Tuesday, May 19, 2009

That's Not Funny

Melissa at Shakesville is amazing about breaking down some of the basic lessons about feminism and gender equality. In March she wrote a post entitled Feminism 101: On Language and the Commodification of Sex Via Humor. Below you'll find a lengthy section from the post, and we encourage you to read it in its entirely. However, note that the original post, its comments, and Shakesville as a whole does contain adult language that some readers may find offensive.

I've talked about the role of humor in perpetuating and normalizing rape and the objectification of women's body parts, and why humor is such a useful tool in the normalization of patriarchal norms and narratives:

[O]ne of the most common themes among the emails I get is gratitude for expressing frustration or contempt or anger at something of which, women have been told in explicit or implicit ways, our jovial and uncomplaining acquiesce is expected. Thank you for saying it's not funny. That something has always bothered me. It's an expression of relief that someone has said publicly what they've felt privately—and maybe never said to anyone for fear of reprisal, for fear of being told they are humorless, hypersensitive, over-reactionary, boring.

…It's a terribly effective silencing strategy, which is why the conveyance of patriarchal norms is so often closely associated with humor. Anyone who dares complain is just No Fun—hence, we find ourselves mired in a culture in which women who don't laugh at seeing parts of their body routinely used as demeaning gags, and the men who are disgusted by such objectification of people they're meant to love and respect, are the ones considered weird.

It can be really daunting to go up against all that, especially in one's everyday life, on one's own, just one woman against someone(s) equipped with such an effective institutionalized mechanism for shaming and silencing.
"Geez, can't you take a joke?" That's all it takes—the implication that the woman who objects to public expressions of misogyny, who doesn't find funny the means of her own subjugation, or doesn't find amusing being triggered by careless "jokes" about a brutal event she has experienced, is humorless. Uncool. Oversensitive. Weak. (As though standing up to bigotry is the easy way out, and laughing along is somehow strong.)
People often ask us what they can do to end domestic violence. The standard answers always donate money or volunteer, but what Melissa gets at here is equally important. You can help end violence against women by doing the hard work of saying "That's not funny" when someone makes a joke at the expense of women, or "That's not ok" when someone condones the use of violence to solve a problem or get their way. It isn't easy; none of us want to make our friends feel uncomfortable. But by taking a stand, you're communicating to those with whom you have influence that you are not ok with sexism, objectification, and all of the isms that, when added together, create a culture where violence against women is accepted. If your kids see you taking a stand, better yet, because the more kids who grow up knowing that violence against women is unacceptable, the better their world will be.

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