Stand Up to Sexism

My fellow comedian Jen Kirkman is boycotting Twitter until men stop using it as a medium to be awful to her because she’s a woman yet still has the audacity to express her views on occasion. Or more specifically, until her male counterparts speak up against this kind of treatment.

Alright, Jen. I’m in. And this isn’t something I should have had to wait until it got this bad to be “in” about. This is something we should’ve done on our own and I’m sorry about that. But anyway, here goes.

The rest of this post is addressed to men in general, more specifically straight men who use the Internet to be mean to anyone, and more specifically, straight men who use the Internet to be mean to women.

Alright, guys: Imagine you’re a woman.

Shouldn’t be that hard. Don’t bring any baggage about “Women are like THIS, man” along with you. A lot of things about your life would be different but the overriding feeling would be one of just being a human being, which is the overriding feeling most of us feel all the time without even realizing it.

So, you’re a woman. Now, because you’re a woman, everything you say or do is judged out loud, by any stranger that feels like shouting or tweeting their opinion at you.

On its merit? On its logic? On its coolness or funniness? Not exclusively. Not at all.

Instead, all too often, it will be judged based on that person’s idea of what should be coming out of the mouth of someone who has the same sex organ you have. You are no longer whatever you are. Now you are a “female (whatever you are.)”

Fail to comply with each and every person’s individual set of standards about how a “female ______” should behave, and you will hear about it, and it will hurt.

Imagine that.

Imagine that your every word and action could be held to an outmoded sense of standards by a bunch of strangers because you have one kind of sex organ instead of another kind of sex organ.

That each one of these strangers had a slightly (or in some cases wildly) different set of standards regarding how you should behave given the sex organ you have, and God forbid you should point out that these standards are outmoded, unfair, or downright backwards, because HEY THAT’S JUST HOW THEY WERE RAISED.

After emerging from the Imagination Chamber, maybe you say: “Well, if somebody’s offended by something I say, that’s just because they’re too sensitive. If I were them, I would take it in stride.”

Would you? I’m not sure you would. But even if that were true, it doesn’t matter. You are NOT them. And you demonstrate a shocking lack of empathy and imagination by being unable to place yourself in their shoes, to feel what it might be like to be them, to be subject to the torrents of abusive crap somebody like Jen, somebody like your girlfriend, somebody like your sister, somebody like your mom, has to put up with on an hourly basis.

If you find yourself saying “You’re too sensitive” a lot then it is entirely possible that you are, in fact, being a jerk.

You have exactly zero control over how “sensitive” other people are. But you have one hundred percent control over how much of a jerk you are. You do not have to share absolutely everything that is on your mind.

Not sharing absolutely everything that is on your mind all the time does not make you “not true to yourself” or “a pussy.” It makes you a human being. It makes you a citizen.

But let’s say you DO say something to a woman and she finds it offensive, so you say, “Hey, cool out, I still think you’re hot!” Or some variation on that theme. This is not a compliment. In fact, it is hard for me to think of a scenario in which this wouldn’t end up being more insulting than whatever the initial jerky thing you said was.

Essentially what you’re saying is, “The insulting thing I just said to you is NOT insulting because I still want to have sex with you. I still hold a low opinion of you, still feel the way I claimed to feel by insulting you, but I would also put my penis in your vagina, and so you’re not allowed to feel the way I caused you to feel.”

If I need to explain why that is an awful message to send to another human being, then you are lost, my friend.

“But,” you say, “I didn’t mean the first thing I said as an insult! IT WAS A JOKE.”

There are jokes and there are “jokes.” And the thing that separates jokes from “jokes” is that “jokes” aren’t jokes, no matter what your intention.

I have in no way experienced the volume of awful things slung my way that Jen or many (or, I honestly have to assume, all) of my female colleagues have, but I’ll get maybe three or four mean things said to me on the Internet a week. Which, now that I just wrote it down, sounds like that one day of World War I where they didn’t fight, they just played soccer in No Man’s Land because it was Christmas. But it happens to me occasionally.

Sometimes I’ll write back to the person, just to be like, “Whoa man, why was that so awful, that thing you just said to me!”

And the answer I receive almost always is “IT WAS A JOKE!”

I’m a professional comedian. I probably don’t think everything you think is funny is funny, just as you probably don’t think everything I think is funny is funny. But I feel qualified to distinguish a joke (even one I don’t think is funny) from an insult that the insulter wants to spin as a joke now because, wow, guess what, the insultee was insulted.

Saying something purely hurtful and then saying “It was a joke!” afterwards does not magically undo the hurt, or magically convert the thing you said into a joke the recipient should “just learn to take.”

Nor is “you’re a comedian, you should learn to take a joke” an acceptable response. If you work at fancy cupcake place, and I come in and shoot you and then say, “That’s not a bullet, it’s a cupcake, and you should know that, because you work in a fancy cupcake place,” it does not make you any less dead.

There are jokes and there are “jokes.”

Saying something hurtful to someone whose job it is to make jokes does not make the mean thing you said into a joke.

And while we’re here: saying something someone may find offensive is not automatically a joke.

I know a lot of the shows you think are funny deal in material a lot of people find offensive. From these things, and from other things, you may have constructed an identity as a guy who likes “offensive” humor.

Now: humor can play with subjects that may give some people offense. But “offensive” does not, in and of itself, equal humor. There are well-constructed well-executed things that some people might find offensive, and then there are lazy or truly mean-spirited things that some people might find offensive. Don’t be surprised when someone is offended by either one of them, but definitely don’t be surprised if someone is offended by something that is quite simply a slur.