Thursday, October 06, 2005

A joke.

Q: How many politically-correct lesbians does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: (delivered deadpan) That's not funny. You think that's funny? That's not funny.

So I did that thing--that obnoxious thing so eloquently captured in the joke above. I stepped on a guy's joke. The joke had to do with the ideal woman--about three feet tall, with removable teeth and no vocal cords, so the joke goes. The guy made the joke on a public forum, in a sort of joking, just-for-fun thread. He wasn't off-topic or anything.

I just thought it was breathtakingly offensive and misogynistic. So I said so. Talk about a conversation-stopper. Finally, another woman piped up, said something to ease the awkward silence, and the conversation resumed.

I started thinking about whether or not I'd have done/said the same thing in a real-life social setting. Yup. I'm pretty sure I would.

I don't think I'm a typically humorless person. Heh. However, I do think there are situations where something might by hysterically funny--but in other situations, desperately innappropriate and offensive.

I also think misogyny continues to be a very real and serious problem in our culture. I came quite late to feminism, and by a rather sideways and circuitous route--and I'm not accustomed to thinking of myself as one of those chicks with no sense of humor...

You know what, though? It wasn't fucking funny.


Dawno said...

I completely agree, that joke is abhorrent. I'm also tired of PMS being tossed out as the reason I'm pissed off - perhaps, caveman, the reason I'm pissed off is because you're a f***ing a**hole and it has nothing to do with my hormones?


well, here's a really funny joke:

Donald Rumsfeld is giving the president his daily briefing. He concludes by saying: "Yesterday, 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed."

"OH NO!" the President exclaims. "That's terrible!"

His staff sits stunned at this display of emotion, nervously watching as the President sits, head in hands.

Finally, the President looks up and asks, "How many is a brazillion?"

saw this posted over on OTR - it's a "Joke of the Week" for Sept 28th at

Mac said...

It's interesting how people tend to respond by saying "your joke isn't funny - you have a problem" instead of saying "I don't find your joke funny. I don't like it."

Honestly - would you have had the same reaction if it was a joke about the perfect man?

Why is dawno's joke that implies that one particular person is an idiot less offensive? Just because it implies a particular person is an idiot rather than smearing the image of more people?

OK - let's try this joke:

Q: How can you tell dawno has been using the computer?
A: White-out on the screen.

Funny? Well, if you'd never seen that particular joke before, maybe. But is it offensive? Am I being rude to dawno? If so, why is that a problem? Why is it usually considered acceptable for dawno to be rude about Jenna's dad, but not acceptable for me to be rude about dawno?

How do we decide which jokes are acceptable and which ones aren't ?


Dawno said...

George Bush is Jenna's dad?

btw, I thought the white out joke was hysterical.

You do know that the joke I thought was abhorrent was the one about the perfect woman, right?

I'm completely paranoid now and will never tell another joke.

Among Amid While said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

dawno said: I'm completely paranoid now and will never tell another joke.

Joking or not, that's the heart of the problem with political correctness. Too many people afraid to comment on, make fun with or disagree on a laundry list of taboo topics.

Open-mindedness is a fallacy. We all just have different points where we draw our gone-too-far lines.

DD said...

Dawno, I think Mac had PMS when responding to your post. KIDDING! She has a point, but I even smiled at your joke and I tend to be a right wing conservative.

Lori A. Basiewicz said...

The thing about accusing a woman as having PMS whenever she got grouchy? My mother was the one who would do that to me, not the men I have known.

But Dawno's joke is "acceptable" not because it targets one particular person but because it targets a public symbol who stands for the country as a whole. Now, if a Canadian had told that joke to a US citizen instead of a US citizen to a group of other US citizens, would it still have been considered acceptable? By many people no, because it would have been viewed as an attack not on the president but on the country by an outsider.

Does that make the joke "right"? Er, you have to hate it when Macallister points out some uncomfortable truths about the murky way we draw our boundary lines, but I do think it is human and necessary for people to have a way to express their fears without giving into them. And, in the end, that is what Dawno's joke is about -- the fear many US citizens have about the direction our country is taking.

Um, stepping off the soapbox now.

Dawno said...

My posting that joke is also a kind of 'mia culpa' for voting Republican and putting him back in the office for 4 more years. I've recently seen the grave error of that vote and need to repent.

