Pish-Tosh

Daniel Tosh: Happy Thoughts

Put in context, that smile is scary. (Wikipedia)

I was at this open-mic once where a guy asked, “Ladies, would you let a vampire eat you out on your period?”

Funny? Not at all. Not to me.

Distasteful? Perhaps.

Permissible? Of course.

But when Daniel Tosh was joking about another surely distasteful topic—rape, he was interrupted by a heckler who yelled, “Rape jokes are never funny.” You know, because there exists a compendium of rape jokes, and she’s read them all.

He said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys right now? Like right now?”

Here’s the girl’s experience in her own words.

So Tosh then starts making some very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny, how can a rape joke not be funny, rape is hilarious, etc. I don’t know why he was so repetitive about it but I felt provoked because I, for one, DON’T find them funny and never have. So I didn’t appreciate Daniel Tosh (or anyone!) telling me I should find them funny. So I yelled out, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!”

The blogosphere and Twitter exploded calling Tosh everything from ‘not-funny’ to ‘threatening rape.’ As one would expect, he tweeted an apology.

It would have been fine if he had just generally joked about rape. What he said in response to the heckler was bad. It was almost a threat—however empty; in a way he was reminding her of her vulnerability. He should not have said it.

Tosh’s statement has been justified by some on the basis of free speech. That’s a ridiculous argument. No one doubts the legality of what Tosh said. We are only suggesting that as a civilized person, he shouldn’t have celebrated the prospect of a gang-rape.

But that doesn’t mean he was prescribing rape as a means of control. It was just a reaction. Consider his situation. You’re on stage, being judged every few seconds. Your style of humor is outrageous, and that is prone to backfiring. You’re setting up your joke, saying rape can be hilarious, the tension builds, you’re getting to your punchline, and a sanctimonious idiot from the crowd heckles you—and that’s what this woman was, make no mistake. She didn’t deserve what Tosh said, but let’s not, in our rush to castigate him, excuse her for what she did. It’s a comedy club. Not the Iowa caucus. If you don’t like what you hear, you walk out. You don’t weigh in. Heckling a comedian is a dick move, and you force him to smack you because it’s a top-down situation. If a comedian loses control of the room, he can’t be funny. You can’t expect someone to go easy on you when you’re screwing with his job.

“It might not have been the reaction he was expecting, but he had to expect a reaction” — Vincent Vega, Pulp Fiction.

A comedian’s insulting response is based on many things. If he can’t see you—which he can’t if you’re beyond the first couple of rows because of the stage lights (don’t ask me how I know)—he can’t joke about your height, weight, clothes, or anything else that’s politically correct. He has a split second to come up with something to rub your nose in the ground, and sadly, what came to Daniel Tosh at that moment was an unfortunate set of words. Should he apologize? Yes. Is he the villain of the piece? Come on!

English: Daniel Tosh at Boston University

Look at that innocent face (Wikipedia)

Let’s consider something else here. George Carlin once responded to a heckler with, “Will somebody please put a dick in that man’s mouth? Cause that’s what he wants.” People just laughed. Could he have said that to a female heckler and gotten away with it? Similarly, if Tosh had said about a male heckler, “What if that guy got raped by five guys right now? Like right now?” Would it have been this inflammatory? No. Nor are all those castration jokes I’ve heard getting big laughs in comedy clubs. But it’s wrong to point that out. It would dilute the indignation of those treating this story as a referendum on rape jokes.

So while this woman has our sympathy, let’s not make her out to be some martyr. She hasn’t dedicated herself to the cause of women. She’s just someone who interrupted a comedian because she didn’t like his act. And now that Tosh has apologized, perhaps we should forgive him.

7 thoughts on Satyamev Jayate (female feticide)

Is there anything more embarrassing to our national conscience as Indians than the demand for a male child and the extents to which it takes us?

