Joanna Schroeder wonders if The Onion is doing damage to both men and women when joking about female voters having silly crushes on Republican Candidates.
There’s a stereotype out there about humorless Feminists…
That we all stand there, super-scary stone-faced and angry while men make jokes, missing the punchline because we’re so busy looking for a way to tear apart the deep systems at work within the joke that oppress women.
Of course that’s not true! I am a living example of a funny feminist. In fact, I make my male blogging partner, Jamie Reidy, tell me I’m funny every day. We just don’t think sexist jokes are funny.
There was a function to our stone-faced-feminism. Not long ago that you could tell any joke you wanted in a workplace, even ones that made people feel threatened and uncomfortable, and that created threatening environments for both men and women. It’s good for society that we keep checks on one another, and say, “listen sexist/racist/ageist/ableist/whateverist jokes aren’t cool here.”
The same protections and social taboos should apply to jokes that make men look terrible, too. I don’t like jokes about how stupid men are, how they’re all oafs and lazy sex-mongering beasts. It’s not funny to me, the same way the TV show Two and a Half Men isn’t funny (as I wrote here). Some shit, while humorous on the surface, is troubling deep down.
But The Onion is funny. Is there anyone who doesn’t agree? The satirical newspaper has a way of making fun of everyone equally and that’s why it works so well.
But, despite the laugher of all my feminist friends, one story rubbed me the wrong way. Last week’s article Women Voters Can’t Help Fawning Over Sexist GOP jokingly compares female conservative voters with the sorts of girls who go crazy over “bad boys”. Here’s an excerpt:
“They openly insult me, undermine my intelligence, and act as if I lack the basic responsibility to take care of myself, but every time I hear them talking about why I shouldn’t be able to choose what I do with my own body, I get a little turned on,” registered voter Jennifer Wilson said. “My friends keep telling me I’ll get burned like I always do when I elect guys who think their authority extends to my uterus, but there’s just something unbelievably sexy about politicians who see something they want and then go out and take it.”
Sure, I get the humor. It’s funny because apparently it makes no sense that women would support the GOP, as apparently all Republicans are sexist bastards. Rush Limbaugh certainly didn’t help that cause when he called Sandra Fluke a prostitute for wanting her birth control to be covered by her student health plan.
But I think this sort of joke perpetuates a couple of stereotypes that are as bad for men as they are for women. First, that Conservative men don’t care about women’s rights. I know how black and white it seems from the perspective of a Liberal woman. Like if he doesn’t support universal access to birth control, or if he doesn’t support abortion rights, he must want to control women. And it may very well be true for some of these candidates and voters.
But there’s a problem in the absolutes. For many people, abortion isn’t an issue of a woman’s body. It’s an issue of killing a baby. You can argue that a 8 week-term fetus isn’t a baby—and I cannot disagree with you there—but that isn’t the point here. The point is, for the people who believe there is a soul in that fetus, you aren’t going to convince them that the right to terminate that pregnancy, and therefore that human’s life, is a women’s issue. They think of it as a human rights issue.
When my late mother-in-law worked in Neo-Natal as a surgical nurse more than thirty years ago, there was a practice where babies they didn’t expect to survive were put aside, in little cribs, and allowed to cry without being held or comforted, and weren’t fed. They wasted away and died alone. She would come home from work sobbing, thinking of those babies just suffering alone.
None of us could get behind this practice now, because to us these are humans. To pro-life voters it’s exactly the same thing. Again, I’m not saying I think a pre-term fetus is the same as a baby in the Neo-Natal department… I just want us to try to deepen the issue and not make this into a strictly pro-woman vs anti-woman debate.
Republican women aren’t all dumb. They’re not all under a spell. They believe they are doing what is morally right, and they’re just as likely to be making that decision based upon their intelligent reasoning as someone who decides to be pro-choice.
Similarly, the debate about birth control is framed as a pro-woman or anti-woman binary. Some of the Republican men who are against funding birth control are doing this based upon what they believe is a fiscal responsibility to minimize costs to the government. And I agree that if Viagra is covered under insurance, birth control sure as hell should be too. But for those who don’t want any of those drugs covered, it isn’t fair to say that they are anti-woman simply because of this one stance.
Some Republicans, like Rick Santorum, are trying to impart morality upon people. But for others there is a deeper issue here. And simply because they’re men doesn’t mean they’re doing it to oppress us women. In fact, our own conservative-leaning Lauren Hale explained her feelings on the subject here on the Good Feed Blog just last week.
The second stereotype The Onion article perpetuates is that women are, truly, all just silly little girls unless they’ve jumped on board with the prototypical Women’s Movement. I’m bothered that they’ve minimized the choices of women who follow the GOP to just silly little school-girl crushes. I know it’s partly funny because these aren’t super-sexy bad boys at all, but pasty straight-and-narrow be-suited nerds. But Mitt Romney’s pretty handsome… And Even Newt Gingrich managed to get four women to marry him! So it’s not that far off.
But isn’t relegating women’s choices as “silly” or “childish”, even if we disagree with them, what we’re fighting against, as feminists and other gender-equity folks?
It all leads me back to one of the biggest problems we have in partisan politics in the US: We feel completely entitled to disrespect and insult people who feel differently from us. It happens in gender and sex politics, as we’ve seen here in the comments section. And it happens in the larger political arena as well.
My hope, my dream, is that we can stop blaming other people’s differences upon their stupidity, and try to see what they’re saying, try to understand why they feel that way. You don’t have to agree in order to respect someone, and you shouldn’t expect them to change. You don’t have to “meet in the middle” with them to have compassion for their views and to debate them with intelligence. Just because you disagree, doesn’t mean you aren’t thinking. It doesn’t mean you don’t have agency.
What do you think? Is it fair to assume women who vote Republican don’t care about women’s reproductive rights? Is it fair to assume that men who vote Republican are trying to control women?
And what role does humor play in reflecting what we truly believe, deep down, in this election year?
Photo of me reading The Onion (just kidding!) courtesy of teflon