Feminism Friday: Humour as a tool for shaming and silencing

Last week’s Feminism Friday post was on why Rape Jokes Just Aren’t Funny, based on a series from Melissa McEwan of Shakesville, and Bernice made a telling comment.

Humour – the final frontier of colonialisation. You really now you’ve co-opted someone into the frame of dominance from which you work, when you can get them to laugh at jokes insensitive at the least, vicious in the usual. Which is why it’s so important to berate those humourless one who fail to laugh or worse still dare to complain – they’re obviously not with the programme.

Liss, via an extended photo-essay (warm up your scrolling finger), provides the hook for our Feminism Friday post again:

For the Discerning Gentleman: You, Too, Can Decorate Your Life With Disembodied Boobs

(Some pictures may be NSFW)

After the “fun” part of showing just why disembodied boobs and other female body parts are indeed demeaning to actual living women, Liss gets down to the larger point of the effect of these “jokes”, which echoes Bernice’s comment.

On that note, one of the most common themes among the emails I get is gratitude for expressing frustration or contempt or anger at something of which, women have been told in explicit or implicit ways, our jovial and uncomplaining acquiesce is expected. Thank you for saying it’s not funny. That something has always bothered me. It’s an expression of relief that someone has said publicly what they’ve felt privately, and maybe never said to anyone for fear of reprisal, for fear of being told they are humorless, hypersensitive, over-reactionary, boring.

For fear of hearing in those words, “Oh, you’re such a girl,” and feeling that thing, that awful thing, in your gut, the shame of being a girl, and then the twisting horror at the realization that you’ve let self-loathing grip you.

It’s a terribly effective silencing strategy, which is why the conveyance of patriarchal norms is so often closely associated with humor. Anyone who dares complain is just No Fun, hence, we find ourselves mired in a culture in which women who don’t laugh at seeing parts of their body routinely used as demeaning gags, and the men who are disgusted by such objectification of people they’re meant to love and respect, are the ones considered weird.

It can be really daunting to go up against all that, especially in one’s everyday life, on one’s own, just one woman against someone(s) equipped with such an effective institutionalized mechanism for shaming and silencing.

All this is, of course, why Lauredhel’s Anti-Feminist Bingo card has the central square as Can’t You Take A Joke? We’re meant to be shamed and silenced by the myth that jokes don’t matter, and Liss’ conclusion is worth memorising.

It’s so very girly to get all worked up about novelty boobs. Oh, you’re such a girl.

You’re fucking right I’m a girl.

I’m a girl with no sense of humor about anti-girl things, go figure.

I’m a girl with absolutely no interest in participating in my own subjugation, thank you very much.

Crossposted at Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog

Categories: language, social justice

Tags: , , , ,

3 replies

  1. Liss had put up various images of “fun” “joke” plastic etc disembodied boobs as a photoessay, hosting the images on photobucket.
    Photobucket have pulled about half of those images as “offensive”, so now when you look there’s just a blank box where they were.
    How interesting.

  2. Ah, thanks for the photoblank explination. I was going to comment on the limits/relevance of using colinisation as an analogy for sexism -given women’s different relations to actual colinisation -but the picture censor’s gone and illustrated the point already.
    I think it’s about sovereignty, just in the sense of women’s sovereignty over our own bodies and voice in sexual politics, against the supposed ‘free speech’ existing around sex today.
    These expressions aren’t about humour but reinforcing a concept of ‘free’ in sexual ethics that means without limits rather than liberated – not even the limits of self censoring out of respect for partners and self.
    Which these random ‘image deleted’ censor acts sooo endlessly shows. How often do you see this done hypocritically to images that challenge consumerist, colonising defintions of ‘free’ – but aren’t violent and were made with consent? Flickr’s the only host I’ve tried that hasn’t deleted my feminist art images while allowing all kinds of sexist, racist, commodifying kids imagery.

  3. You know what’s started to interest me about the responses to rape jokes? The witnesses who stand by nervously laughing on, obviously uncomfortable but still not calling it.
    When rape jokes flow I increasingly notice guys laughing nervously, rather than outright joining the macho bonding. Which seems *some* improvement, they maybe get that it’s not about humour but dominance and sexual aggresion.
    But damn, why don’t they just NOT laugh if they get that?
    I guess it’s because calling it then implicates them in making a choice to be allies to rape survivors over the more chauvanist people in their male homo-social networks.
    Nervous laughter is scared laughter, which wouldn’t be suprising when deciding to be an ally can bring up a persons’ own issues.
    Social norms also encourage a kind of false, immature public sexual confidence – thanks to sexuality being presented like a cool consumer brand in all kinds of media.
    So these jokes perhaps challenge allies to step outside the comfort zone of that artificiality and be actually publically mature about sexual ethics?

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