Monday, June 25, 2012

Feminist Question of the Week: Gender Jokes

When is a joke funny and when is it offensive? I think it's important that we have the ability to laugh at ourselves and I do think that being politically correct can be taken too far, however so can a joke.

So when should we get offended by a sexist joke? What crosses the line for you?

Recently I was thinking about the passing comments I make about men, "Men are jerks" kind of comments, and I mean them in a lighthearted way, usually as a cheering up mechanism for a friend. If a guy were to say something similar about women, especially if it was meant as a joke I wouldn't say something, but perhaps it's constant small, quippy comments like these just continue to separate the sexes and highlight gender division?

What do you think?


  1. I get the feeling that comments intended to lighten someones downcast mood are usually said in intimate settings where what is actually being communicated is, "it's not your fault." It's not your fault that another human being did something cruel that hurt you. You are enough and you don't need to justify the mistakes of someone else.

    I think that it is a very difficult task to tell a sexist joke. I think there are comics like Conan O'Brian, John Stewart, David Letterman, Jay Leno, etc who have all failed at telling these kinds of jokes. I have noticed a few times where John Stewart of the Daily Show would tell a joke and realize that it had gone to far while telling the joke. Ok course some comics like Letterman are less apologetic about the sexist jokes.

    I think we can make light of each others foibles and the silly mistakes we deal with on a daily basis. I think it is even possible to make light of stereotypes that if taken seriously would be incredibly divisive and abhorrent. I wish I could proffer examples but I am a terrible comic. It is impossible for me to find humor in ridiculous dichotomies. But it is easy for me to see that even very intelligent people can do and say very unintelligent things, and for those I thank them. Because those are real. They help us identify with each others weaknesses and should bring us closer together. Dichotomist humor, by definition, divides and makes it harder for us to see the true human behind the masks of identity.

    Yes? No?

  2. I think if a joke is meant to unify - as in, "look at the foibles of XYZ group and how this makes them *human*, just like the rest of us" - it's doing what humor should be doing and isn't offensive. Like Busty Girl Comics, which makes its whole point the fact that sometimes having large breasts is awkward, uncomfortable, inconvenient, but also fun in some unexpected ways that have nothing to do with sexuality.

    If a joke is meant to tear someone down, or emphasize separateness, or set up a heirarchy, or maintain a heirarchy - as in, "look at this generalization of XYZ group and how it makes us less human than we are" - it's offensive. Kitchen jokes, as an obvious example.

  3. Oops. "How it makes *them* less human than we are," I meant.

  4. Crystal, you said almost exactly what I was thinking - a joke that dismisses someone's humanity or that takes away another person's voice is a joke that crosses the line.

    But then, I have to admit - determining when a joke has done that is largely subjective. I think there are jokes sometimes that point to a problem - but perhaps with an attitude still of "such-and-such group is to blame," not an attitude of, "oh, look how such-and-such has foibles, just like I do." And those jokes that are motivated by a political message can be the trickiest. Why else would O'Reilly's viewers think he's hilarious, when more liberal viewers don't think he's funny at all? I think the same thing plays out with Rachel Maddow and her viewers, vs. more conservative viewers who just think he's condescending.

    It can get really subjective, really fast.

    1. *more conservative viewers who just think she's condescending.

      She, not he. Sorry, folks.