Sunday, December 30, 2012
A puppy, and maybe-jokes.
Rowdy's sister and her husband stayed with the family as well, and they brought a puppy with them! An adorable, hyperactive, cuddlywuddly, toe-nipping little puppy! (They were claiming it was an "Olde English Bulldogge," but it was clearly not. We're guessing boxer-pitbull mix. Cute, whatever it was.) This struck Rowdy a little bit odd, because his sister never liked dogs.
So Rowdy asked his brother-in-law what was up. He said, laughing, "Your sister said the only way we'd ever have a dog is if I'd already brought one home and she had no choice. The next day, I brought home the puppy!"
Concerned, Rowdy asked his sister about this, and she said, "Oh, we talked for a long time about getting a dog and we agreed we'd do it around now. I didn't use to be a dog person, but I love this puppy!"
The brother-in-law had been kidding, but the weird thing is, he was kidding in a way that made him sound like a kinda scary asshole. He would've come off as a much better person if he'd told the truth. So why did he make up this story about forcing an unwanted burden on his wife? And why, on some level, does the fact that he made up the story not really bother me, but strike me as a pretty ordinary bit of humor?
There's this widely told jokey narrative that marriage is a state of passive-aggressive warfare where the wife has to be pressured into allowing fun things and the husband has to be nagged into doing responsible things. People in relationships, good and bad, joke about getting along like the Lockhorns. See also: every sitcom ever, every issue of Cosmo ever, every social gathering where "my husband is such a manchild/my wife is such a ball-and-chain" is a joke about as edgy as "airline food tastes bad."
The problem is, it's not a joke for everyone. It's one of those insidious things that hits some people as "ha ha, yeah, I kid about him being a manchild, but really we talk stuff out," and hits others as "so I see, husbands are supposed to be irresponsible and you're supposed to berate them for it." Even though Rowdy's brother-in-law wasn't really coercing his wife into a major responsibility she didn't want, he was cheerfully playing into a story created by, and validating for, men who really would.
Credit where credit's due, this is Rowdy's theory: One of the major steps toward creating a consent culture is making consent look different from coercion. It's making a man who respects his wife's right to participate in decisions sound so different in casual conversation from a man who doesn't, that no one could confuse them.
Because our values aren't that screwed up, really. If you ask people, point-blank and not-joking, if a man should listen to his wife when making a decision that affects her life, people are going to say yes. Most people--even most not-at-all-feminist people--are going to say, yeah, of course that's basic respect.
So imagine a world where it was really, really obvious who respected their wife (husband, partner) and who didn't. If people who respected their partners never told these maybe-jokes, people who didn't wouldn't have that maybe-joke plausible-deniability to hide behind. They'd either have to tell outright lies (which some would, but it would require them to be consciously aware that they had something to lie about) or their "she didn't want it, but I did it anyway" story wouldn't be jokey, it would be a straight-up confession of evil.
Making the distinction between respectful and abusive relationships blunt wouldn't end abusive relationships. But it sure as hell would make them a whole lot less popular at parties.
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I was just having this thought - I see a lot of this on Facebook, and at social gatherings. Women are portrayed as difficult and demanding, and men as childish and stupid. I don't think people truly think that about their significant others, but after awhile of acting like they do, it must sink in a bit or manipulate their thinking.ReplyDelete
So true. I hate the relationship stereotypes that have become normal. It's like ALL those commercials where the man is an incompetent fool and the woman has to mother him. Also, see every Father's Day card, ever.ReplyDelete
I find most of your commentary on the emergence of consent culture useful and legitimate, however, I think the critique you found with your brother in-law was largely unnecessary. It's a mistake, in my opinion, to take offense to what seems to be an entirely innocent joke, and I think the notion that in order to attain an equal society of respectful adults one must micromanage simple comical speech is far too sensitive. The prevalent image in media and in life of a castrating wife and a stupid, childlike husband must not be able to stifle a movement based in such simple principles as "people must respect each other, regardless of gender" and "consensual sex and non-consensual sex are not the same thing". These jokes are antiques, and they must be treated as antiques, not as something which can actually do damage to something as fundamental and necessary as consent culture.ReplyDelete
It's not that I want to micromanage his speech. It's that I don't want him to say exactly the same things, in exactly the same tone of voice, that an abusive husband would say.Delete
Exactly this. There were obvious limits, but my ex would talk about a lot of his abusive behaviours in a light-hearted way and folk would chuckle. I was always confused about whether other people thought it was a joke or genuinely found these things part of life's rich tapestry. I don't think he ever doubted it - I think he thought his actions were basically okay, because other people found them funny.Delete
This included talking about making massive joint purchases without my consultation, activities he forbade me to do, his "going ballistic" over some clumsy act or other, even one time when he'd threatened to smash my head through the wall because of the expression on my face (a threat I had taken deadly seriously at the time). I couldn't believe he was telling anyone about that - I was mortified - but they were smiling about it. When he kicked in the bathroom door with my back against it, I had to beg him never to tell anyone the truth about how our door got smashed up. Not that he'd ever tell it exactly as it happened, but "Ha ha, wife had left a bottle of nail varnish on the bathroom windowsill, dozy cow, and I, silly caveman that I am, got in a rage and kicked a massive hole in the door."