Anyone who knows me knows I wouldn't be hurt by the dawno/whiteout joke. When you tell jokes about public figures you're expressing an editorial opinion. When you tell an ethnic, hair color, gender based joke you're contributing to a stereotype that if perpetuated can have real negative impact. Ethnic jokes have settled in people's subconscious as 'memes' (forgive the use, it's just the best expression I can think of) and then we treat people of that ethnicity with the expectation that they'll be dumb or lazy or greedy or stingy or drunks. That's the real harm of those jokes.

Political humor pretty much gets a blank check with me, even when it's about someone I voted for. I might not like it but I'll fight for the right to make the joke because I see it as 'freedom of expression'.

I worry about a future female president tho. Will political humorists be able to draw a line and not make gender based jokes?

Kira said...

I think Dawno's joke passes because it's about one person who has put himself in the public eye. It's not making assumptions about a whole group of people.

The joke about Dawno and the white-out passes, too, for the same reason.

They both poke fun at a particular aspect of a particular person--not a whole slew of people and misconceptions about them.

Tish Grier said...

Kira makes a good point about Dawno's joke...if someone's in the public eye, they're fair game.

However, jokes like the one Mac quoted are meant to intimidate women. Now, I'm hardly a p.c. feminist, but there IS a limit to what I will take. I, too, would have spoken up about this kind of joke, and would have heard a load of crap about it--esp. being straight. It's like your supposed to cover the backs of the inferior males and actually let them make points. I don't think so.

The oddball thing is, I recently read a piece on humor, which made the connection between jokey men and courtship rituals. Men get to joke to make women laugh and the woman's laugh is intuited as a sign that she's interested. Women who joke back are seen as aggressive (or, to some men, as competing for the women--I figured that one out myself)

It's aggravating the way inferior men have to continue to try to make themselves look good by disparaging women. And just so they might get laid. Which makes me think more of them should indeed be left out of the gene pool..

oh, and Mac, you might want to turn on the post verification feature that blogger has to cut down on the spam :-)

Dawno said...

Today I was behind a car with a license plate frame that said above the plate: I still miss my ex. Below the plate it said: But my aim is getting better. And I saw that the driver was a man. So I was pissed off. However, upon reflection I recalled that I had seen a similar plate on a woman's car and laughed.

Thought #1: I'm divorced and so I can relate to a woman feeling this way.
Thought #2: The likelihood of a woman actually resorting to shooting an ex spouse seems remote to me so the sentiment has absurd overtones and thus seems humorous.

Thought #3: When it's on a man's car then it seems threatening to me. So, I've stereotyped this guy as someone who actually might take a pot shot. And he looked kind of malicious to me, too - all these conclusions about a total stranger who is -- get this -- driving in the company parking lot, so he's a co-worker! Re Tish's comment, does this guy think he's attracting women with this statement? Is it misogynous? Help me out here, I'm growing increasingly confused!

Thought #4: I didn't have any of these thoughts before! I say with all honesty, thank you's wonderful to read something that really makes you think about how you think!

Lori A. Basiewicz said...

The thing is, Dawno, in my personal world experience, I've known or heard of more women shooting or threatening to shoot men than the other way around.

Yes, I know more women who were subject to violence or abuse than men, but the abuse men inflict on women seems to be more methodical and intimate than gun violence. By intimate, I mean it involves a greater degree of physical contact or mental intimidation. Guns, when used for domestic violence or protection, allow you to cause harm or to intimidate while remaining physically distant.

The control men attempt to assert over women is more the type Tish pointed out in her discussion of the joke Macallister overheard.

Anonymous said...

I don't even get the logic of joke. It's not well written.

Anyway, aren't we really saying that when a joke steps on our particular sensitivities, then it's offensive? For example, if Dawno were very insecure about her intelligence, than Mac's joke would've been hurtful to her. Dawno's bumper sticker example is great also. She identifies with the feelings of divorced women and views men as more violent and likely to use a gun. If a group of women started reeling out a barrage of jokes about men, I'd probably get offended.

We don't like jokes that make us feel different or exposed, and unfortunately, we don't always know in advance what the sensitivities of those around us are. It's very hard to be a "good sport" when we're the butt of the joke.

Lisa Spangenberg said...

Let's luck at that joke rhetorically. It has four parts consisting of a term and a three part definition.

1. Term: Definition of an ideal woman
2. a three feet tall
2 b. removable teeth
2 c. no vocal cords

The "joke" part is that the definition applies to a short toothless speechless woman engaged in fellatio.

