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Will Smith Oscar Slap is Not about Jada. It is Good Old Toxic Masculinity on Display

By: Mohua Chinappa

Last Updated: March 30, 2022, 19:01 IST

Cracking jokes on an illness was crossing the line, bringing up the wife was in bad taste. The woman remains the softest target to humiliate, writes Mohua Chinappa. Photo: Reuters

Cracking jokes on an illness was crossing the line, bringing up the wife was in bad taste. The woman remains the softest target to humiliate, writes Mohua Chinappa. Photo: Reuters

With this overriding emotion men can sometimes go to the extent of getting into physical fisticuffs or hustle, with their full manhood on display

I had to blink twice, stare again gobsmacked, as I watched Will Smith walk up to the Oscar stage and slap Chris Rock on his face. Was I seeing clearly? Did this really happen? Good lord, this is intense!

The thoughts that rose were: Was this staged? Was this PR at work? It can’t be true.

But hell no! This is true. Will Smith did slap Chris Rock.

Will Smith, the star, stays in my heart with his sensitive portrayal of a committed father in The Pursuit of Happyness. He was gentle and such a dutiful father in that role. He remains entrenched in my heart, he was so relatable.

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It turns out that Chris Rock did crack a joke about Jada (Pinkett Smith) and her autoimmune disorder. Will’s expression changed. He walked up, slapped him and said, “Keep my wife’s name out of your fu***ng speech!” He went on to repeat the same lines, as he walked back to his seat.

I pinched on the phone screen to see Jada’s face. I could see she was shocked and stressed.

***

I am reminded of a friend’s husband who I had invited to a party I had thrown. He was my guest. I found him quiet and distant, so I made the extra effort to make him comfortable. As the evening progressed, after few drinks at my party, he accosted me.

He raised his index finger and said, “You spoke badly about my wife, you are not a friend, I was in no mood to come, I came for the sake of my wife.” This he said after overstaying.

I defended myself. I felt insecure in that zone and feebly said, “I was hoping if your wife has an issue, she would bring it up with me and not get her husband involved in it.”

My friend, I could sense, was embarrassed about his crude behaviour and that she had been caught out. I realised they had discussed me. I didn’t know what they had discussed. I stood frozen between them.

She tried to stop him. But he was willy-nilly insisting on protecting his wife’s hurt emotion. He remained oblivious that he was being obnoxious with another person’s wife.

I left my own party, with tears in my eyes. I felt hurt and angry with myself for not being able to throw him out.

Next day the husband, the wife and her best friend called to apologise. They told me what a gentleman he is. I must believe and understand that whatever happened at my party was not the real him. He has never been like this. They have no clue what was the trigger.

I was left feeling guilty for maybe triggering this dark side of an-otherwise gentleman, who they claimed was always courteous and polite.

I was wary to get into an argument, I agreed with whatever they claimed. But I couldn’t forget how humiliated I had felt.

***

Returning to Will Smith, one part of me thinks that what transpired was maybe instinctive. He was standing up for his wife. The other part in me makes me ponder about the deeply entrenched protectionism that men have reserved only for their own wives or sisters.

With this overriding emotion they can sometimes go to the extent of getting into physical fisticuffs or hustle, with their full manhood, if you insult, dare to make a pass or a derogatory remark about their wives, sisters or the mother.

Returning to Will Smith, one part of me thinks that what transpired was maybe instinctive. He was standing up for his wife. The other part in me makes me ponder about the deeply entrenched protectionism that men have reserved only for their own wives or sisters.

But often they will be fine to mete out the same behaviour to another person’s wife, sister or mother. The most intriguing part of this protectionism is that this is very relative.

If you engage in deep conversations and dig deeper with the wives, you can hear acrimony and disappointment in their tales.

They confess how these very protective men are alright when the wife is continually disrespected by his close family members. In such situations, the wife must wear her own armour and be her own knight in her own shining armour.

Cracking jokes on an illness was crossing the line, bringing up the wife was in bad taste. But this happens time and again. The woman remains the softest target to humiliate.

Like the friend’s ill-mannered husband, I recall the day my father, my mother and I were humiliated by my late father-in-law in the wedding hall in front of 1,000 guests. He was unhappy that the marriage was not done within his community.

My Baba’s humiliation as he hung his head in shame stays in my heart. My Ma’s pleading eyes too remain. I am angry with myself that I tolerated it. I didn’t draw my boundary.

With all this, I went on to look after my late father-in-law in the darkest days of his illness. Even that time he didn’t hesitate after a few months to ban me from entering his room. He said my natural body smell hassled him.

I gulped the humiliation and continued the family life. The onus of keeping it all together naturally fell on my frail shoulders.

After so many years, I think that protectionism in a man arises from the deep patriarchal mindset that remains entrenched.

But Will Smith is definitely going to be remembered. He will be the new topic of discussion hereon until the next shock saga.

And for many of us to slap or not to slap will remain the eternal question.

Mohua Chinappa is a writer and voice-over artist. Her latest book Nautanki Saala and Other Stories is just out. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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first published:March 30, 2022, 18:57 IST
last updated:March 30, 2022, 19:01 IST