Misogyny as comedy – cracking the lens
My nine year old daughter’s best (male) friend recently told her that boys were better than girls – at everything – and that there were loads of things that boys could do that girls couldn’t. It’s the kind of comment that boys sometimes make (my son when he was five picked up the following phrase from school ‘boys are fantastic, girls are elastic’) but when Maisie made no move to disagree with him I damn well did.
I challenged the boy to come up with one single thing, just one, that boys could do that girls could not. It took him some time, quite a long time really, but once I shot down every single example he came up with using examples of famous female achievers (from the England women’s football team to Ennis to Rowling) the best he could contrive was that boys could pee standing up. When I told him that girls were perfectly able to pee standing (anyone who has seen The Full Monty knows this) he shut up and looked extremely thoughtful. And so did Maisie.
The fact is, the more we allow our boys to get away with saying things like this, the more we fail to challenge them, the more they grow up feeling that this ridiculous idea – that boys are better than girls – is true.
This week one of my friends posted a video on Facebook. It showed a male comedian drawing a graph for a roomful of viewers. This graph, he said, was a guide for all young men out there. All women, he said, should be scored according to hotness and craziness. No women were below a 4 crazy, so that axis went from 4-10, but the hotness scale went from 0-10. All women graded at a ‘hotness level’ of 0-5 formed the ‘no-go’ area – any women deemed to be ‘not hot’ wasn’t worth a man’s time. Between five and 8 hot and above the ‘crazy line’ was your ‘fun zone’, below the crazy line was your ‘date zone’. Women who were between an 8 and 10 hot and not too crazy formed the ‘wife zone’. In his opinion super hot women who were below a 4 crazy did not exist – these were ‘unicorns’ and anyone above an 8 hot and below a 2 crazy were ‘trannys’.
How did this man measure ‘crazy’? At one point he mentioned ‘laid back’ so I can only assume that ‘not crazy’ for him means something like ‘agreeing with men all the time’ or ‘wanting to do what men want to do’ or ‘ not being emotional or in anyway demanding’.
He then did another chart – the female version. To women, he said, all men were graded on a cute / money scale. End of.
So in the course of this video this ‘comedian’ told me that women should only be valued according to their looks and their ability to remain ‘untroublesome’ and that women themselves value only money.
And the gender of the person who posted this video on Facebook – female. When I suggested that it was offensive, I was shouted down, not by men, but by women. ‘It’s only a giggle’, ‘don’t you ever score men marks out of ten?’ (No I don’t), ‘This chart is VERY funny’, ‘Just a bit of fun’.
Really? Just a bit of fun? This kind of misogyny disguised as comedy is an insidious disease. It’s simply a modern version of ‘take my wife … please’.
It tells our sons that it is all right to disrespect women, because it’s ‘only a laugh’. It delivers its message – that women should be attractive and easy and have nothing else of worth – in a way that gets into the memory and remains there, working its tendrils into the psyche.
It tells boys that they are better than girls. It permits, in fact encourages, a society where rape and sexual assault in our colleges and universities is on the up, where young boys watch porn (and are suffering in their first sexual encounters from the disconnect between real life and what they have seen), where young men play computer games where rape and sexual violence are normalised, where violent crime against women and young girls is becoming more and more horrifying and where women are still blamed for their own assaults (she was asking for it, drunk, wearing a short skirt – she was on the wrong side of the crazy / hot line).
And where are the women who challenge this?
Well we’ve internalised the message too. As a teen I was as guilty as anyone else of laughing at myself, being self-deprecating, hiding my light under a bushel in case it offended or ‘put boys off me’. I wanted to be popular so I allowed boys to make fun of me and my gender, I giggled along with them, and I hid my own achievements so as to remain on the right side of the ‘not crazy’ line.
When I was assaulted I never reported it, when I had to fend off groping hands on trains, in clubs, in bars, even at school, I never shouted out, I tried to deal with it ‘quietly’. When a boy punched me to prevent me from stopping him and then put his hand into my knickers during a German lesson I did shout and I got in trouble for yelling, did I say why? No, I was too embarrassed.
When I was told that my dissertation was marked down because the examiner didn’t like ‘girls’ I made no fuss. When I joined an office and heard comments rating me ‘hot or not’ then accidentally received an email that had gone round the whole office (but was obviously not intended for me) in which they judged the ‘new girl’ – ‘all right from a distance but a real munter up close’ I said nothing.
When another boss said that he would never hire an attractive woman to work in his company because he would find it too distracting, I just laughed and said ‘thanks a lot’.
But I am a mother now and I want my daughter to grow up with a different kind of life. With self-worth. I want her believing that she can do anything and that when she gives her heart to someone it should be to an individual who things she is more than a dot on a line.
How can I tell her that she is amazing and have her believe me, when I laugh at jokes about women being stupid, greedy or insane, when she hears ‘blonde jokes’ or when the boys she likes in her class constantly tell her that girls are crap and useless?
How long before I find her sobbing because she has found herself scored on a crazy / hot graph by people who are supposed to like and respect her?
One final thought – no one any more thinks that the black and white minstrels are funny. Jokes that lampooned black people as dim-witted, lazy, buffoonish, and superstitious provided the lens through which white people saw black America.
You would never, ever start a joke with a black guy walking into a bar. It has been accepted that this kind of humour contributed to a society that accepted slavery. ‘Black jokes’ are racist. They are unacceptable in any culture that purports to value equality.
So why are misogynist jokes okay?
Misogynist wisecracks provide the lens through which we allow our sons to see our daughters. Why don’t we value our daughters enough to crack that damn lens?