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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


The Politics of Tasteless Jokes

Responding to critics.

August 24, 2014

I have been taken to task before on this site for taking leaps of logic and assuming everyone else was jumping with me. That happened again last week. I tried to address it in the comments, but my reply got stuck in moderation, either because the moderator is a comedy critic or because I used the word "penis" once too often.

The fastest way to deflate a joke is to explain it, so I don't expect a lot of laughs at what I'm going to say next, only to shed some light on the admittedly peculiar but characteristic thought process that went into a joke that offended several readers.

I initially referred only to "the impressive body of research demonstrating that men who visit women's blogs to take anonymous pot shots based on personal information a writer has shared to illustrate a point, rather than addressing the point itself, are likely to have plagiarized their dissertations."

Before I handed the post in, though, I had a fleeting concern that some readers might think I was serious. I started to make up a bogus citation, but couldn't come up with anything ridiculous enough to be clearly a joke. Then I thought about the "small penis rule," which is an actual thing that most fiction writers are aware of — if you are afraid that a (male) person is going to sue you for libel, you give the character in question a small penis. Few people are then going to claim that the character resembles them closely enough to warrant a suit, so chances are good you will get away with it. Writers really do use this ploy.

So, I added the business about compensating for underendowment and footnoted my statement. The footnote read, "Joke," with a link to the Wikipedia article on the rule, linked here again, and "But seriously, guys, cut it out." I truly didn't imagine that anyone would take it seriously, or think I was making fun of anyone's anatomy. But I was wrong.

"Ralph Abernathy," who seems to speak for several others, since his comments garnered 22 and 19 likes, respectively, couldn't find the link, and wrote in part, "If one desires to change the culture of objectification, I think we're best served by avoiding sexualizing and objectifying people, male or female. In other words, if you can make a joke about penises, why can't the next person "joke" about a woman's anatomy and assert that it's all in good fun, or to make a point, or to create social commentary, or the comment was intended ironically, or..."

In the reply to that comment, which got lost in moderation, I pointed out the link again and apologized for the offense. It truly didn't occur to me that anyone would take my nonsense seriously.

But on reflection, I also want to take issue with a very small part of the comment. This might make more sense to someone with the username "Ralph Abernathy" if it is translated into racial terms, so I want to propose that there is a reason why this is okay, while this is not, and the difference isn't (just) that Richard Pryor was a genius and those other guys...aren't. It has to do with the politics of dominance. It is funny (though dangerous) when a peasant child points out that the emperor has no clothes, not so much the other way around.

To recap, I truly didn't mean to make fun of anyone's equipment, and I'm sorry that careless writing might have made it seem as if I was doing so. But there is a difference between women ridiculing men (which again I didn't intend to do) and men ridiculing women, and if you don't see the difference, chances are you're...whoa. Not going there.


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