It’s always disappointing when someone makes a sexist comment and then completely does not accept your explanation of why that comment was not ok. It’s even more frustrating when that person is someone you know very well; a friend you hang out with, a housemate, someone you assumed was a pretty decent person.
The other day I spotted a status update on Facebook, posted by a male friend, whom I generally consider to be a respectful and intelligent person. It was about an emergency evacuation at a TAFE campus. When asked what happened, he commented
“Someone set fire to a burger in the kitchen. This is what happens when you send a man to do a woman’s job.”
Immediately my sexist bullshit alarm bell went off. I called him out on it.
The first response I got was the usual “Well excuse me for making a tounge-in-cheek joke.”
I then went on to explain how it wasn’t ok to make stereotypical, sexist blanket statements about the role of women being “in the kitchen” and men having no place there.
I was told that I was interpreting it as a blanket statement for all men and women when really it was just situational humour. Also, note the “you’re interpreting this wrong” argument, being used against me, after I point out something sexist.
I argued back that most people would see this as a blanket statement reflecting to all men and women, because that is the way that patriarchy works. In making this joke, he was contributing to the idea that women belong in the kitchen, and its associated negative connotations about the roles and values of women.
He pointed out that he was only actually making fun of one man, and mansplained (actually using the words “since I needed to explain it in more detail”) that he was actually subtly countering sexist stereotypes by making fun of a man messing up in a kitchen.
I frustratedly replied that he could have made fun of that one guy in several other ways which didn’t make a joke at the expense of women. He could have said “this is what happens when men don’t bother learning basic cooking skills because they think it’s a woman’s job.” He could have said a million other things that weren’t sexist. But no, he went the standard way, which reinforced outdated ideas about women’s work and women’s roles. Because if a man screws up something in a kitchen, it’s actually a woman’s fault for not being in the kitchen doing it for him.
The conversation ended there because I was too frustrated to reply and he kept insisting that I was the person with the problem. He wasn’t going to back down and admit that what he said was sexist. He wasn’t going to apologise and say that he’d try to watch those sorts of jokes in the future. Because obviously, it was my terrible misinterpretation and anger at his comment that was wrong, not his making the joke in the first place. Because jokes are funny, k?
At least, I thought that would be the end of it. But no, the next morning there are two more comments from people I did not know. One told me that I should research having a sense of humour, because obviously I needed one. The other told me that we should just have sex already.
I would have been ready to move on from the actual argument, because I could see that I wasn’t getting anywhere. But that last comment? It didn’t just make me angry, it made me want to cry. It felt like a threat, along the lines of “you just need a good raping and you’ll be a normal person again.” And what is with the idea that two people arguing is a necessary prelude to sex?
The saddest thing was that my friend didn’t even say anything to those comments. Nothing at all. Obviously, it was just me thinking that they had crossed the line in common decency.
Here’s a note to everyone out there: sexist jokes aren’t just jokes. They’re hurtful. They’re damaging. If you make one, you are contributing to sexism in the world. Sometimes you may not know that what you said was sexist. That’s ok. But ignorance is not an excuse, and it cannot be excused. To be absolutely clear: you are not automatically a bad person for making that joke. But if someone explains to you why something is sexist (or homophobic, or racist, or discriminatory in any way), and you refuse to attempt to understand why? Not ok. If you accuse them of having no sense of humour? Not ok. If you turn the argument on its head and say that they’re the one with the problem? So not ok.
Please, people. Be decent human beings. Listen when someone tells you something is not ok. Understand it. And then get over your damn pride and admit that you may have said something that wasn’t great, and that you won’t do it again.