Reinforcing gender roles in marriage: Why these TikTok, insta content are not funny

Cheesily smiling, the wife approaches her husband, leading him to an adjacent room. No, she doesn’t lead him to the bedroom like he anticipates, but to the kitchen sink that is filled with used dishes. The man instantly starts crying looking at the heap of dishes he’ll now have to clean.

***

Clearly swamped with housework, the wife asks her husband, “Will you have dinner? Should I make something?”

The husband immediately responds: “Of course, make some chapathi and egg curry.”

“Huh, I never asked you for a suggestion, I merely asked you if you’ll have dinner at all. I’ll make whatever I please!” retorts the wife, before storming out.

***

Even if one lives under a rock, it is quite difficult to miss the countless new social media trends that seem to pop up on a near-daily basis. The makers of these kinds of social media content as well as their loyal fan base that runs into thousands will claim that such videos are outright funny and depict the reality of married life. A quick look at the comment section of such videos indicates how normalized this is, how prone people are to accept such content as benign comedy. But these seemingly innocuous videos that are highly popular online merely reinstate and propagate the traditional gender roles in our society, that too within a heteronormative marriage.

That’s exactly what makes it funny for many, when the woman demands that her husband do the dishes- be an equal partner in the relationship. Why does it attract sympathetic comments towards the man for having to do his share of household chores? The societal conditioning that a woman should take care of the household chores runs so deep that its manifestations galore even on social media.

This and several hundreds of similar videos revolving around married life of a heteronormative couple and division of household chores (or the lack of it) seem to be a popular genre in the Tik Tok-Insta reel world. While the above examples are from Malayalam content creators, one can see this variety in other Indian regional language content too.

In another such video, a man disses the food his wife made and refuses to eat it, after which she proceeds to gobble it up herself. Now what does the hungry man do? He marches straight into the kitchen to cook for himself, but ends up not being able to, so promptly apologizes to his wife. Because he’s sorry he behaved like an entitled prick? Because he lacks the basic skills to feed himself one meal? Because he’s finally admitted that he needs his wife to cook for him? We’ll never know why from this short 30 seconds reel, but whatever it may be, the wife seems proud of her own abilities.

In some of these videos, even physical acts of violence aren’t frowned upon. It is somehow funnier if it's the wife who hits her husband, thereby passing off such toxic behaviour as humour. The fan base showering their love on the comment section also has a name for this- the ‘psycho wife’. That’s a woman who is jealous and tries to keep her man in check. For instance, this TikTok video from a few weeks ago that has already hit more than a million views shows the wife hitting her husband for looking at a woman on the street.

When the husband finally admits to having glanced at another woman, the wife hits him before giving him valuable life advice: “Never look at another woman and even if you do, never tell the truth. Do you get it?”

I honestly don’t.

As cliche as it may sound, there is no denying that social media is a double-edged sword. Having considered the kind of reach and creative space such platforms offer its users, it is also important to hold the creators accountable for the messaging in their content. Many such videos and trends explicitly encourage and reinforce traditional gender roles in a relationship, in order to garner more laughs.

With the kind of follower base that these social media content creators have, it is appalling to see the creative energy being directed at creating content that only reinforces gender roles in a household, that too at a time when open discussions on such topics are bringing in change, albeit ever so subtly. What we need is a responsible set of content creators and their followers who do not passively encourage the creation of videos on the lines of “why are you cleaning the house, does your wife not do it?”

Stop. Just stop.

(This blogpost is submitted by our Guest Author, Megha Varier. Megha is a freelance journalist and content creator based in Berlin. When not trying to hit her long list of reading goals, she's relentlessly attempting to be true to her Malayali self through weekly biriyanis and writing about everything Indian. You can follow her writings on books, films, gender and culture on Medium and on Twitter.)