Landmine Check

A newscaster mistakenly assumes that wives in a Middle Eastern country now walk ahead of their husbands due to an advance in societal roles.

Joke:   A newscaster mistakenly assumes that wives in a Middle Eastern country now walk ahead of their husbands due to an advance in societal roles.


Examples:   [Collected on the Internet, 2001]

A heartwarming story of the advances of women in achieving equality throughout the world …

Barbara Walters did a story on gender roles in Kuwait several years before the Gulf War. She noted then that women customarily walked about 10 feet behind their husbands. She returned to Kuwait recently and observed that the men now walked several yards behind their wives.

Ms. Walters approached one of the women and said, “This is marvelous. Can you tell the free world just what enabled women here to achieve this reversal of roles?”

“Land mines,” said the Kuwaiti woman.


Origins:   We first spotted this particular version of a much older tale on the Internet in November 2000. Needless to say, there was no such Barbara Walters report. What we have here is a joke that invokes

the name of a well known female newscaster as the main player in a tale requiring mention of an American journalist who would be sympathetic to the secondary status of women in Arab cultures.

During the Vietnam war, this story about woman and land mines was presented as a joke about how the Vietnamese were handling the grim reality of living in a landmined country. Earlier in the 1960s versions of this tale starred the Burmese, who were said to be reacting to the threat of mines left behind by occupying Japanese forces in the course of World War II mines. During World War II this anecdote was told about British troops musing the change in behavior people in an unnamed desert country: when the Tommies arrived, women were walking at the end of family processions behind the men and the donkeys; after three years of warfare, the women were now seen walking up front.

A version of this joke from 1975 employs the same theme as the original but replaces its inherent sexism with racism:

A Canadian lad goes to visit his cousin in the Deep South. One afternoon they’re out hiking alongside a river when they spot a boat driven by a white man go by. A black man is waterskiing behind the boat.

“Wow!” says the Canadian lad. “I guess what I heard about race relations down here was all wet — look at that fellow taking his black friend waterskiing.”

The southern cousin just shakes his head at the Canadian’s naivete. “T’ain’t waterskiing. He’s trolling for alligators.”

A 2004 updating of the “land mines” tale reverses its thrust: what appears to a Western journalist to be acquiescence to an old sexist custom proves, upon further examination, to be the opposite:

Women gladly walk behind their husbands in Afghanistan?

Barbara Walters of 60 Minutes (USA) did a story on gender roles in Kabul several years before the Afghan conflict.

She noted that women customarily walked about 5 paces behind their husbands.

She returned to Kabul recently and observed that women still walk behind their husbands, but now seem to walk even further back and are happy with the old custom.

Ms. Walters approached one of the Afghani women and asked, “Why do you now seem happy with the old custom that you used to try and change?”

“Land mines,” said the woman.

Barbara “sometimes a step backward is actually a step forward” Mikkelson

Last updated:   28 June 2014
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