It isn’t a joke if it isn’t funny.

There are plenty of things I don’t find funny which other people do:

Michael McIntyre
The Mr. Bean movie.
My 4 year old’s Knock Knock jokes (example: Knock Knock / Who’s there? / Frog / Frog who? / Frog goes moo! Hahahahahahahahaaaa. By all accounts, he is the hit of Reception class 2).

That’s okay. That’s just opinion.

There are a couple of things I just don’t find funny at all. Sexism is one. Take Richard Keys and Andy Grey’s flippant ‘off-mic’ comment about no women understanding the offside rule. Not even, apparently, the woman selected to act as an assistant referee at a Premiership football match. I’m sure she was there because every single man in that stadium declined the opportunity so she was left to make the best of it, pitiful understanding of a basic rule of the sport and everything.

It’s unfunny as a comment, it’s even unfunnier as banter that wasn’t meant to be broadcast because surely then they have such a deep-seated understanding of each other that it was okay to make such a comment. Was it ironic? I think it’s closer to a statement about what it is ‘okay’ to say between men, one to another like, in a – let’s face it – very male-dominated sport.

Unfunnier still, though I’m sure she intended no particular humour, is the comment by former England women’s cricket captain Rachel Heyhoe-Flint who described it as “banter”.

“I know Richard and Andy very well indeed. These were tongue-in-cheek comments and we are blowing something enormously out of proportion here.”

Oh, really? What if they said that the white player had no chance of outrunning the black player because it is common knowledge and a big old joke that black people are so much better at sport than white people, ha ha ha. Isn’t that “banter” on the same derogatory level?

So, Rachel, and others of the school of ‘those cheeky scamps’, understand this: Just because you “know someone meant no harm” doesn’t mean harm wasn’t done. That it isn’t sexist. It is.

What about something closer to home? I’ve blogged briefly before here about the extraordinarily talented Sarah Parmenter (@sazzy, Twitter fiends!) who often speaks at the same, or similar conferences as me. She’s written before about the trials of being a one-woman business in a male-dominated industry and she handles it with grace and aplomb.
We have both come across back channel chatter that concentrate on the fact we have girl bits more than we have brains. But Sarah got to experience a whole new quality of idiocy the other day. At a conference after party, some random male attendee wandered up and said “no offence, but …” (always a quality opener – on a par with “Not being funny but …” or the bell ringer “I’m not a racist but …” ). Anyway, the glorious statement in full was:

No offence but I have trouble levelling with female speakers, you know?

(I especially like the casual insouciance as if Sarah would go ‘yeah! Shame on me!’)

I subsequently suggested that we might want to level him with a shovel but, all giggles and casual violence aside, WHAT?

WHAT. THE. FUCK?

In what world do we live in where a random guy can approach someone handpicked for their experience and excellence and have them pick out their height / race/ colour / weight / gender / shoe size. I’d find it offensive if someone called another person out on them not having the intellect or experience to cover a topic (though you’d be hard pushed to get Sarah on those, either) but at least there might be some relevant debate to be had there.

I especially love the fact that our random misogynist could hide under the +5 Invisibility Cloak of White Geek at Tech Conference, emboldened by his +3 Shield of Imbibed Pints, and his obvious assumption that his statement was one that wouldn’t readily identify him either. I’m sure if Sarah hadn’t been so shell-shocked to call him out on it, he’d have gone for the fallback (and see above) of ‘It’s just a joke. Just banter. I didn’t mean any harm.’

And this is what years and years of top-draw misogyny has lead us to:
In perfectly civilized situations, there are still men on the sidelines who feel free to take pop shots at the women they just aren’t as good at something as. And if women take offence at the comments, they’ve committed the far worst sin of ‘not taking a joke.’

It isn’t a joke if it isn’t funny.

(In the interests of transparency, I’ve just noticed a phrase in this was borrowed from a Lynne Truss article in ‘Making the Cat Laugh.’)

Comments

  1. fvsch says:

    I fully agree. That “levelling” statement is shocking. And yet, I have to admit that when thinking about the offside rule “joke”, I realized that if I was a bit more of a sports fan I could have said it. I understand that it’s wrong and not funny, yet it somehow *feels* acceptable, normal, perhaps even encouraged.

    So, why the difference? I think it comes from experience. The first time I went to a conference I was already a student and, if I may say so, a feminist (note: I’m male). If I had heard that kind of “joke”—and thankfully I haven’t yet—I would have been shocked.

    But jokes on women and sports? They’re very common. It even goes back to primary school where as boys we would run around while the girl’s games were calmer. There are a lot of prejudice passed on by classmates and parents and teachers, and you end up thinking that girls are physically weaker because they’re girls, and not interested in sports because they’re girls. And you crack jokes about how the girls are inapt because it’s an easy way to get included in your group of boy friends (social markers & a common enemy). And girls mock the boys for being silly about football or whatever; teenage girls joke between them or openly that running behind a ball is stupid and a proof of the boys’ immaturity. So everyone fits into their assigned roles. And to most women and men, it feels normal.

    And I’m left wondering in how many situations, about how many activities, I would know that there’s some prejudice going on… but feel that’s it’s pretty much normal because, you know, we’re talking about this and everybody knows that… and anyway it’s just a joke, so…

    • rellyab says:

      Women often cast themselves in these roles and we can be no less disparaging about men.
      I feel the difference here in both cases is the audicity of the men in question to bring into question the authority of the women involved, by virtue of them being women.
      I would happily tell anyone that I am no authority on football but the assistant referee clearly was, even though she was *shocking* a woman.

      Sarah is a voice of authority (or at least experienced, or whatever the equivalent is when there isn’t an assigned role) and yet the man thought her femaleness was enought to question that.

      Bonkers, I tell you.

  2. katemonkey says:

    That’s it. I’m so starting the Shouty Feminist Web Design Brigade.

    Where we can shout a lot, look at people with scorn and irritation over our drinks, and then make certain to do a million times better than the ridiculous creatures who think that our gender automatically invalidates our work.

    (which, okay, I do anyway, but, hey, it sounds better when there’s a club)

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