Episode summary

The show opened with a story about a woman’s fetus being aborted by her family without her knowledge, under the guise of a check-up. Knowing India’s sex ratio and male-child obsession, it’s not hard to decipher that the fetus was female. Another woman got her nose bitten by her husband for conceiving a girl. After discussing such stories, Aamir Khan showed us the decline of female births per 1000 male births over a few decades. He explained that sex-selective abortion happens more among the rich and upper-class people—not the poor and uneducated as we would like to believe. Aamir interspersed interviews with sympathetic victims with phrases on the importance of the girl-child and how it’s the sperm that determines the sex of the offspring and that blaming mothers for fetal gender is as baseless as it is immoral. The audience seemed almost infomercial-like and appear to be crying on cue. The show ended with Aamir saying that we need fast-track courts to punish the wrong-doers. Oh and by the way, women are awesome, mothers are awesome.

1. The issue of consent

Of course, nobody bothered to isolate this question—what about the mother’s consent? There’s no legal or moral crime here bigger than aborting a fetus without the woman’s consent. Clubbing it with anti-female-feticide sentiment dilutes the issue. Of course, to tackle a type of crime, its societal cause must be noted. The desire for a male child makes people want to abort female fetuses (feti?). If that desire is irrational or immoral, making people aware of that is important. So, let’s address that murky question.

2. Should female feticide be legal?

Most people I know and hang out with are pro-abortion. It is a yes or no question—just not easy. If the law considers a fetus living, it cannot be killed—abortion should be illegal. If a fetus is non-living, it can be legally killed. The ‘why’ should be up to the person on whose body the fetus takes maximum toll—the woman. Proscribing abortion where you find it distasteful is basically punishing people for their thoughts. Why stop here? A stray homicidal thought when your boss forces overtime or refuses a pay-raise would become punishable.

Making prenatal sex-determination illegal—like many other prohibitions—has just made it expensive. That’s one reason female-feticide happens more in rich households.

3. Is it moral to want a male child?

If I ever decide to spawn, I wouldn’t want a boy, or a girl for that matter. But it’s no longer cool to voice a preference a male child. It’s kosher to declare how much you want a daughter. This kind of political correctness sweeps biases under the carpet. There is nothing moral about preferring a daughter to a son.

Let me be a little cynical here. In today’s India, conceiving a boy is a good retirement plan. Under that axiom, is it wrong for people to want financial security? It sounds repugnant to kill a fetus because it’s female, but once we say that the fetus isn’t living to support abortion—rightly I might add—we must give the woman the right to abort her baby for any reason she deems fit.

4. Oh! The sex ratio

The skewed sex ratio is bad, but for whom? Fewer women means greater demand for each available woman. LET ME MAKE IT CLEAR THAT I THINK IT IS WRONG TO SELL ANYONE, MAN OR WOMAN. We must punish the sale of women. The concept of owning people needs to die.

UPDATE: This article in the economist says that skewed sex-ratio is leading to women immigrating from neighboring countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar. Also the sex ratio is improving—or rather—worsening slower than before. The worst offending states like Punjab and Haryana are improving quickly. It is unlikely, says Monica Das Gupta (pdf link) of the World Bank, that India will ever reach Chinese levels. 

But, if the rich community finds itself short of eligible women, rich men will start marrying middle-class women. And so on. That has been the tradition everywhere. Typically, women marry up in lifestyle and finance, and men marry up in looks. Whom we marry is a combination of family compatibility, wealth compatibility, attractiveness etc., and these are fungible—there are many rich unattractive men with pretty wives who used to be poor. As this happens, women in each economic tier will marry men in a higher economic tier. So, each individual woman has a better chance to marry up, or to be appointed to a female-only job. It’s just statistics. The losers in this situation are poor men. Men in the lowest economic tier will suffer the lack of a partner.

The show highlights this by caricaturing what should have been a serious interview with some older men who are unable to marry. But that’s not society’s problem. No man is owed a wife.

5. How the show annoyed me

So many to choose from—Aamir Khan saying, “Kitna seekhney ko milta hai hamare Adivasi bhaiyon se!” (Look how much we can learn from our Adivasi brothers!) or people cheering the homeless woman who said, “Hamein yeh paap nahi karna” (I don’t want to commit this crime) about abortion.

