Tag Archives: humor

Racism, Sexism, and Satire

A couple of weeks ago two of my oldest and closest friends came up to visit.  While she was here, one of them stumbled across a “satire” piece on Thought Catalog titled, “Asian Women Need to Stop Dating White Men.”  And she was pissed.  “You need to write about this.  It’s so wrong, even if it’s satire it’s still perpetuating stereotypes.”  (I’m paraphrasing, I don’t remember her exact word-for-word statement)

 

Let’s address this from the get go: the author was a troll and the piece was poorly executed satire.  There is no Anne Gus, the piece was written by a guy.  That doesn’t make the article any less incredibly fucked up, not just for it’s “satirical” generalization of Asian women, but for it’s target: discrediting feminism via mansplaining.

 

White feminism absolutely has a huge problem with race (still), and it would be naïve of me to suggest that there aren’t white feminists who do espouse the ass-backwards ideas presented by “Anne Gus.”  And, rightfully, women of color feminists call them out on their bullshit.  But the purpose of this article wasn’t to call out racism within the movement, it was clearly to portray all white feminists as insecure and frothing-at-the-mouth.  And, as illustrated by two previous links, it worked: feminist women of color immediately (rightfully, given at the time nobody knew it was a troll) jumped on the article as exemplary of everything wrong with white feminists.  It pit us against each other, it reduced us to “this is why we can’t get along,” and it wasn’t real.  The author, who goes by the name of AryanofValhalla on bodybuilding forums, pretty clearly has some huge issues with race so it’s no surprise that he had no restraint using racist stereotypes of Asian women to make another attempt at making feminists look stupid and segregated.

 

Just in case it’s unclear, Asian women:

1. do not lack Feminist ideas or movements…just like other women

2. are not delicate or subservient to men (“pleasant”), unless they want to be…just like any other women

3. are not being “taken advantage of” by men of other races (in fact, I’ll let you in on something, Asian women date outside of their race for one reason: they meet someone of another race and they like him/her)…just like other women

4. are totally capable of knowing when someone is fetishizing them…just like other women

And these bullshit stereotypes, even used as “satire” to have a deleterious effect on feminism, are hurtful and damaging to Asian women.  Thought Catalog should have known better.

 

I had a moral conundrum writing this piece (back to my last post, Asian women don’t need me to speak for them), so I’ll wrap up with a quote from my friend:

I believe this “piece” was meant to be inflammatory and insulting, so I am playing right into the master plan (because bad publicity is still publicity, right? Plus, it is Thought Catalog!), but I wanted to say that I’ve dated (white) men in the past and am dating a wonderful (white) man now, and not one of these men ever made me feel like I was only attractive or worth dating simply because of my ethnicity (which is half White, half Cambodian, and a product of the author’s dreaded “WMAW” relationship).

Physical attraction is a first step, and while men who dated me may have initially found my “exotic” look attractive, they eventually found other reasons to continue dating (or not date!) me just as I found reasons beyond their physical aspects to continue dating (or not date) them.

Maybe I am just lucky, but I have never felt like the men who cared about me only fetishized me, considered me subservient, or thought me better than a white woman (or any woman of any other ethnicity for that matter). Not only is this language racist, but it pits women of different races against each other when we should be sticking together to fight the glass ceiling. The author claims to be a strong, white feminist, but if she chooses to turn female against female, I don’t think she is a true feminist at all.

My choice of feminism is about freedom of choice and equality… for all races and genders. Girl Power, y’all.

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I’m Not Giving Seth MacFarlane the Benefit of the Doubt

There has been a lot of fallout from the 2013 Oscars ceremony, namely from the jokes presented by the host, Seth MacFarlane.  The articles written in the days after seem to fall on one of two sides: that the ceremony was sexist and racist, or that MacFarlane was hilarious and people needed to lighten up.

