Monday, August 28, 2006

A friend forwarded me the following joke, which was clearly intended to be a joke.

"The Japanese have developed a camera with a shutter speed so fast, that it can actually take a picture of a woman with her mouth shut."

I laughed and forwarded the email to a couple of my labmates, again, clearly intending it to be a joke. To my surprise, I received a reply from all three of my female colleagues, saying that they found the joke offensive. I have worked with them for three years and we know each other well, so that surprised me even more. I told them that I had not made it up and that I had really intended it as a joke. I apologized to them. But this makes me think, and I am wondering...is this different in the United States? Are modern American women particularly sensitive to such humour, which they think somehow threatens their individuality and/or freedom? Somehow, I get the feeling that I would not have gotten this reaction with my Indian friends who are girls.

This reminds me of Richard Feynman's experience in Japan, where a Japanese maid in a hotel accidentally walked on him coming out of the shower. He thinks that if this had happened in the US, there would have been shrill screams and a lot of hulabaloo. But the Japanese maid just excused herself and walked out. I also have read other accounts where American women seem to make a big deal out of such things (even if maybe the shower thing was really an unfortunate accident). I wonder if this is the correct reaction, or whether there is an inbuilt sense of exaggeration in them. I am not at all accusing, and I don't want to offend anyone. I am just trying to understand cultural differences.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

One may argue that Indian girls have become insensitive to demeaning remarks due to an orthodox society that does not value its women.

I agree with what you said, but just wanted to say that a counter argument exists.

As always chivalry can be taken a sign of arrogance or courtesy. Women can make fun of a guys and they are just stating the truth. When a guy does that .... he is either demeaning to women or insensitive :)


~Neelesh

4:00 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Yes, that definitely could be true, but what about our friends who are surely modern? I don't know if centuries of tradition have sort of subconsciously inculcated such a lack of reaction in them. But you can understand...now I am scared of American girls!

The problem is that there is no way to decide even for them whether someone is being chivalrous, or patronizing. There are two ways out:
1. Know the person well enough to know what kind of a person he is.
2. Invent a True/False machine which will catch patronizing culprits!

10:52 AM  
Anonymous anya said...

So if we reduce the argument to being surprised by somebody's reaction whom you know well and interact with them frequently .. then is it simpler to compare Indian girls and their American counterparts?
Did I simplify the comparison or needlessly complicate it? :-D

Doesn't matter.

I think American people are more guarded in public .. with people whom they don't consider family or really good friends. While they may be enjoying the joke with their own circle, they may very well find a similar joke offensive when told in a more public environment.

12:57 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Anya: Yes, I think that is the case with Americans. One distinction I have convinced myself about, is that Americans are much more friendly than Indians but on a general and casual level. It is much more difficult for them to be really close to you, and sometimes you may mistake their friendliness for a close relationship.
With us, it is the other way round.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Kapilmuni said...

Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!
That was reckless! You might have a harassment suit on your hands very soon!

This word verification thingy is a pain - especially since I have a 'no images' browser setting.

6:29 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Can't help it Muniwarya. Otherwise my comments space is flooded with spam.

9:10 AM  
Blogger SN said...

Hey Ashutosh,
You may be surprised, but I wouldn't have found the joke funny. I wouldn't have been offended, knowing it comes as a forward from an Indian guy and because I am used to such jokes in India. But the fact remains that stereotyping women may not seem funny to a woman. And why should it? Take the example of any minority group. Make a joke out of it and people will get offended. As social roles change and women step out of traditional roles like the 'nagging wife', anything that reminds them of that past is bound to hit a nerve. My two cents.

7:07 PM  

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