i'm a white writer. in new york. original, no? i've been blogging since october 2002. this blog picks up in october 2008, when i moved from DC to NY...(and then I moved to Maine in 2012)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

If I hear one more explanation of satire, I'll show you my boobs.

I hope to god Lena Dunham keeps showing her boobs on cable so that someday we won't be having this discussion.

Many people are a bit raw from the discussion the past few days about whether or not the humor in the Oscars telecast was sexist and racist, and whether or not the tweet from The Onion calling Quvenzhané Wallis the c-word was offensive.

Basically most everyone I interact with online is a reasonable person whom I respect. Many of them are artists and are generally sensitive and empathetic. But the reason we're raw is because many of us, despite generally being in the same liberal camp, disagreed about the two points above. And much of the disagreement was divided along gender lines, with many men feeling unfairly lambasted simply for saying they didn't think the Oscar jokes were sexist.

Me, I was so raw from it that I actually cried twice yesterday in frustration that we live in a world where sexism is not even seen by many people. You know what it feels like to be a feminist, to be upset by something we know is sexist, and to be told there's no sexism there? I'm reminded of Harriet Tubman: "I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves." There's a blindness to the situation that is absolutely maddening. And that is the reality and context from which so many feminists were coming.

Some very liberal-minded people might (and did) argue that the jokes are simply a symptom of entrenched sexism, and therefore not problematic. It's all meta, so it's okay. But it's exactly the blindness I mention above that makes such jokes problematic. We live in a world where horrible sexist things are actually happening, where women are being beaten, raped, and killed so often it's mind-numbing. To be enraged at every headline where women are shown to comprise a small percentage of politics/business/academia is exhausting. These very real statistics represent a de facto majority of people, men and women, who are clearly comfortable with the status quo, who don't think there's a problem, who simply don't think women should be trusted with big responsibilities and financial decisions. Again, this is the reality and context from which so many feminists were coming.

And this is the reality and context from which my own response arose. I'll contain this blog post to the boob song in the opening monologue. (Dear god I cringe even writing that sentence.)

And yes, some women joined the men in the "Hey it's Seth MacFarlane, what did you expect?" camp. And some men thrust forward their female friends who laughed at the opening boob number as if they were a magical shield that rendered our outrage moot. Okay fine. People laugh at different things, and I happen to love "Family Guy." And I full-on know that we still live in a world where women directors and producers are practically nonexistent, but I really didn't want to see women further marginalized in a joke skit that included a reference to rape scenes in "Monster," "Boys Don't Cry," and "The Accused." 

Then some people argued that there were women celebrities who participated in the boob skit. Surely that made it all okay, right? And who knows, maybe every single one of those women knew fully what the entire skit was about and read the lyrics to the song and were totally cool with having their work reduced to a recitation of their nude (or rape) scenes. But you know what? I bet it's actually likely that at least one of them was squeamish but went through with it anyway, to be a good sport.

And that is what is upsetting. I'm tired of being a good sport.


It took me 'til this evening to pinpoint what got me so fired up about this, and what I'm betting got so many of my female colleagues upset as well. 

I had my ass pinched by a boss at work a few years ago. You know what I did? I pretended to laugh it off, to get on top of the situation by pretending I wasn't as shocked and embarrassed as I was. It was a joke. He didn't mean to humiliate me. Why should I make him feel uncomfortable for a joke, or let him know that he unnerved me? I was a contract employee and didn't want to be seen as difficult when I was hoping to be hired.

I was told by another boss a few years ago that I better never get pregnant. Again, I laughed it off, though I wondered how he knew I wasn't struggling with fertility in some way? But nevermind, it was a joke.

These are just two of many many many many many jokes and inappropriate gestures and comments about my body and my sexuality that I have had to laugh off over the years, many of them at work--you know, that place where I want to not alienate people who have the power to give me raises and promotions or protect me in a layoff.

So for me, all the demeaning comments about women and girls that took place at the Oscars--even if they were all meant as jokes, which clearly they were--required a complicity on the part of the women being ridiculed that was all too familiar to me, and I suspect to my female friends. But again, maybe every single woman involved in that skit knew fully what it was going to be and thought it was funny and didn't take offense at all. That may be true, but it does not invalidate the offense many other women felt.


Look, nobody really wins this argument. 


No one's trump card--whether it's a thoughtful and only slightly condescending deconstruction of satire, or that their sister thought the boob song was hilarious--beats the experience of the great number of women who took offense. 

Not too long ago, jokes about black people running fast and eating watermelon were seen as completely benign by a majority of white people. And what I'm saying is, when you have this many angry women, you might want to listen instead of try to disprove the anger.

And for people who are defending and explaining The Onion's joke about 9-year-old Wallis, you're completely missing the point of the outrage. The damage is done. If she hasn't heard it already, surely her family has, and is figuring out how to explain the word "cunt" and the concept of satire to her while keeping her focused on her accomplishments. And if not, any time she Googles herself, she can figure it all out on her own. It just kills me that her family, in a moment of great pride, has to endure this. But again, maybe they won't care, and Quvenzhané won't have her feelings hurt at all. People of color have to deal with overt hatred and cruelty to a degree I'm sure I can't begin to understand, so perhaps I shouldn't try to imagine their strategies for coping.

And if you're tempted to comment that I "sound fat" or that I should "shut the fuck up" as two men did on Twitter the other night, knock yourself out. I promise to get the joke without you having to explain it to me.