There’s serious problems with both of these arguments, but a piece that particularly struck me was Victoria Brownworth’s Op-Ed for Advocate.com, in which she argued that the jokes were a dismantling of the Hollywood hyper-sexed system.  She asks if those calling the jokes sexist and racist were watching the same show as her, to which I have to reply to her, “are you talking about the same Seth MacFarlane?”

Yes, Mr. MacFarlane does advocate for marriage equality and against domestic violence, but I fail to see how in the 21st century it’s even slightly “impressive for a straight male” to do these things.  Are we not in an era where being anti-beating your significant other is somehow unique and worthy of praise?  It’s a moral standard to advocate for those who are taken advantage of.  Yeah, I get it, it’s still somehow acceptable to nominate Chris Brown for Grammys, but by and large society looks down upon abusers.  It’s not special to do so.

I’m extremely hesitant to even consider the idea that Seth MacFarlane doesn’t have serious issues with women and respect and equality given his track record for presenting what he considers to be an ideal role for women in his shows.  I’m not talking about blatantly sexist characters (like Peter Griffin and pretty much any other strong male character in any one of his shows) – those are clearly not written to be identifiable and indeed we are supposed to laugh at their stupidity.  For example, consider Family Guy S2E8, “I Am Peter, Hear Me Roar.”  Peter makes a sexist joke and is forced to attend sexual harassment sensitivity class, where they take away all of his “positive” masculine traits and replace them with emotionally sensitive “feminine” ones.  This is perceived by his wife, Lois, as a negative – she wants her man to act like a man while she acts like a woman.  The dilemma comes to a head when Lois and the feminist lawyer who sent Peter to the class get in a fight over choice feminism and wrestle, inspiring Peter to become aroused and be a man again.  The feminists are portrayed extremely negatively – they demean housewives and hate men – whereas Lois, the “feminine” woman comes to the rescue of traditional gender roles to say it’s more feminist to choose to stay home and have a chauvinist for a husband.

Choice feminism is a topic that literally can encompass entire books, so I won’t go in to it other than to say I have friends who’s job is to be a full-time mom (or dad) and that it is in fact, work.  My issue is with the tone with which MacFarlane approaches feminism and empowered women in the first place, which is my major issue with the Oscars.

I got in a facebook disagreement (I know, I know) with someone on the issue because I said the jokes weren’t funny and he fell back onto the “humor is subjective and who are you to decree what is and is not funny/acceptable humor” argument that literally comes up in 100% of all arguments about subject matter of comedy routines, and that’s not what I was trying to argue at all.  The problem is not boob jokes (though it’s pretty tasteless to include scenes of graphic rape, especially when the film is based on actual real-life accounts), or anorexia jokes, or even jokes poking fun at the future sexuality of a nine year old girl (ugh).  The problem out and out is tone, it’s the execution and the reliance on the idea that “if you don’t laugh at this, the problem is you and it’s you we’re really laughing at” that’s the problem with MacFarlane’s brand of “humor.”  It’s bullying.  Amy Davidson for The New Yorker really hits it dead-on, “Getting Charlize Theron and Naomi Watts to pre-record looks of mortification didn’t help, either. (…) It just seemed like a way for MacFarlane to make fun of viewers for being prudish and not ‘getting it.’ (See, the cool girls think that it’s funny!).”

In an industry where women struggle to be treated with the same respect as men, where to be willing to do a nude scene can be viewed as a make-or-break career decision, having a song where the tone is, “you did this incredibly personal work for your art and ultimately it’s still for our sexual amusement” is really gross.   It’s faux-edginess, it’s offensive for the sake of offensive without any counter-culture goals at all and you’re lying to yourself if you think otherwise.  Seth MacFarlane is not a champion of women’s empowerment or acknowledging the problems actresses uniquely face compared to actors in Hollywood, he’s paid huge sums of money to continue to get cheap, exploitative laughs, and is seemingly eager to do so.

I’m not here to be the morality police and say “certain things aren’t okay to joke about” because context and tone is really everything.  However, we need to be honest with ourselves: the Oscars were an embarrassment.  People who were offended had a right to be so and “comedians” aren’t immune from criticism just by the nature of their art.  Seth MacFarlane may believe he has nothing to apologize for, which is fine, because it’s not like we didn’t already know what kind of a person he was in the first place.


