February 5, 2011

humour and complacency

This is like, Gender Studies 101, but I need revisit some age-old questions and get this rant off my chest. So, I'm sitting with some friends last night - all guys. They start making make-me-a-sandwich jokes, trying to get a rise out of me.

It. fucking. worked.

To sit, surrounded by men, being barraged by offensively sexist jokes is infuriating. But what was even more infuriating is that I found myself paralyzed, unable to say anything. Maybe it was because they are longtime friends, maybe it was because I knew that they had no idea how offensive what they were saying was, maybe it was because these comments were intended as 'jokes', or maybe it was because I've been conditioned to be quiet, passive, and non-opinionated for 25 years.

But what do you say to 'jokes' like this? How do you avoid being dismissed as uptight and hyperbolic? Or should you even care what they think at all?

Trying to fall asleep later that night, I starting thinking about how gendered oppression exists on a spectrum. On the one end: make-me-a-sandwich jokes. On the opposite end: rape. All rest on the assumption that women ought to be passive objects existing primarily to satiate male desire. I don't mean to equate victims of rape with victims of jokes in bad taste, as their experiences are clearly incomparable. However, we see the same excuses offered up for sexist comments as we do for rape: 'she's overreacting;' 'he didn't know it would be unwelcome;' 'she was enjoying it.'

My friends are intelligent people, but appear never to have bothered asking women about why these jokes are offensive, nor have they critically considered the jokes on their own. If they did, they might see that it was indeed venomous to degrade and humiliate me like that. But more importantly, they might consider their own role in gendered oppression broadly - the assumptions they make, the jokes they laugh at, the comments they excuse.

After last night, and having been out of a feminist-friendly environment for almost three years, I certainly need to recognize my complacency in gendered oppression. I'm making assumptions I shouldn't, laughing at jokes I shouldn't, and excusing comments I shouldn't.

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