Animating the woke culture

Updated: Oct 10, 2018, 10:05 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

Imaan Sheikh's new Instagram project takes a close look at the desi performative woke man through memojis and humour

Imaan Sheikh
Imaan Sheikh

Deranged man-hater posing to be a feminist," is what 29-year-old content creator Imaan Sheikh was once described as — this now occupies space in her Twitter bio. But she is quick to channel that. It's only been a few days since the Canadian immigrant from Pakistan, popularly known for her satirical writing on Bollywood and sexism, created a new Instagram handle Bare Minimum Basheer that digs deep into the performative personality of men, like we're seeing today, in the most liberal spaces. The caption of the first post introducing her alter ego Basheer, a memoji, a humanoid character, is enough to resonate with most women, because we know we've met him, in our many adventures of misogyny. "I'm a woke feminist desi brown boy who knows everything. I love women. Anyway, rape is bad," it reads. Excerpts from an interview.

Why did you create the Instagram account, and how would you describe Bare Minimum Basheer to our readers?
I started this account because men do the bare minimum and expect rewards for it. And in my tweets and rants, "Basheer" has always been a pseudonym to refer to such a man. It's kind of like how "Chad" is used. In light of recent events, our already diminishing trust in men has nearly faded. Men we've supported capitalised on our pain and genuinely never cared about women. Therefore Bare Minimum Basheer (BMB) became my outlet because humour is how I cope with most things. Every woman knows at least one BMB.

What inspired the concept of creating a memoji? And how did you go about writing material for each post?
I recently got an iPhone X. A friend sent me an animoji (@hoejabi100) and I was like, 'Heyyyy I can make an entire alter ego using this.' So, I didn't have to work too hard to create material. Men in my Twitter mentions and real life give me more material than I'll ever need.

Given that the term "woke" was originally part of black culture and referred to a general sense of social awareness, how do you view the change in its usage? Are there any "woke desi boys" at all?
I personally use the word socially conscious instead of "woke" and only use woke ironically, in quotations for men because desi men really don't give a crap about appropriating any vernacular. And they will very proudly refer to themselves as woke for doing the bare minimum from what I've seen online. "Woke culture" in a desi context to me is more performative than say socially conscious culture. "Woke" desi men often only care about performativity. They will also argue that they can say the n word in some circles. That it's ok because their black friend said they can say it. That they "don't mean it in a racist way". This man is absolutely free of nuance and cares more about singing rap lyrics accurately than appropriating any community's struggle
or vernacular.

Basheer's girlfriend essentially portrays internalised misogyny. What are some crucial steps we should be taking to understand, identify, and call out such behaviour?
Internalised misogyny exists in women and femmes. Cis men (non-transgendered male) are purely misogynistic. It's easy to identify and avoid very obviously misogynistic men but when it comes to men like Basheer, the wolves in sheep's clothing who pretend to care about feminism to have access to women or to feel validated and rewarded, are more dangerous and harder to identify. As we've seen recently, these men leave your trust more shattered than the blatant misogynist. I have no tolerance for misogyny but I have empathy for internalised misogyny. We all suffer from it in some capacity; I hope more girls and women can overcome it sooner than my generation has.

What do you hope is the takeaway for your profile visitors?
The takeaway will vary. The men who see it will finally wonder why what they think has ended up on a satire page. Why it's wrong and why it's being made fun of. For women, it's just relatable. It's our boyfriend, our friend, our coworker, the journalist or comedian we support, or that #heforshe dude who gained clout using feminism. It was just the right time for it. A lot of girls have tagged their male friends saying, "He sounds just like you". It's for a reason. The Internet has been dark with #metoo reports. We could use a lighter side because all women I know, want to log off right now. Male allies don't often know what to say to someone who has been through assault or harassment. They don't know how they, being so "woke", are contributing to the patriarchy. But they are benefitting from it daily.

How do you plan on taking this project forward?
I do plan on posting every day, or whenever inspiration strikes or I meet a Basheer. I'm frankly mentally and emotionally exhausted by the kind of BS that women are having to put up with online. All the prominent woke boys of the Internet turned out to be predators, d@#k pic senders, and coercers. We're having a hard time.

Log on to: @wokedesiboy on Instagram

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