could say that Will Smith should’ve lightened up. He didn’t have to assault a person who was using his talent that he gets paid millions for, however obnoxious that talent might be. I guess it’s easy to say that when we aren’t directly affected by alopecia in an industry where one of the biggest measures of success is how a woman looks as per the capitalist cosmetic industry’s standards. It’s probably easy to lighten up when misogyny isn’t an everyday battle. I guess it’s harder to let it go when being a woman is hard, being a woman with a skin condition is harder, being a woman of color is worse than those things, and being open about it all just lands you into someone’s comedy routine.