Alongside studying for a History degree, I work as the Women’s Officer of Warwick University. It’s incredibly fulfilling, but it does mean I am on the receiving end of ironic sexist ‘banter’ far more often than I can be bothered to feign amusement at. I’ve been asked why there isn’t a Men’s Officer position so many times in complete, indignant sincerity that the humour has all but completely gone when the idea is put forward as a joke… which again, is all. The. Time. Hilarious guys! You actively benefit from structurally engrained sexism! Top bants.
So today I am writing about jokes. More specifically, the rights of people to be offended by crap ones which play off exhausted old stereotypes or prejudices without being told they just need to lighten up. I don’t want this to become an argument about the restrictions of jokes themselves or of freedom of speech; while it may not represent my personal view, lets assume for now that it’s fine for you make jokes however politically incorrect, racist, sexist, whateverist you want. However, you cannot then fall back on this when someone exercises their free speech to call you out on whatever prejudicial trope your joke contained, under the guise of it being intended as humour. Far too often, people seem to confuse ‘free speech’ with ‘freedom of consequences from whatever you choose to say.’ Now, I have a cracking sense of humour. But some things are tired, and some things are offensive, if not genuinely upsetting. The other day, my university radio station put out a show by Jack Morgan, Joe Hesketh and Thomas Wingfield. Together, they called themselves ‘The Cool Boys.’ It started with the DJs talking about a party they’d ended up at ‘full of typical feminists… you know the kind guys’.
Firstly, why wasn’t I invited to this party? Secondly, what even is a ‘typical feminist’? I know feminists of every size, shape, gender, sexuality and colour. I’m guessing maybe they meant something along the lines of the lesbian with hairy armpits the commentors on the Mail Online often refer to in connection with feminism. However, the idea of a ‘typical feminist’ as a bad or laughable thing is already sexist. If you’re saying it’s a bad thing to be a lesbian, or to have hairy armpits then you’re playing into the idea that there is a specific model a woman should fit into – generally young, pretty, white, hairless and heterosexual. This is about as limiting of women – and thus as misogynistic- as you can get.
The DJs in question then went on to the funnies – ‘Do you guys want to hear a joke?’ one bantered – ‘Women’s Rights!’. Followed by, ‘But no, really, we love our shawties, we love women… we also love dogs, and animals. They’re all in the same category right?’
This is not only a really shit joke, but one that exemplifies a ridiculous level of entitlement that comes along with such entrenched structural privilege. It is absolutely not something that can be hidden behind its ‘humour’, with any woman who objects to being compared to a dog in a campus wide radio broadcast being in need of ‘lightening up.’
I’m white. If I were to make a joke based on racial stereotypes that offended a person of colour, then it is me who has fucked up. However well intentioned I was to convey something with humour, or irony, or ‘but-of-course-I-don’t-actually-think-this-and-that’s-the-joke’, it would be my fault. I am in no position as a white person to tell people who experience racism daily what they should and shouldn’t find offensive. Similarly, cis-men do not get a say in whether women are overreacting to their sexist jokes, tropes or other forms of casual sexism that they do not experience.
Not finding your jokes funny doesn’t mean we’re lacking in humour – it means your jokes are shit.