On “jokes”

We are entering four years of a council with majority women so I feel it incumbent upon me to provide a primer of sorts for dealing with a council comprised mainly of women.

Here’s what you do: you treat them the same way as men. I know, weird, right. And normally as a progressive feminist, I don’t advocate for equality, I advocate for fairness. But here’s why it’s fair. As my very smart women friends pointed out, when you single out women with gendered remarks, especially women in positions of power, you’re implying that women don’t belong, that they’re weird or an Other or an otherwise disruptive presence to the “natural” ruling order.

The subtext of the Charlie’s Angel’s joke is that, well, the mayor is named Charlie, and he’s flanked by women councillors. Which on the surface, is ehh, whatever. It’s no Daily Show cutting repartee, let’s leave it at that. But here’s why your women friends are bristling: the TV show was predicated not on the intelligence or education or efforts of the Angels in particular; it was based on their attractiveness to the male gaze, and capitalized on that by placing the characters in improbable situations and skimpy outfits.

I know some people are purely making the reference based on Mayor Clark’s first name. But unfortunately that’s not what everyone hears. If it were possible to handwave centuries, or even just a decade or two of history, I would, but I can’t, and neither can you. It’s a sad truth that any successful or professional woman can tell you: we have all had at some point, our achievements reduced by saying it’s because we’re good “for a woman”, or we must have got in due to “diversity quotas”, or our appearance. Or the backhanded compliments that women are better at “communication” due to our mothering instincts or some such crap. (It’s also a disservice to men, because it implies men cannot parent as well, and their decision making skills are impaired by attractiveness.)

This is all very heavy-handed for me and I’m sorry to have to say it. But I’m also sorry to see this sort of thing from men I like, or men I feel are otherwise in our corner. There’s a couple of responses I’m anticipating to it so I will address them in order:

  • It’s just a joke. – Then it’s easy for you to stop. Or better yet, just make it away from me. I can guarantee I am not the only one in your peer circles who thinks this way, however.
  • You’re censoring me, unfunny women. – Nah, you can keep making this joke as often as you want. I’m just expressing my mild displeasure and explaining why it isn’t funny to me and a lot of other people. We’re both free to continue in this vein. Although I think it’s kind of a weird hill to die on. Doubling down and defensiveness tells me that contrary to what you profess, you do care what I think of you.

If this makes you uncomfortable, I strongly suggest you spend more time reading and/or hanging out with people who do not have the same lived experiences as you. It will make you better at articulating your position, in acknowledging when you have impacted others, and grant you grace in subsequent dealings. It will not blunt your sense of humour; in fact, it will make it sharper.

*****

Ahhh so serious! I apologize. Next time we’ll talk about whiteness in the city governance and how white women usually benefit disproportionately from diversity initiatives! Can’t wait!

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Hilary

I live and work in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I think about a lot of things and talk about some of them here. I also make art and have a day job in the graphic designer mines.