An open letter to Seth MacFarlane, Jimmy Carr and anyone who continues to think sexist jokes are okay. This continues from my post Funny Business & Its Shameful Side where I responded to blogger Andrew Heaton because he wasn’t sure if he “should have been offended” by jokes Seth MacFarlane made at the Oscars and one of the comments included a proclamation by Jimmy Carr.
I’m a little late in the game to be commenting on Jimmy Carr’s statement that “Offense is taken, not given,” when it comes to lobbing out a couple of chuckles.
I haven’t been aware of what’s been going on with some comedy because not too long ago I did what was recommended for anyone with any intelligence: I stopped watching TV (I do recall taking a peek at Family Guy and quickly changing channels). And that occurred a few years after I’d extricated myself from an emotionally abusive relationship.
The primary tools used to hurt? Words. He was a master at manipulating words to blame me for everything and confuse every attempt I made at solving the problems we were experiencing.
Of course, he wasn’t “joking.” It wasn’t all in “fun.” He was never suggesting or insinuating that a woman’s efforts and intelligence are irrelevant because that would bring a laugh every time. No. He meant it.
And when people make jokes, part of the reason it’s still “joked about by those who are ignorant” is because some people still hold these views, i.e. those who are ignorant or sociopathic. The people who laugh at these jokes are laughing about someone saying something that’s hurtful.
Some people have tried to twist things around to say the venue, the Oscars, is sexist and that needs to be “aired” (the more I think about it, how does THAT become an excuse?)—but the jokes were simply hurtful in and of themselves.
But now I’m being told—by a man who is telling sexist jokes or truly distasteful jokes to a crowd of people who are drinking as his barometer to determine whether or not people are offended—it’s how “I” take it.
Are the jokes bullies make about people who are gay free speech? Sure. Should they be doing it? No.
Are sexual suggestions, um, I mean “jokes” in a workplace acceptable anymore? No. Those were even private. Between just two people and our culture said, “That’s not okay. Stop. Now. Or you’ll lose your job.”
Is waving a gun around and joking that I’m going to kill you okay? Hey, we have free speech in this country, don’t we? No.
Our culture considers that threatening and the action can be considered a felony. From a King County Sheriff: “threats to kill can be a felony. Otherwise ‘threats’ are a gross misdemeanor. Illegal threats include threats to do bodily harm, threatening to destroy property, or threats to do anything ‘which is maliciously intended to substantially harm the person threatened or another with respect to his or her physical or mental health or safety.’ Either immediately or in the future.”*
All of the statements about “I’ll defend your right to free speech until I die,” is bullshit when it comes to jokes about women. Words have power. Words perpetuate stereotypes. Words influence people. And if some of the people in the audience are children, anyone making sexist jokes demeaning women, is influencing them. I’d even go so far as to say these kinds of jokes “threaten women’s and children’s mental health.”
If comedians like Seth MacFarlane make sexist jokes, especially ones directed at little girls, and everyone continues to say, “Hey, it doesn’t matter if men joke about men having sex with someone who is still a child,” what the hell is going on? What is driving the acceptance? Where is the disconnect?
Oh, yeah, to you it’s “just a joke.”
I have daughters. Maybe you don’t.
In every generation, bullies think they’re incredibly clever when they figure out this little trick and, every generation, people have to stand up to it.
But there is one really more important thing—as someone who is offended and believes these kinds of jokes about women should go away, I am powerless to make a bully change.
The people who are perpetuating it have that power, the power to change themselves, to take a step in making the world a truly equitable place, but that’s not usually any interest to someone who’s making tons of money with the status quo or experiencing the rush of power over others.
But the rest of the people have the power to walk away as I suggested the women should have done in Funny Business & Its Shameful Side.
All that takes is for people to recognize the power of words to hurt, to stop being manipulated by some people’s mastery with words. To see that some people can compel others—by fooling them, often working in something unrelated—into laughing while other people experience pain and hurt.
What’s coming out of their mouths is offensive, no matter how they try to turn things around.
Q: When are threatening words or profanity illegal?
A: The answer comes from King County Sheriff’s Sgt. John Urquhart:
Profanity, generally no law against that, but depending on the circumstances and setting, the use of profanity could evolve into Disorderly Conduct.
Threats are a different matter, and the statute is Harassment. In fact, threats to kill can be a felony. Otherwise “threats” are a gross misdemeanor. Illegal threats include threats to do bodily harm, threaten to destroy property, or threats to do anything “which is maliciously intended to substantially harm the person threatened or another with respect to his or her physical or mental health or safety.” Either immediately or in the future.
The only caveat is that the person who is threatened must be “placed in reasonable fear that the threat will be carried out.”
For example, if a person calls from New York and says he is coming right over to beat somebody up, and that person knew the other person was in New York, then this would not fit the statute. Probably no crime. However, same words from someone who is across town, then it could be illegal, depending on the circumstances.