To me, it's not just about an overarching consent culture. It's about the individuals who might be listening. Someone in the room may believe it's okay to force responsibility upon their spouse against their will, either because that's what they do, or because that's what happens to them all the time. Such jokes strengthen this conviction.
This isn't to say Rowdy's brother committed some terrible offense, this is part of the culture we live in (it's quite hard to never make these jokes even when you've thought very hard about it - and even harder not to laugh out of politeness), but it is a problem. It is worth thinking about.
Thanks for this, Cliff.
"I think the notion that in order to attain an equal society of respectful adults one must micromanage simple comical speech is far too sensitive."Delete
That's often a criticism of these kinds of discussions, and I don't think it's a fair one. I don't want to forbid anyone from saying specific things. I don't want to take away your free speech. But I do think we should examine the problematic things we say, and I think encouraging - not forcing - people to not say those kinds of things is good.
"This isn't to say Rowdy's brother committed some terrible offense, this is part of the culture we live in (it's quite hard to never make these jokes even when you've thought very hard about it - and even harder not to laugh out of politeness..."
No, he certainly didn't do anything monstrous. He didn't beat his wife or sexually assault anyone. But he did do something kind of wrong, and I don't think this is an excuse. I've seen that logic used to justify every kind of abuse and harassment under the sun, and unless by "quite hard" you mean that the person literally is not in full control of themselves, I don't think you can justify it. Personally, I find it pretty easy to keep that kind of thing out of my relationship. I wouldn't want it there, and I don't really feel a need to call him a big dumb caveman who won't do anything useful or let little ol' me make any decisions.
Just want to reiterate - I'm not saying that Rowdy's brother is a terrible human being or anything! I mean, I don't know him, but I have no reason to believe he is. I just don't think that one thing he said was okay.
"Personally, I find it pretty easy to keep that kind of thing out of my relationship. I wouldn't want it there, and I don't really feel a need to call him a big dumb caveman who won't do anything useful or let little ol' me make any decisions."Delete
That's cool, but I do mean things much much slighter than this. My sweetheart feels guilty about window-shopping for expensive things we can't afford - neither of us would ever spend significant money without talking about it. But someone will send him a link to an amazing shop, and he might say, "You'll get me in trouble with the Goldfish!"
I talked about this with him now, and he questioned whether he'd ever said that, until we thought of an example. To be honest, I don't think it'll happen again. ;-)
It's very much like the way many women constantly joke about guilt and anxiety over food, "Yes please, I would like some cake - though I better go run up and down a hill for an hour with my three children on my back or I'm going to burst out of my underwear!" (I once sat in a room with six other women, aged 20-something to 80-something, a cake was presented and all six women made different comments about their different but equally imminent diet plans before accepting a slice of cake.) That's problematic too.
It's not okay, but when it comes to humour especially, stuff comes out under a great weight of social conditioning - high reward conditioning, since we're talking about smiling and laughter. It's not okay, of course you can make a conscious choice what to joke about, but I certainly *think* of jokes I ought not to tell, because my mind leaps to the thing that will make people laugh, even when it's not very funny. This stuff about men and women is shared cultural material that everyone is familiar with - like women and "naughty naughty cake - diet starts tomorrow, he he!"
(That was unnecessarily defensive really - I only said it was hard because I didn't want to seem to make a direct comparison between Rowdy's brother-in-law to someone joking about their own actual violence. The only "but" is having some understanding of why this happens and why it is not always successfully resisted by people who - through bitter experience - most definitely do know better.)Delete
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I want to second (third? fourth?) what others who have replied here have already said.Delete
My father is an emotionally and physically abusive SOB toward my mother, and he "jokes" with friends and family about his abusiveness ALL. THE. TIME. And other people laugh along and act as though everything is normal. Some folks will occasionally look a bit uneasy, but they're more the exception than the rule, and they never challenge him. And the whole thing makes me want to smash things. For some more context: he has tried to murder my mother, and she lives in mortal fear of him every day of her life (she's aware of the option of leaving, but it's quite complicated, and she has chosen to stay and hope for the best). The fact that he humiliates and torments her this way is one of the things that ultimately wiped out the child-parent love I had once felt toward him (he was also abusive toward us kids).
My parents come from a culture where domestic abuse is quite prevalent and culturally sanctioned. I grew up hearing men joke about it in this manner, and that joking was a form of reinforcing the notion that their behavior was acceptable, and even expected. While I am able to keep things in perspective, and I realize that there are many non-abusive people who will joke in this manner without realizing what they're touching on, it's still jarring and I think a) pointing it out to the joking person in a friendly manner, and/or b) discussing it in a blog format such as this, are both completely reasonable reactions.
The number of domestic abuse victims is staggering, including an average of three women murdered every day in the U.S. alone. I personally like to think that every little bit of awareness-raising about this topic, such as what Cliff has shared here, is a step closer to ending the epidemic.
I'm sure others can and will make the case in more articulate terms than I have, but I feel very strongly about this and wanted to pipe up.