6. What’s the harm?

Most people would chide me with Oh come on. Surely, the proletariat of India needs simplified black-and-white information delivered from Aamir Khan’s lips and seasoned with drama. As long as people don’t abort female fetuses, really, what’s the harm? The harm is that this is top-down misinformation. No matter how you explain lying-for-good or embellishing the truth, ends don’t justify means. The right of the pregnant woman to not be harmed is paramount, and it shouldn’t be clubbed with the ‘immorality’ of female feticide.

7. Any positives?

  1. We must appoint a fast-track court for those cases where the mother was side-stepped by the family. Only the pregnant woman can decide whether a fetus is carried to term. That point was highlighted.
  2. The importance of the girl-child was well-explained.
  3. Despite his smug self-righteousness, Aamir seemed sincere.
  4. Who knows, the resultant awareness might help.

I know the second episode is already out—better late than never I guess.

The ‘feminine’ side?

I write this post for a tag I recently received from blabberblah. I believe IHM set this in motion with her post: My sins against gender stereotypes. We’ve all had stereotyping shoved down our throats. Getting pigeon-holed into whatever is becoming your sex isn’t uncommon. The assumption that certain jobs, skills and interests are meant for a particular gender stinks. As a response, many bloggers are outlining their transgressions of gender barriers.

Before I make my list public, I want to ponder something. A girl having boyish interests is called a tomboy. But people are less charitable to a guy who does something girly. I bet he hears sissy a lot. I don’t need to tell you which one is an acceptable insult. So, female bloggers don’t become the butt of jokes when they congregate to confess an interest in cricket, or declare the number of speeding tickets they’ve received, or know the difference between a carburetor and an accelerator (just an exaggeration!). On the other hand, a guy who confesses to liking chick-flicks or talks about the delicious sambhar he made last night or wears pink is not as well received. This  explains the negative responses from many male bloggers who were tagged. Most of them hid behind, “I can’t think of anything girly that I do.”

Here are some things I do or want to do that can be considered girly:

  1. I like a clean home. That includes a clean kitchen sink that should never be a storehouse for dirty dishes. I have gotten out of my bed at midnight just to vacuum more than once
  2. I like to cook. I like to try out new dishes now and then. (Somehow I have not been able to muster the confidence to invite friends over for a home-cooked meal)
  3. I can hem a pillow cover or the bottom of a trouser. I do take some pride in the fact that the stitches are of equal size and at an equal distance from each other
  4. I have enjoyed playing ‘teacher-teacher’ as a child. I was a bit of a tyrant though
  5. People say that I have very neat handwriting
  6. I don’t make much of an effort to remember roads and don’t have an impeccable sense of direction. I have never hesitated to ask for directions
  7. I almost never let my cellphone run out of power (more and more guys are getting on board with this concept)
  8. I can listen and give emotional counsel to friends. I might make inappropriate jokes as a defense mechanism
  9. In recent times, I have become more sensitive to clothes, sunglasses, spectacle frames and other parts of my appearance that might need enhancement.

Can’t think of any more now. My readers are free to add.

Often called selfishness, individualism gets a bad rap in society. What people don’t understand is that unless one is sure of what one wants and takes steps to get that, one can never be secure enough to do good without it validating their own self-esteem. I have, time and again, championed the cause of individualism and asked people to step out of the molds of religion, caste, language and even nationality. So why not gender? While there are some characteristics found more in men than women, they cannot be used as a tool to pigeon-hole people into pre-styled societal roles.

I am me first. Then a man. Then my parents’ son. Then an Indian. Then a Tamilian…and so on. I urge my readers and fellow bloggers to do what they want to do (as long as they don’t infringe on another person’s exercise of his own rights) and only that. We have only one life. Preset rules of how we should behave belong right where they came from: the past. Sadly, in the past, the people did not have the foundation, the knowledge, the strength and the support to stand alone. We don’t have that excuse.

Here goes: I tag buddy, rambuna, chembelle, swatimala and gradwolf to give some examples of their breaches of the gender barrier.