After last issue’s popular ‘womxnspiration’ article, due to popular demand we have kicked off E&M’s first ‘female rage’ series, where E&M’s Nicoletta Enria and Friederike Sandow discuss topics sparking their female rage. For this issue: sexist jokes and underplaying sexism.
I thought things were a little better in 2019 or that I was more prepared. I wasn’t and things weren’t better. And I am still struggling to find a way to deal with it, how to handle it.
I have silenced myself in a couple of instances because of fear of backlash, the accusation of making a mountain out of a molehill – and choosing carefully which battles to fight because my energy is limited.
The most recent example that has enraged me, but where my rage has been met with incomprehension by family, peers and friends, has been the newly started campaign by the Federal Ministry of Transport in Germany, where they have partnered with Germany’s Next Top Model (I mean….) to promote wearing helmets when you ride your bicycle. Womxn (the Germany’s Next Top Model candidates) and (some) men have been photographed in their underway, in bed, wearing a helmet and the slogan is: “Looks like shit. But saves my life”. Now, I am not against people wearing helmets and I think a campaign that promotes wearing helmets is good, and yeah it’s ridiculous that cyclists do not wear helmets just because it might look dorky. But I also think the money is better spent on improving the infrastructure for cycling in a city, then to tell people to protect themselves. But overall, the issue with this advert is clearly that half-naked models have absolutely nothing to do with helmets. And yes, that is a problem. And I had to explain to so many people why this is a problem, that I got immensely frustrated and started to think that I am in the wrong, or, a prude. Yes, I can feel personally attacked by advertising that displays naked, or half-naked, very thin and incredibly conventionally beautiful womxn. I can not like it when it’s an advertisement for beach wear and I don’t, because no one fucking looks like that, but I can definitely not like it when the nakedness has nothing to do with the product or the message. It reduces womxn to a pretty add-on, without content or agenda or agency. Someone recently described it as ‘being the side salad.”
People have told me I am overreacting and have rolled their eyes at my outcry. In the year 2019 however, I really think that sexism in advertising is something that we can leave behind, we will not miss it. It’s time for a change. Especially if a Ministry is involved, that spends taxes on campaigns that have a calculated backlash. Their argument is: “Well honestly it worked, people have been talking about it, also bad press is good press, the campaign got a lot of attention, therefore, it is successful.” Nah. The result does not excuse the how.
It reduces womxn to a pretty add-on, without content or agenda or agency. Someone recently described it as ‘being the side salad.”
I am tired of men and also womxn screaming “omg nothing’s fun anymore”, “chill out, come on it is funny”, “do you have to be like so and so all the time”, it pisses me off. Listen, I want you to fight for a better world with me, not against you.
But do not tell me what to feel and how I should feel, when I encounter sexism, either in public or when it happens to me personally, because you are not me, you cannot know what I feel. I am the first to admit that I do not know how it feels if your delicates are hit by a football, and you have no idea what a period cramp is. So why do men keep telling me that I am overreacting? In telling me I am overreacting I am being labelled as slightly hysterical and difficult, not getting a joke – so, your stereotypical womxn at the workplace. Telling me I am overreacting or that I can’t understand a joke silences me. I wish that next time someone would just honestly ask me: “Why?” And the thing is: I am not wrong if I don’t have studies that support my arguments. I am not wrong if I cannot entirely explain what I feel when I see sexism like in the helmet campaign. So do not silence me when I finally find the first words to speak up about it. Why do I have to explain myself, when you don’t? Why do I need to explain why half-naked womxn on wallpapers are not a good idea, but you don’t need to explain to me why it is? I need men to make an effort to try and understand my point of view. Because you have assumed, for centuries, that I automatically get yours. And I had to be ok with it. But I am not anymore.
Harvey Weinstein jokes, jokes about finding you in my bed, jokes about getting with girls that are unconscious, jokes about spiking girls drinks – I’ve heard them all. I find it impossibly difficult to laugh at them. Why you ask? No, I don’t get my kick out of being a buzzkill but it may come as a shock that jokes that I feel like violate womxn’s dignity, rights and respect not so funny. I find it so difficult to communicate to my (often male) counterparts why these jokes actually aren’t funny. Most would argue ‘come on it’s just a joke’ or ‘we can’t say anything anymore’. If you’d rather continue degrading womxn with your jokes and questioning the womxn who would rather not be the butt of a joke – it’s really your own measly sense of humour you should be questioning. I feel like this is all quite reminiscent of a primary school bully resorting to torturing who they perceive to be inferior to them to try and gain respect.
What I then find hardest is how to explain why I don’t find these jokes funny. Sometimes I’ll hear a terribly sexist joke, and feel paralysed by the audacity that someone has said this to me, and then later that night in the shower I’d come up with various deliciously witty and scathing remarks I could have said. In the moment I often feel shocked and speechless, and indeed it is one of my resolutions to try stop doing this and to speak up. But this is so often easier said than done. My two main challenges are 1) when this is done in the workplace 2) when someone fails to understand how a sexist joke can offend you as a womxn even after you’ve spoken up.
- How to respond to your boss’s sexist joke? I don’t have an answer to this. I find it immensely difficult to laugh, but also to speak up when my bosses in the past have made sexist remarks. We fear what it may do to our work reputation, that we may get fired or not get as much important work or recommendations. Well, this is what centuries of womxn’s rights activities have been fighting for – and our rights as womxn and as workers should protect us in this. The only way in which we can shape a more positive work environment and eradicate the epidemic that is douch-y sexist comments in the workplace is by rebuffing them and exposing their inherent violent and degrading nature.
- What if then you speak up and they reply saying ‘no come on it’s funny’ or daring to tell you that a joke at your expense isn’t actually offensive? Again, I don’t have a definitive answer because this is another massive challenge I battle with constantly. Here, I’d say what I try to do is argue as far as I can. Using personal experience helps, maybe why you think a joke about being a Harvey Weinstein is actually problematic because it feels threatening and glorifies violent behaviour against womxn? But also remember that you can’t convince everyone – and to preserve your mental health – because some people can be truly terrible and you’ll never be able to convince them yourself.
To the fellas out there, and ladies that still find these jokes funny, my main message to you is – don’t. And please help us eradicate this deeply entrenched patriarchal and violent language that continues to throw us under the bus for a few LOLs.