Back in 2010, I had hopped on to the Tumblr bandwagon to keep up with discussions about my favourite shows, but I found something there that was unexpected and far more interesting — Desi Tumblr. It was made up of South Asian bloggers from various diasporas — either first, second, or third generation immigrants. Among them were women trying to reconcile themselves with the ‘modernity’ or ‘progressiveness’ of Western culture. They wrote hilarious text posts about their daily experiences, and shared tidbits or anecdotes which keenly explored how hard it was to straddle the dual oppressions of a South Asian patriarchy at home, and the patriarchal and racial politics of the West.
As time went by and Tumblr became more and more popular in India and other parts of South Asia, desi women from everywhere (and not just those from diasporas) began to join in and added to these narratives. ‘Desi Girl Problems’ or ‘Brown Girl Problems’ became popular Tumblr posts, with all kinds of desi women voicing their grievances; so much so that it expanded to other social media networks like Twitter and Facebook, and has now become a popular ‘meme format’ on the South Asian side of the internet. Feminist Bollywood GIFs, run by Pakistani blogger Imaan Sheikh, Bollyglot GIFs, Buzzfeed India, along with many other desi (female) Tumblr users, are continuing to comment hilariously on their shared experiences, and are making this meme format go viral.
There’s a lot that the average desi woman has to endure — the parental pressures of getting married, constant discrimination, judgement, slut-shaming, so on and so forth. And that’s exactly what we see reflected in these memes. They engage with various issues — whether it be repression within the family sphere, discrimination at work, or various other ways in which South Asian women are both subtly and not-so-subtly morally policed. What instantly strikes me (and many others) about these memes is how immensely culturally specific they are – taking on experiences that almost every desi woman faces in her household. That’s why the lure of these memes are so irresistible: you can’t help but share them, because they strike an important chord.
The trend that began as individual Tumblr posts has now become a rage, so much so that entire Facebook pages and Twitter handles dedicated to them have become daily fixtures. And on Tumblr, countless text and GIF posts chronicling these common ‘Desi Girl Problems’ continue to be shared, becoming an important medium for South Asian women to register their individual voices of dissent and use them to battle stigma.
The posts never hesitate to address uncomfortable realities that one often doesn’t (or can’t) in real-world conversations – sexual taboos, MRAs hijacking the social justice movement, or discussions about consent. Most of these memes are superbly on point, and that’s why they keep getting circulated.
The humour here is a crucial element. It’s the humour that brings about a connect with the content of these posts; and it’s the humour which actually makes one engage with these issues. Historically, humour or satire has often been a tool of social reform, and these memes follow in that vein. You look at a meme, laugh at it, but it stays with you; you are forced to reflect on the issue it brings up, and you can’t help but mull over its content and recognize how you experience the same in your daily existence.
These memes become a part of a movement in itself – a movement to revolutionize desi internet, to make it more socially conscious and more importantly, to expose and explore the hypocrisies and sexist double standards within our culture. They may be funny and ridiculous, but they are also brilliantly incisive and revealing.
Only a couple of weeks back, Buzzfeed India posted a meme about feminism that was met with a negative comment. While the comment wasn’t an unexpected one — because Internet trolls are always ready to pounce on feminists — what followed in the replies to the comment was truly an important thing to behold:
— Rachita (@visualfumble) September 7, 2016
A whole bunch of women who don’t even know each other came together to shut down this troll — and therein lies the power of the Desi Feminist Meme. It helps bring desi women from different parts of the world in contact with the other, and leads to a strong sense of solidarity. Hence, they become an important form of reclamation of the self from the various subtle and dangerous forms of patriarchal violence and suppression; a feminist victory of sorts, even if it happens online.
So the next time you see and share a Desi Feminist meme on your timelines and go ‘Yass Kween‘ in your head, know that you’re part of a larger cultural conversation; an indirect but immensely effective challenge to a status quo which systematically silences our voices both in the domestic and outside world. And we have Desi Tumblr (and by extension also Twitter and Facebook) to thank for it all.