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. firstname.lastname@example.org