The things that might make the "joke" humorous are that first, you must realize that the three parts of the definition imply an act of fellatio.

Sex is funny. Really. Oral sex is particularly prone to elicit a giggle if not a laugh, depending on the recipient's comfort level.

But to be really funny, the recipient needs to be amused by the fact that the woman is voiceless, and toothless--that is, she is without any means of oral defense.

Plus she's so short she's at the right "height" for fellation--a subservient height.

She's a victim. Jokes that isolate and victimize aren't funny, unless you're an hyena or other pack-animal.

It's also mean-spirited in that it describes a fictitious person, an "ideal" -- a woman who almost certainly doesn't exist in large numbers, if at all.

Here's a joke that's funny for similar reasons, that women tend to find funny and men . . . not so much.

First the Term: Why are so many women deficient in basic math skills?

Definition: Women are deficient in math skills because so many men tell them that this (thumb and forefinger about two to five inches apart) is nine inches.

Again, the "joke" depends on realizing that the definition is a reference to penis size. This is obviously historicized as an issue for many men--either it's too long or it's not long enough. Men frequently exaggerate penis size when they are "courting" women.

Women tell the joke to each other--and find it funny. Women tell the joke to men, who often snigger, but are more acknowledging that they "get" the joke than that they find it funny.

I very much doubt that men tell the joke to each other. I've never found one who heard the joke from another guy.

It's not funny to guys, for the most part. But I don't think that it's not funny because it's mean as much as it's not funny because it's a sensitive issue.

Guys used to tell really gross tampon jokes; I've seen collections in folklore archives. Women didn't tell tampon jokes; they weren't funny, they were a sensitive topic, and the jokes were, well, mean as well as gross.

Tampon jokes died a cultural death; maybe the ideal fellatrix joke will too.

Ray Wong said...

I think some jokes are inherently mean-spirited and thus not funny. I remember going to a comedy show and the first joke a stand-up told was so offensive (to EVERYONE) that no one laughed at all after that. I kind of felt bad for the comedian but at the same time I thought he deserved it.

That said, I think sensitivity is a very subjective thing. What about blonde jokes? Dumb jock jokes? Ethnic jokes? It depends on my mood sometimes -- I might find a joke about Chinese or Asian people funny, but I may not. Meanwhile, is it okay for a woman to tell a woman joke, or a blonde to tell a blonde joke, or a Chinese to tell a Chinese joke? It seems like it's okay to make fun of your "own" group, but if you're making a joke about the other team (men vs. women or white vs. black, etc.) then you're treading very dangerous water.

I have to remember that most adult jokes are offensive in some way.

I do think the "perfect woman" joke is offensive because it reduces women to mere objects -- in this case, for oral sex. On the other hand, I also think it reduces the men to told this joke to mere morons -- it also degrates men, making men sound like misogynistic pigs. It's unlike jokes that poke fun at human flaws such as the "why computers are better than men" or any of George Carlin's biting commentaries. The sense of humor is a very fragile thing -- it depends on the mood, the context, the time, the place... I consider myself not very PC and having a great sense of humor, but there are probably days when I would find a simple joke about how "men are stupid" or why "Chinese people are ..." jokes extremely offensive.

Kira said...

The jokes may die a cultural death, and good riddance, but the mean spirit of all those jokes will always be around.

Meantime, those who are the butt of those jokes will hopefully speak up about them.

Dawno said...

Kira, although my pessimistic side agrees with you I do hope that if those jokes die out it's because we as a species have moved beyond mean spiritedness and won't need to put groups of other humans in some negative box and ridicule them in order to feel momentarily superior.

I was thinking about what comedians I'm familiar with that I think are never offensive (at least in the comedy routines I've heard) and all I can come up with is Bill Cosby. I wonder if there are people who find his jokes objectionable, I'd be fascinated to know why.

shannon said...

Fascinating discussion here! I think it's great that you squashed the sexist pig's joke, and I'd love to hear more about your circuitous route to feminism. :o)

Mac said...

Wow--ya'll rock! I've been gone for a couple of days. It was terrific to come back and find everyone's comments.

I'd like to point out that the Mac who posted a reply to Dawno at the beginning of this thread is a DIFFERENT Mac, and not me.

Also, I thought the George Bush Brazilian joke was friggin' hysterical.

I'll post more tomorrow--in the meantime, welcome to the new folks!

Anonymous said...

Feminism, the tough row to hoe these days. Do I stay or do I go, now? Life should be a simple song.