A woman calls out sexism on WhatsApp groups (and how do the men respond?)

Shraddha N Pandey
Shraddha N PandeyFeb 09, 2017 | 19:14

A woman calls out sexism on WhatsApp groups (and how do the men respond?)

Sometimes you don't know how close an issue is to your heart. But some issues force you to make the effort, speak out, pen down and type. So you know. So I definitely know now. My Goliath here is patriarchy. And I can sense you "boo" as you read this. Because latent patriarchy is so rampant that only people looking for trouble point it out. I have no hopes that it will be eradicated for even the next hundred years.


Anyone pointing it out now will face the brunt for a dubious prize in a distant future. And I don't like to be a social pariah or the ostracised femi-nazi, but I can't help it. That's the occupational hazard of noticing things and feeling a pinch.

And whenever I have blogged about it I have got maximum number of brickbats and some bouquets. I have lost the count of friends asking me to shut up or take it light. I have lost count of the times that I have tried very hard to control my urge to say something. I have got used to the feeling of guilt and regret that inadvertently follows confrontation.

So, I will link my earlier blogs but the issue at hand today is something as puny as WhatsApp groups. So I recently started a new job. My current job has a very small batch-force with 18 per cent women. No surprises, women are in a minority in most places. But our batch is amazing and pretty tight, with love and laughter galore. In fact, the girls in the batch are closer to guys than we are to each other. Many guys are also closer to us than they are to each other.


Things changed recently with the germination of a new group called "Thunderous Males". One of us happened to take a peek at what goes on in this group. Standard stuff: Sexist jokes and images, making fun of women's body parts, suggestive pictures, etc. Something that is pretty common in our day and age.

Why did this happen, because it always happens. Whenever a group of people unite they tend to segregate according to region, language, gender, interests, standard stuff.

But somehow I feel something is amiss about a having a "thunderous male'' or "thunderous female" group for specifically bashing or objectifying the other gender. This was particularly relevant for our batch, because the thunderous male group specifically excluded just four members.

And all the conversation would be about the excluded gender only and, more often than not, it would be a cheap shot at the other gender. I knew it was a slippery slope but I had to point it out. The responses that I got were as follows:

1. It is out of respect to you that we created a separate space so that we don't offend you all.

2. We never speak about any of you in that group.


3. We men have different needs and so need a space to communicate.

4. It happens everywhere, it had happened with all our previous educational and employment groups.

Despite still being on the fence about this issue, I could still sense something was amiss. The respect argument was so bankrupt. One gender decides that something is offensive to the other gender, but instead of stopping the thing which is offensive to the other gender, they form a separate space to do the same thing.

Things changed recently with the germination of a new group called "Thunderous Males". One of us happened to take a peek at what goes on in this group. 

This thinking also reeks of the feeling that women should be sheltered from explicit jokes in order to protect them. So sharing and enjoying explicit jokes becomes the right of one gender. Of the "mard", so, gender roles are assumed and assigned at the outset.

The part where they don't speak of us in the group is also so shallow. The fact that they need a separate space points clearly towards the fact that in talking about one woman's body there is no "I" versus "she". We are all the same at some level or the other. They are uncomfortable sharing those jokes with us for a reason.

I may agree with the "different needs" part. I may also add to it that some men are really shy and don't feel comfortable sharing space with women. Add to it, the primary socialisation agencies - school and home, playgrounds, assigned and approved ideas of gender and they have a pretty strong argument based on the premise of "we are like that only".

Further, in sharing explicit jokes there is definitely a fine line which, when breached, will make a joke into harassment. No one wants to inadvertently harass or offend anyone, neither is it fun to tease people with weak sensibilities.

I will accept the fact that I am someone that has a low threshold for humour, but can this fact be extrapolated about my entire gender? I'm not too sure.

So, at this point many guys in my group had a weird sense of entitlement and fundamental rights with messages such as F*** MORAL HIGH GROUND being circulated. But out of this weird encounter emerged a novel experience.

1. When pointing out latent patriarchy, you will be alone or very thinly backed. Even other women will shy away from making exceptions in public, even though they made the same exceptions in private. It's definitely due to peer pressure and the need to avoid conflict.

2. The same applies to men, many of them will agree that such groups cause some form of distance between the genders but will not accept it overtly. Peer pressure, again.

3. In my limited experience, the younger men, post the 90s are more open to discussion and seeing your viewpoint than those five years older to them.

Two men spoke to me about this issue. One said: "There is a reason we are discussing such jokes privately and not publicly. This is a good opportunity for us to discuss and bring the batch closer. If we stick to a single group then we can get a better understanding of each other."

The other said: "I'm sorry. I used to not share any jokes, but read and enjoy them. But it never struck me that by forming a group we had specifically excluded four people."

So, I am very aware and understanding of why gender-based groups need to be created. But the feeling of exclusion doesn't go away, specifically because women are in the minority in most working spaces. They will be excluded from "the brotherhood", where personal jokes as well as important decisions are made, maybe only for the next hundred years.

Last updated: February 10, 2017 | 15:23
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