Henry Denton: You Brits really don’t have a sense of humor do you?
Elsie: We do if something’s funny, sir.
– Gosford Park
Two stories popped up on my Twitter feed simultaneously yesterday: a defence of Tim Hunt’s sexist “jokes” about women in science, and the news that Eagle Technology felt compelled to apologise to the attendees of an event it sponsored after guest speaker Maurice Williamson made unspecified sexist “jokes”.
I had some thoughts on the matter which I tweeted out, but wanted to record the ideas here for posterity!
If you’re part of an oppressed group, you’re used to being the butt of the joke. You know it’s a joke. It’s still about you, and it’s mean.
Privileged douchebags already get plenty of passes for their privilege and douchebaggery. They don’t need another pass.
Stop making it the duty of people who are already oppressed to burn mental energy ~being okay~ with your terrible jokes.
And stop demonizing our anger/upset/contempt/exasperation at shitty jokes just bc we express it on Twitter or Facebook. (The defence of Tim Hunt in particular complained of “Twitter outrage”, as though modern social media is the only place people have ever got together to express their anger collectively in the history of human communication.)
Also, understand when marginalized people DO laugh at your shitty oppressive jokes, it’s a survival mechanism. And you’re not really funny.
I spoke at a National Council of Women meeting the night before last about sexism and discrimination in the workplace, and one of the points I really hammered is that there’s a hell of a lot of pressure on marginalized people – particularly women, because we’re meant to be nurturing and caring and emotional – to carry the burden of other people’s behaviour.
In the context of work, that’s about your “Lean In” school of thought: “just stand up for yourself and make some noise (and hope you aren’t blacklisted as too abrasive)”. In any context, when somebody – especially an older dude – tells terrible, hackneyed sexist jokes about women crying too much or having PMS, the burden isn’t on him to just not tell the joke in the first place. It’s on us to either not get offended too easily or accept his apology and let it go.
Even when, like Maurice Williamson, he has form for telling terrible hackneyed jokes about marginalized groups of people.
Here’s a radical notion: if privileged white dudes want people to stop ~taking offence~ at their pitiful attempts at humour, they could try telling jokes which don’t punch down on women or ethnic minorities or people’s sexual orientation.
Or just accept that you’re not really that funny, chaps.