The Carmichael Show is an American TV show that I love to watch when I want to unwind. It is edgy, funny, and talks about serious issues rather effortlessly so you don’t feel uncomfortable, but at the same time sit and think about it.
The protagonist Jarrod Carmichael is of an African American descent. He has his own issues and entertaining methods to deal with them. His family is complex and often relatable, to a certain extent of political views, with our own parents. His girlfriend Maxine symbolises (at the risk of sounding pretentious) ‘today’s woman.’ She is an educated feminist; she is smart, has the ability to think critically, and also comes with a solid foundation of privilege (she was born to a white guy and an African American woman). This seems like an oddly long introduction to a show that is not very well known in India and especially for the topic that I am going to talk about. But I swear there is a strong correlation.
The other day, a friend of mine gave me a call to ask about the reference “You are being such a Maxine!” She told me how her partner said this to her while she was trying to explain how Bollywood is taken over by faux feminism as they watched a regressive blockbuster starring an A-list actor. I was offended for her. Why? Because Maxine never minces her words when she talks about rape culture or racism or the problematic views of the US Republicans on female reproductive rights.
She is often mocked in the show for being a buzzkill because she is full of idealistic hope that things will get better once we start talking about them. Sure, she has her own flaws but the show satirises how we silence women when they start talking. The show is that. So when my friend’s partner called her ‘Maxine’, in my head it sounded like, “Shut up! Stop talking! You’re being a buzzkill. You’re taking this way too personally.”
I come from a privileged background. I am aware of the mammoth difference between the upper and lower castes, between the rich and the poor, and between men and women. I acknowledge it and I am grateful for my privilege. All the opportunities that were given to me to study and learn from amazing women have guided the way I perceive certain issues. Personally, digital activism is something that I had generally avoided.
But I saw the hashtag #MeToo trending on Facebook and I was left gutted; partly because of what is happening with women around me and the world, and partly because I had just finished watching “The Handmaid’s Tale”. The sheer volume of posts on my feed alone was appalling. There was an imbalanced emotional turmoil within me. It felt like Margaret Atwood’s dystopian story wasn’t actually dystopian. It felt like we are gradually marching towards a time where women’s sense of self would be ripped off and we would cease to exist.
It took me some time to understand that studying about something does not necessarily translate to you contributing to that field. Just writing term papers on Luce Irigaray’s feminism was not going to do anything. There have been times when I have kept quiet when my brother or a male friend or anyone of the opposite sex casually slipped in a sexist joke. I am guilty of having done that because I felt that they haven’t studied all of this. Telling them the nuances of sexism is just going to waste my time. It will be like banging your head against the wall because they do not have the bandwidth to understand the magnitude of the problem.
It was my own convenient way of not having to deal with another problem. I have been that person who would (forcefully) laugh away at a male family member’s joke on calling someone a ‘pussy.’ Who is going to explain to them that being a pussy is a compliment, not an insult? Will they get my point? Who is going to go through the ordeal of being the ‘Maxine’ of the family?
It took me a while to be able to shut them up and call out on their bullshit. That is what the hashtag is about. It is not about solving the issue of sexual predation by powerful men. A social media trend is not going to do that. The trend is about initiating a dialogue, making men uncomfortable because they sure as hell are responsible for their actions.
It is not about seeking attention or being subject to pity. It is about solidarity. It is about seeking comfort and courage in those two words posted by millions of women across the world. It is about knowing that the women who only liked your update but did not post it have gone through it as well. They know what it is like.
The hashtag is about understanding why your voice matters. It is about motivating people to realise that it is important to call out on what is wrong, especially when it is being done by a loved one. You keep trying. You keep at it.
That is the cultural inheritance you want to pass on to the future generations… a culture of resilience and where women stand beside each other, one Maxine after another, because we are all glorious beautiful pussies!