Just because I’m a feminist doesn’t mean I believe that ALL sexist jokes cause harm to women.
I’m guessing that some feminists left after reading that. For everyone who has stayed on this page, I thank you, and here is why:
Some sexist jokes are too full of hyperbole and carry such controversial or very generalized messages that they have little effect on attitudes to women. For example, “Why did the woman cross the road? Never mind that, what’s she doing out of the kitchen!” is unlikely to significantly affect attitudes because our society does not believe in making all women housewives, and we know that doing so would affect the economy and create many other problems. Also, there is no real threat of men suddenly making all women housewives.
However, “Why do women have boobs? So you’ve got something to look at when you’re talking to them!” is more harmful because women are being objectified by men more than they are being forced by men to be housewives. There is a real threat of such objectification increasing (I blame lad culture, media and advertising more than pornography for reasons I’ll discuss in another post). Also, the message here is more specific and also more subtle: that women are meant to be objectified or that breasts exist for male pleasure.
Lastly, “What did her right leg say to her left leg? Nothing, because they never met!” is even more harmful because slutshaming is rampant and this joke is not only encouraging slutshaming, it itself is a form of slutshaming material. There is a real threat of slutshaming increasing due to the speech and rhetoric of certain politicians, radfems, prolife NGOs and anti-sexwork NGOs. The message is also subtle – that women are not supposed to express their sexuality, and that doing so is deviant and worthy of mockery. Who knows, perhaps this “joke” or something similar was used to bully Amanda Todd in any of the schools she moved away from. It’s a popular joke and has been used to shame and bully girls and women for years now. I dream of a slutopia where this joke would make no sense.
The most dangerous and offensive jokes are the ones that help perpetuate rape culture. Jokes about rape – of either men or women. The only way a rape joke could ever be funny was if the joke was about the rapist and portrayed the rapist as evil, inept, cowardly, etc. The joke should make the audience laugh at the rapist. Sadly I don’t know of any jokes like this. We don’t joke about murder or serious assault, so why do we even joke about rape? That’s a disturbing question right there. I also find objectionable jokes about accidental sex or jokes which do not make clear if it was consensual (“she said ‘that’s not my [object]’. And he said, ‘well that’s not my [object]’.”)
On a personal note, I don’t believe my tolerance of some sexist jokes to be that surprising, given that as someone who’s half Asian I like Asian jokes and the way L;u Kim is drawn in South Park. It’s hilarious to me and my Asian relatives. If racist jokes don’t inspire racial hatred and aren’t used in a hateful way, they’re fine by me; perhaps if South Park didn’t mock white males the most I wouldn’t approve. Family Guy is similar: “I’m standing outside the Park Barrington Hotel because they don’t allow Asians inside.” “When [an Asian guy] comes in I’m going to blindfold him with this dental floss. Nah nah nah nah nah nah, racial slur.” And I think this is absolutely hilarious, because these two shows mock every other race, so why should Asians be exempted? That would just be treating them differently.
And it’s the same with sexism. If we joke about men, gays, alcoholics, vegetarians, Jews, nationalities, race, rich people, poor people, politicians etc, why exempt women? Wouldn’t that be treating women differently?