“Feminists just can’t take a joke”

Early this fall I was speaking to a friend of mine who coaches women’s soccer at a co-ed college.  She expressed to me some difficulty she faced in the workplace with sexist comments and how she confronted the men making the remarks and she told me (quoted as best I can from memory), “they seemed to get it but they just made more jokes.  It’s like they can’t take feminism seriously because it makes them uncomfortable so they make jokes about it.”

This got me thinking – feminists have a long standing reputation for being “unable to take a joke,” particularly when said joke is overwhelmingly sexist or the question of workplace sexual harassment comes up.  I’ve never met a feminist that didn’t love to laugh; when George Carlin passed in 2008 I lamented the loss of a counterculture icon and favorite comedian of mine and certainly he had no shortage of bits that were less than feminist friendly.  So why are some jokes not at all funny?  Who gets to decide what is appropriate and what isn’t?  I’m not in favor of censorship, but I do believe hate speech and oppressive words should be called out as such (a right to say something does not make saying it morally or ethically just).  Some important questions I think are good to mull over before telling a sexist joke:

  • By telling this joke, what is the underlying message which I am trying to convey (women are less intelligent, women are deserving of rape, women’s sports deserve less respect than men’s, conversely a male’s value as a person is closely related to his penis size, et cetera)?
  • Why do I feel this sentiment is necessary to convey?
  • Do I genuinely believe this sentiment, and if not, why would I want someone to believe that I do?
  • If this sentiment were expressed about me personally, would I be offended?  Why do I expect a woman to not be offended by the implications I am making?

In a recent article titled Lighten Up, Ladies!  Sexual harassment, sexual shmarassment, right? columnist Tabatha Southey says, “It’s distracting. It hurts our productivity. Some of us will now sit in a meeting with a man, listening to him talk about, say, life-threatening safety violations in our own workplace, and be wondering if he thinks he’s doing a Seth Rogen impression and when in his speech we’re meant to start laughing. Sometimes we do start laughing. It’s a defensive move. We look insane! But insane is okay. Just never let it be said that we don’t have a sense of humour.”  Why has it now become a condition of employment that women need to take being offended in stride?  I’m no fan of those “he has a sports car/giant truck/hummer, he must be compensating for an undersized penis,” jokes, but would these same people say something like that to their boss that just purchased a new red Z3?  Why is it more acceptable to make jokes challenging a woman’s worth and abilities than it is a man’s?

I find it interesting that (at least in my experience), most of the people saying “anything can be funny, nothing is off-limits,” are white middle and upper class straight males.  Can someone in the position of ultimate privilege (white privilege, class privilege, male privilege, straight privilege) really be a fair and objective judge of what’s “funny” when the chance of that individual facing any real oppression or harassment in their life is nil?  Again, I’m not arguing for censorship, I’m just proposing that maybe the people making “jokes” in the workplace that disparage people based on their gender/race/sexual orientation should take responsibility for their words and realize that when they make the statement, “this joke is being told at the cost of your dignity, it’s funny, and if you don’t agree then you are the problem not me,” it is going to breed hostility in the workplace and it does in fact make them a bad person.  Nobody goes to work to feel humiliated.

What’s the appropriate response to rape jokes in the workplace?  Why is it acceptable to tell a woman who’s offended by a rape joke to “lighten up, it’s nothing serious,” and to drag her though the mud when she files a sexual harassment claim?  Is rape really something we as a society want to convey is funny?  I don’t understand at what point prison rape jokes and “she had it coming” humor became acceptable; I do understand that we use humor to diffuse uncomfortable situations but the line between softening the blow and making a mockery of victims of horrible personal violations has clearly been crossed (does anyone really believe that violent anal rape in prison is justified for minor drug crimes?).

Women love to laugh just as much as men do.  We just want you to laugh with us, not at us.


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