Sexist Jokes Are Not OK

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 But no, he went the standard way, which reinforced outdated ideas about women’s work and women’s roles.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.

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12 thoughts on “Sexist Jokes Are Not OK

  1. This is so upsetting. If your joke is funny, you’re not gonna need sexism to explain it. It is amazing how that guy doesn’t understand that while trying to make fun of his friend, he is actually offending all women by using sexist stereotypes.

    I believe your sense of humour is the true mirror to the soul, it reflects your personality.

  2. Well, that sounds like a terrible joke anyway. Sexist or not.

    In any case, there are some consecuences to your opinion that I just don’t get.
    How is “you are interpreting this wrong” somehow an unvalid criticism?
    Why do you think that people shouldn’t be trusted to know when a statement is not to be taken seriously? I mean, that’s kind of what I get by a statement so broad as “[INSERT TYPE] jokes are not ok” without some conditional for the situation. Because I still laught when The Big Bang Theory makes fun of nerd stereotypes, even tought I’m a nerd that doesn’t fall in most of the negative ones.

    1. I’m in a good mood today and you seem new to this, so I’ll take some time to explain this.

      Re: the “you’re interpreting it wrong” argument: Basically this comes down to it being a cheap excuse. Say someone says something offensive to a particular group of society. The perpetrator (for lack of a better work) responds to criticism of his offensive statement by saying “no, you’ve got it wrong, you’re misinterpreting me, I never said that.” All of a sudden the perpetrator isn’t the one who is responsible for the problem anymore, it’s the victim (again for lack of a better word) who has the problem, the victim who has the burden of being “wrong.”

      The sexist joke in question here did exactly that – instead of taking responsibility that the joke was offensive to someone, and hurt someone, the person blamed me for finding it offensive. And that’s not the correct way to go about this. This is still a relatively tame example (but still offensive, for the reasons I’ve explained), but it’s actually the first step to gaslighting behaviour. See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yashar-hedayat/a-message-to-women-from-a_1_b_958859.html. All of the behaviours I encountered (the “stop being so sensitive, take a joke, calm down it’s nothing serious, you misinterpreted me”) can be seen as gaslighting behaviours.

      On trusting people to take things seriously or realise that they’re a joke: First, there are always some people who take everything seriously and find their own racist/sexist/homophobic ideas justified when someone else jokes about them. This is the worst possible scenario for a joke like this. But the other scenario is more common – that when someone makes a sexist joke, the other people laugh it off as “nothing serious” with no intent to actualy offend. But the group at whose expense the joke was made? They’re probably getting uncomfortable now, or angry, or depressed. Because while a group of men might not think that women and domestic work is a serious topic, it IS an important topic to many women, because we are the ones who have to live with expectations of domesticity, pressure to be wives and housewives, pressure to act “feminine” but not be “frigid” or “bitchy” or “sensitive.”

      Basically it comes down to this: if your joke makes fun of something that is serious to someone else, you’re delegitimising their concern for that topic, for that aspect of their life, or their experiences as a woman/queer person/PWD/etc. You’re making their experiences a joke. And there are plenty of jokes out there that can be made without marginalising someone else, particularly someone who isn’t as privileged as you.

      I hope this explains my point of view.

  3. Add me on your facebook, I will take these people down 😛
    (Or at least back you up)

    I definitely know what you’re talking about, I was trying to explain how “hipster racism” and “hipster sexism” is still racism and sexism and got basically the same reply. I also got into a long, frustrating argument about how yes, Australia IS racist, tried to explain white privilege, you can imagine that went down like a lead balloon. I had stats and everything and yet they were still arguing there could be another answer other than racism, it was just opinion, or it was all in the past, blah de blah *headdesk*

  4. This actually happened to me at work today. An instructor giving a training was talking about baking soda and commented that most women would know what it is because they use it when cooking. I later spoke to the person and explained that women in the kitchen jokes are not appropriate for a work place. He explained that most men in his audience didn’t usually know what baking soda was.

    I responded that he could have made the exact same point by “those of you who cook” with out promoting a sexist stereotype. In our particular male dominate industry, it is especially important not to make these kinds of references.

    In your case, the person was making the joke in his facebook circle of friends. Is it worth the frustration when you could just unsubscribe from his status updates?

  5. did you consider reporting the rape-threat comment to the fb admin? and confronting your friend in a personal message about whether he feels it is ok for a woman to be threatened with corrective rape if she ‘has overstepped the mark’, so to speak? I realize that you may not want to antagonize your friend, but remaining friends with a person like him who doesn’t stand up for you, doesn’t accept his mistakes and silently condones a rapacious, sexist mentality might be damaging to your peace of mind and sense of selfhood. you were right to confront him once, don’t let it stop now. and please report that offensive comment to the admin immediately. it’s essential.

  6. I’m sorry you had to go through this experience. I appreciate your honesty, vulnerability and insight. Your writing indicates your amazing gift of wisdom and intelligence and kindness. And your strength. It is upsetting that the people who have the most to offer to the world, are prejudged, ignored and mistreated for sharing their thoughts and ideas.

    I arrived here feeling insecure in my own opinions on the subject and looking for support. I’m really grateful that you wrote this post. I think it’s important that people like us get the support they need to push their thoughts and ideas and to stand by them firmly. Posts like yours provide that support. So thank you.

  7. Hey, I just found this entry via Google, so, thanks for writing. I’ve had a friend make some women in the kitchen jokes this weekend which has dwindled my reserves a little bit. I’m not sure how to explain to him that unless you’ve struggled to find an apprenticeship in a male dominated field for 6 months, been openly laughed at on the phone for enquiring about similar roles purely because you’re female… you probably won’t find those jokes funny either… reinforcing sterotype… blah blah. Just struggling a little bit in my corner. So thanks. Thanks for writing this. 🙂

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