Women have been funny since the dawn of time, because if you’re a woman living in this world, with those beauty standards, trying to, or indeed, having it all, in this economy, something has to lighten the mood. Let’s make a joke. Or five. Okay then, chalo TV pe. Too patriarchal and not permissive enough? No matter. It’s the 21st century. We have the internet now. We’ll make our own channel.
Luckily, sometimes if you are someone who likes spending Monday mornings catching up on calls and texts and emails, planning the next two weeks, but taking regular breaks for chai and some light beauty tutorial browsing, you’ll sometimes come across really fun content. Not knowing how to put on blush is a blessing. Hashtag: BlessedToBeBlushed. Or vice versa.
There is a lot of content on your socials right now, where you ‘get ready with’ your influencer/personality of choice, and sometimes they will talk to you about things a little more serious than eyeliner.
A few years ago, Indian comedian Shrishti Dixit did a makeup tutorial sketch for Buzzfeed India, labeling it, ‘the internalized misogyny edition’. As Dixit primes and powders and contours, she tells us how each step directly correlates to colonial, patriarchal standards imposed upon women.
Putting a ‘bit’ down in plain descriptors may make it sound boring, which it usually isn’t, but the proof is in the engagement: the video garnered 3.8 million views, and 162,000 likes. Similarly, buttoning down the work of local comics and content creators may not deliver the same impact the actual content does, but it has to be done.
For example, Akbar Chaudry does a lot of social commentary, even while the entire crux of one of his videos might be looking at Facebook fails. The jokes may or may not be intentional, and may or may not be palatable to everyone, but they are born of lived experience. Ali Gul Pir often mimes over existing videos already going viral on the internet, and has acted over soundbites everyone from politicians to your local street corner stoner.
Creating content for women is such a slippery slope though, that the people who do it best are women themselves. Is that a bit sexist? Perhaps. But if you’re writing jokes for women, there’s a fine line between funny and inappropriate or triggering, and very few people know how to walk it. Coming across digital creator – “YouTuber, from back in the day,” she says herself – Tamkenat Mansoor, seated in a makeup chair, providing commentary on the magic of the makeup artist, is refreshing.
Mansoor is unapologetic in how she speaks. Maybe she will hurt sentiments, maybe she will start a debate. Perhaps she will talk about stuff that is uncomfortable for you to listen to because it is your truth. But she will do it with such charm, that you will find yourself at least smiling™. Tamkenat Mansoor is a doctor, a single mother, and unabashed ambitious woman.
“I always knew I wanted to be a star,” she says, “but then I started studying medicine, and then I fell in love, and then I got married and then I became pregnant.” Mansoor has two daughters, and she is very clear about how she wants to raise them.
We frequently look to public figures to try to emulate their success in their personal and professional lives. We’ve all, specifically as women, been advised to ‘lean in’, or have wallowed privately because Jacinda Ardern just straps on a baby and runs a country while we can’t even work our contractual flex schedule without raised eyebrows and jocular, “half day?” from coworkers, or asked why is it that Kareena Kapoor after a baby and in her late thirties is still modeling while we look the way we do. There is, with zero drama intended, a lot of expectation put upon how women should behave and what they should achieve, with judgment regardless of where they land on both counts.
So when you take someone like Tamkenat Mansoor, whose wit, albeit biting, is matched only by her accomplishment of establishing a medical practice, while simultaneously raising her daughters as a single parent, you’re bound to wonder if you’re basically looking at comedy’s Sheryl Sandberg. Mansoor speaks frankly about why she is able to pursue both her careers with equal attention.
“I can do all of this,” she says, referring to her status as a digital creator and doctor, “because I am very privileged. I have my parents who look after my daughters when I’m not around, giving me the freedom to go after opportunities.” Secondly, and not to put too fine a point on this, but the doctor-comedian says she works incredibly hard. Which again, comes as no surprise. It takes a village to raise a child, but that village is required because parents aren’t just raising their children. Why this becomes a topic of discussion is what is questionable: why do we feel compelled to ask women how they juggle work and home, passions and children? It’s literally labor of love versus, well, labor of love, and the one question no one has ever asked a successful man.
Tamkenat Mansoor vehemently states the following: “of course there is a lot of mom guilt. But again, I know when I am not there, my kids are taken care of. But also, I don’t labor under the delusion that any part of what I am doing is for them necessarily. If I wanted to be a star, that was my dream. I don’t want to wake up when I’m 80 years old and resent my children for holding me back.”
Mansoor insists on being accountable for one’s own happiness.
“This is how I am raising my daughters: I have taught them that no one is responsible for their happiness. I want them to take charge of that themselves.”
When you go through the content Tamkenat Mansoor creates, you might think that here’s another person creating content around your typical desi stereotypes.
But the thing to understand, should you choose to is: where is this character coming from? If this character was portrayed seriously, would you be triggered by it? If this statement was made to you in real life, how would you receive it? And why is it important, to an audience of Pakistani women, that another woman is playing out loud and saying out loud the personalities and things they have been dealing with since god knows when.
Mansoor’s dadi is come-dically presumptuous and judgy; her ward waali aapa is hilariously loud and colorfully verbose.
But to any woman who has grown up in Pakistan, behind the humor is the hurt the judgment and microaggressions have caused. With the jokes comes the defiance of someone who’s had to develop a thick skin, and while not all of us are funny enough to write good jokes about it, most of us can relate.
Predictably, it is her content addressing feminist concerns that draws most hate. “The trolls turn up whenever I speak to an issue of women’s rights, or anything considered remotely feminist,” says Mansoor. “But the idea is to keep doing this, to keep saying things that might make people a little uncomfortable, because that is when change starts.”
When you go through the content Tamkenat Mansoor creates, you might think that here’s another person creating content around your typical desi stereotypes. But the thing to understand, should you choose to is: where is this character coming from? If this character was portrayed seriously, would you be triggered by it? If this statement was made to you in real life, how would you receive it? And why is it important, to an audience of Pakistani women, that another woman is playing out loud and saying out loud the personalities and things they have been dealing with since god knows when.