Humor Perpetuates Patriarchy

I try to find the time each day in my position as the Director of the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center to read (or at least scan) the Iowa State Daily, an independent student newspaper. Some days are easier than other to accomplish this goal. The expansion of the paper to the Internet has made reading the paper much easier for me and I appreciate the addition of videos, blogs, and photos included online. One recent read of the paper caused a bit of frustration and disappointment for me and I would like to share my thoughts for your consideration.

The front cover the January 18, 2011 edition of the Iowa State Daily included a brief report of a female who reported a general assault in Welch Crown Center apartments. A second story corrected a misprint from the January 12 edition of the paper. A sidebar was incorrectly titled “Who Can Give Consent” rather than, “Who Cannot Give Consent.” The article connected to this sidebar was great – the additional press the misprint has given to the Iowa State Daily and our campus is perhaps less than desirable. The third article on the front page of the January 18th edition I would like to mention is title “Center raises stalking awareness” by Carmen Leng. The coverage on the front page of this edition on issues impacting women’s lives was phenomenal. The opinion page included a great article titled “Men and women stand to gain from feminism.”  The rest of the edition included articles on different athletic teams, research findings on the global carbon budget, advertisements, classifieds, horoscopes and Jokes for the Day. This is where humor and patriarchy come together and where I want to stop reading the ISU Daily.

The two submissions in Jokes for the Day on January 18 both take negative stereotypes of women AND men and uses these in the storyline to tell a “joke.” I can’t really use the word “joke” as a label, to me they both perpetuate patriarchy, dehumanize women (and men), and contribute to the rape culture that we live in. Now I know what you’re thinking, “Wow, feminists just can’t take a joke” or “You really need to lighten up.” To this I say, I can’t lighten up and I can’t laugh at words that continue to create an environment where we need to publish articles that were on the front page of the same issue of the ISU Daily. I see no humor in assault, stalking, and failure to gain consent when initiating sex. I see no humor in perpetuating the myth that women talk nonsense and can’t drive. And how said that a thing labeled a “joke” highlights the discount between a husband and wife – drinking is the way he can be at home with her? This is funny?

This is a campus-based newspaper where students are learning and preparing themselves for their future lives, careers, and ways to contribute to society. In the space of 3 1/4 X 4 inches the ISU Daily reversed the contributions made on the front page. My questions for the staff at the ISU Daily:

  • Where are you getting your material to fill the spaces on the Games page?
  • As journalists in training, what newspapers do you hope to work for where this type of humor is valued?
  • As sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, girlfriends, boyfriends and perhaps future partners and parents of daughters and sons – how do these “jokes” make you feel about your sex or members of the opposite sex? How would you feel if your daughters and sons attended a university where this type of information was thought to have printable value?
  • Can you tell a joke without offending a specific group of people? This takes a bit of thought and intelligence to accomplish.

Humor used to perpetuate stereotypes hurts. Humor used to hurt has no place in the ISU Daily. I challenge the staff at the Daily to stretch their thinking and develop skills that will serve them in their future as journalists. Find ways to support a campus climate where all feel safe, supported, and welcome.

Written by Penny J. Rice, Ph.D., Director of the Margeret Sloss Women’s Center. pennyr@iastate.edu

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About Margaret Sloss Women's Center - ISU

The Margaret Sloss Women's Center promotes equity on the Iowa State University campus. Through a feminist lens, the center advocates for individuals and groups; provides support, referrals, community and programming; and maintains a safe space in the Sloss House.

Posted on January 22, 2011, in Activism, End Violence Now, Feminism, News and Politics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. While I can’t see the comics in question, I would simply ask are there no instances where humour can be used to undercut stereotypes? Is satire to be avoided at all costs because people can elect to (or don’t know better than to) read it at face value? I’m not saying “feminists have no sense of humour,” I’m asking if humour can be a viable tool, ever.

    Consider my off the top of my head comic that features a man aggressively driving through town while relaying a story on his cellphone to his friend about how terrible a driver his wife is. My hasty, sub par story ends with the man wrecking his vehicle. I’ve shown this man perpetuating a negative stereotype, then turned it on it’s head by presenting another one (aggressive male drivers) that is actually borne out by real world data; so much so in fact that it is socially acceptable to discriminate by sex on the price of vehicle insurance. Personally, I would find offense taken by men at this ‘joke’ to be misplaced, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that there are those who would be offended by it. Is this a harmful ‘joke’? Granted, it is cheap and easy humour, but is there no value in the point it makes? Are there never any foundations for stereotypes that are valid? The numbers seem to back up the one that males are more aggressive and dangerous drivers. As it see it stereotypes aren’t always the problem; they can say something that is true about a large population (even if it happens to be something negative.) The issue of course comes when people take ideas that apply generally to a whole and insist it must then apply to a specific case.

    All this said, I’d expect I’d have the same issues with the specific comics in question as Dr. Rice did. I take issue with the broad statement ‘humour perpetuates patriarchy.’ Sure, it can. But, in my opinion, it can also illuminate and inform.

  2. Dear Dr. Rice,

    First and foremost, thank you so much for taking the time to read the Daily. I truly appreciate the fact that our work does not go unnoticed by the faculty and staff on campus.

    Your questions are all excellent ones, and I’d like to answer them to the best of my ability.

    The Games page is probably one of the Daily’s most popular pages, from my unscientific assessment of the attention people pay to the “Just Sayin'” section. However, this page stands alone from the rest of the paper — a fact we don’t do a very good job of communicating. The news, sports, opinion and “niche” (Business, Flavors, Style and Ames247) sections of the Daily are all produced by the editorial department of the Daily, which means they’re not at all influenced by advertisers. The content on the Games page, however, is entirely produced by our advertising and creative departments. So, the force behind the stories you spoke of is not necessarily the same force behind the “Joke of the Day,” the “Just Sayin'” section, etc. Regarding where the jokes are obtained, I do not have an answer at the moment — but I am in the process of finding out, and I will let you know, as soon as possible.

    I have passed this blog post on to our general manager, and will discuss it with our advertising and creative departments, as well — and I’m sorry my answer can’t be more complete.

    Thanks, again — for the work you do, and for the time you take to read and consider the work we do at the Daily.

    Jessie Opoien
    Editor in Chief
    Iowa State Daily

  3. I can’t agree enough with what you’ve written here. Sexism is often a source of cheap, lazy humour for those without sufficient talent to glean it from more innocuous sources. I get so sick of it, and the tired “feminists haver no sense of humour” stock response that doesn’t actually address the issue at all.

    Well said, and excellent questions.

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