There is the good old stereotype that we feminists hate jokes and that we’re no fun. If we object to a misogynist, sexist, racist, homophobic joke then we are written off as being humorless and too serious (Gosh, I’m just joking, can’t you just take a joke?). For example, misogynist jokes like “Want to hear a joke? Women’s rights, bitches!” (a joke that was told to a large audience earlier this year during a freshman pre-orientation ceremony of sorts) and rape jokes are not funny, ever. Offensive remarks that reproduce and maintain dominant patriarchal narratives often masquerade (and get away with it innocently and successfully) as mere funny jokes.
Humor is a very effective and ubiquitous tool in normalizing and perpetuating patriarchal oppression. Because it is a “joke” we are just supposed to laugh it off. Humor is used as a way to shame and silence people so that they fail to question or challenge the underlying meanings embedded in the oh-so-innocent joke. Questioning or objecting to an offensive joke makes people think that you’re overly sensitive, weak, too serious, not fun and most people don’t want to be written off as the overly serious, stuck up person who can’t take a joke. (I’m just joking, geez!; Why are you getting so upset? It’s just a joke!)
It’s important to call people out on offensive jokes because they are not funny, and pointing out that they are not funny does not mean that we are not funny. It means that we are taking a proactive stance and action against the perpetuation of patriarchal oppression. It is also important to recognize that patriarchy relies on the “in-group” to help further normalize oppressive, patriarchal narratives via humor. As Melissa over on Shakesville writes:
Humor that exhorts its targets to participate is even more insidious—and promoting the patriarchal narrative of women as sex class via humor has come to rely heavily on the participation of feminist women themselves. And our allies.
When women make sexist or misogynist jokes, when gay or lesbian people make homophobic jokes, when coloured people make racist jokes, does that make it okay? Does that make it harmless and acceptable? No, it doesn’t, but a lot of people think it does. When a certain group makes jokes about themselves people don’t perceive it as a problem because it’s supposedly all right for black people to make racist jokes about black people, it’s supposedly okay for women to make misogynist jokes, etc. However, it is essentially just another way of reaffirming and reinforcing patriarchal norms that continue to marginalize certain people. It is another way to silence people because hey, if they’re joking about themselves then so can we!
Joking about a type of oppression or a marginalized group gives people the false impression that we are beyond that oppression and that everything is okay. But no, sexism isn’t over. Racism isn’t over. Ableism isn’t over. Heterosexism isn’t over. All forms of oppression are intertwined and function in conjunction to maintain the status quo. Therefore we can never be “beyond racism” unless we are “beyond sexism” or any of the other forms of oppression.
These oh-so-humorous offensive jokes are so deeply institutionalized and embedded in our society as harmless things that we need not worry or make a big deal about. But they are really just mechanisms to silence people from protesting these offensive “jokes” and shame those who do object as un-funny, un-fun losers. Because yes, you’re just an overly sensitive girl who can’t take a goddamn joke for not laughing at a rape joke and refusing to let such triggering comments slip by as humor when it’s not funny to begin with.