This is the incident which triggered this post. A girl and two guys were in a conference when the guys spoke a few sexual innuendos among themselves. The girl found it distasteful and tweeted about it. The organizers of the conference threw the guys out. One of the guys was thrown out of his job and later the girl was sacked from her job as well. Yesterday night I read a few people debating the issue on Facebook. And I just thought I had something to say on the issue without indulging in a pointless war on Facebook.
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The battle between the sexists and the feminists are really tough to wrap one’s head around. While one tries to put across rational and logical arguments to prove their point, the other is notorious for bringing up the oponent’s vagina and sexual history to prove their point.
Of lately, I have begun to notice a refined kind of sexist on the internet. This person is not the kind who will say Girls are inferior or that they should stick to being in the kitchen. They are a little sophisticated and hard to spot. I am talking about the ignorant sexist. You might wonder isn’t being sexist a kind of ignorance itself. Why the double qualifier? Well, The ignorant sexist besides being ignorant about gender is also ignorant about a few other related things. They like to talk about freedom of speech without realizing that the freedom of talking about penises that they seem to be rooting for also gives the other person the freedom to express displeasure at it. They say stuff like but that is how nerds are without realizing that they are speaking for themselves by hiding behind an umbrella term. What bugs me is when these people talk about sense of humour. The sense to appreciate whether something is funny. But that is my question, Isn’t ‘funny’ a very subjective experience. What would you generally do if you found something funny but the other person did not? You would certainly not try to explain it to him/her why the joke is funny. Because we all know that ruins the joke. We are pretty comfortable with the idea of not finding something funny that might appear very funny to others and so we move on.
Here’s a conversation between a sexist and a feminist on social networks
sexist : haha that was funny
feminist : err.. actually that was offensive
sexist : do you really have to be a spoil sport. You need to have a sense of humour.
feminist (in their head) : umm… actually I Do have a sense of humour and that is why I can gauge that this is not funny (to me).
sexist : <insert pointless emotional things like “That guy is a father of three” or “Those athletes were star players” or “What if it was your own son”>
feminist : err… how is that relevant?
sexist : bitch is a slut!
feminist : Why?
sexist : because vagina and breasts!
Well the conversations are not really like that but you get my point as to how one of the parties stops making sense.
Ted Cohen in his essay on Humor proposes a vague proposition that A is humorous if and only if B finds it funny under certain appropriate conditions and B is the right kind of person.
Lets not get into ‘Humor’ and ‘the right kind of person’ right now but its clearly evident that the prospect of something being funny is dependent on the observer B and in our case when its someone with two differing ideologies like a sexist and a feminist, its easy to see why they might differ.
Also on an unrelated funny note, a sexist is NEVER the right kind of person.
The idea that humans have an innate sense of virtue, beauty or morality by which they judge the virtue, aesthetics or morals of something is basically an idea that we have grown out of. It is now believed that all these senses are conditioned by the society and the kind of setting we live in. In that logic, Sense of humor is not something innate in a human being that is supposed to trigger a laugh upon chancing upon something funny. This assumes that there is some way to measure ‘funny’ in absolute terms. The fact that someone who is fond of Groucho Marx’s witty wordplay may not find Charlie Chaplin’s antics hilarious does not mean there is anything wrong with him. So when you say someone does not have a sense of humour, just make sure you don’t sound too accusatory. Because that statement has no meaning in the absolute sense.
If you tell me a joke about an man slipping on a banana peel and falling in a trench and dying, i might laugh a little at the man’s tragedy. And then if you try to make your joke a little edgy and tell me that the man is my father, I might ask you to stop there at that uncomfortable junction. Now here you have two ways to go out. You either apologise for attempting to push the boundaries of acceptable humour or you tell me to have a sense of humour and tell me to suck it up and go on narrating the tale of my father’s death in gory (funny) detail. because really, that is where it is going. When you tell someone to have a sense of humour in this context, you are essentially asking them to shut up and back off while you carry on making your distasteful joke that is making someone uncomfortable.
P.S. I am no expert on sexism or feminism. I just claim to have spent a fair amount of time with a penis and a sense of humour.
P.P.S. You might say that girl need not have interfered in what was a funny moment between two friends and not directed at her. You might say that a father of three kids should have refrained from such behaviour in public. And that would be the right way to look at the incident. Just don’t ask people discussing the issue to get a sense of humor to understand WHY the penis joke was funny because they probably already have a sense of humor to know that it is NOT funny. And guess what! You both are right, so move on and discuss the real issue.
P.P.P.S. Whenever people are debating gender issues they are talking about big words like inequality, biases etc and I find explaining them about a trivial issue like sense of humor, not appropriate. But I have seen too many arguments recently reaching an impasse because one of the parties invoked the ‘sense of humor’ and hence this post.