I think it's important to remember that this guy didn't say "Yeah, I beat my wife every day. Let's all laugh at my unending abuse of her". He made some stupid joke about how he forced a dog on her. I agree that it's important to look at the ramifications of what people say, however, this level of scrutiny is distancing, and makes it seem like the difference between an abusive husband and a non-abusive huband is more delicate and fine than it is. I find all these people talking about how their parents abused them and proceeded to laugh about it really sad, but I think that is a different thing entirely, based in a desire to rationalize unacceptable behavior rather than a desire to make a joke about "the old ball and chain".Delete
RedWheelBarrow - Very few abusers say "yeah, I beat my wife every day," either. Because they know that's wrong and won't get laughed at or approved of. But they do find subtler ways to demean their partners and get their actions validated in front of friends and family. They know that there are lots of socially acceptable ways to say "my partner's needs don't matter to me and I think it's funny to hurt them," so long as you don't talk about bad things like actual hitting. That's what I'm concerned about here.Delete
People use and accept jokes like that because they usually contain a grain of truth.ReplyDelete
The division between people who practise consent and those coercion isn't as clear-cut as you think it is. I'd say most men practise a mixture of both depending on the issue and the majority of those who (think they) believe in consense will still use coercion quite often in practise.
I agree that the division isn't clear at all! That's why I'd like to make it clearer.Delete
I think that the whole dynamic between "people who joke about doing X" and "people who really do X" can take place within the same person, sometimes.
This is gross, but my first thought when reading the story about the dog was that the husband was telling the truth and the wife was covering for him because she knew it would make him look bad. Maybe because when I was in a less-than-healthy relationship I used to do things like that all the time.ReplyDelete
It definitely could be, but I simplified the story a little here; there's corroborating evidence that she was telling the truth.Delete
That makes me feel better. It just sort of reminded me of a past relationship.Delete
I'm also glad to hear that, Cliff, as my initial reaction was the same. I grew up with an abusive father, and I was in an emotionally abusive relationship, so my spidey-sense for that kind of thing is extra sensitive.Delete
Thirded, that's what I thought too.Delete
Yes, that's what I thought, too.Delete
I worry about the conflation of "consent" and "basic respect". Of course consent is vital anytime you want to saddle anyone with a long-term responsibility (like a puppy) or do anything in the ballpark of sexual. But disregarding consent isn't always abusive. "I've thrown away your booze stash"; "You are going to get up and eat the meal I cooked for you and go for a walk with me and that's final"; "Come on, let's go to the museum, I know you'll love it when we get there"; "If inconvenient, come anyway": all of these can be anything from abusive to life-saving.ReplyDelete
Yes, this requires knowing the person really well, and you've amply described the problem with telepathy attempts. But... are you really comfortable saying that anyone who doesn't analyze and discuss feelings to death is criminally negligent? There are arguments for that, but it's a much deeper cultural change than you'd expect from "Abuse and rape are bad". (Yes, okay, my real objection is that disapproving of emotional constipation threatens my masculinity.) Shouldn't we also be working, in parallel, on making relationships (romantic and otherwise) be and look healthy among people who aren't on board with the most generalized version of consent culture?
I'm not happy with any of your examples of supposedly non-abusive disregarding of consent.Delete
The booze stash is least awful (I can't see any justification for "I know you'll love it when we get there"), so I'm going to focus on that:
* If Robin thinks Sam has a drinking problem and Sam disagrees, Robin isn't necessarily correct.
* Even if Robin is correct, is this happening for Robin's benefit, or Sam's?
* Which of them is right is important, but it's also important whether Sam thinks Robin is right.
Disregard of consent is very serious, it might be ethical for serious psychiatric hospitalization, but for all the ones you mentioned anyone pulled that shit, it would be the last they ever saw of me.Delete
Although the phrase word theft comes to mind for the first point.Delete
Actually, as someone with mental health stuff that leads to lots of unproductive spacing-out and staying in bed, married to someone who has different mental health stuff that sometimes manifests in a similar way, "I know you'll love it when we get there!" is A Thing that both of us have done from time to time to prod the other one out of sleeping or net-surfing or staring-into-space the day away.Delete
Ditto for "I am bringing you food and you WILL eat it!" Hypoglycemia-fueled depression is BAD, yo.
We've talked about it when not in those sort of depressive periods and discussed how to tell the difference between depressive inertia and "no, really, too tired and/or too much physical pain to do ANYTHING." And also how to make and bring food that the other person will eat and that is most likely to achieve the bounce-back desired. It wouldn't necessarily work in a relationship with one Identified Patient and one Sane Person, but because we BOTH have mental health issues and we've learned after a lot of trial and error (and some therapy!) to do this for each other, it does work for us.
I have super mixed feelings for the "I *will* cheer you up!" thing. Because I've seen people be really helped by it. Some people seem to respond to it, even need it, when friends push through a few "no, leave me alone"s to show that they care.Delete
But I hate it so much every time someone tries to do it to me. There's very few things that get me to raise my voice in real life, but having someone treat a "no thanks" as a "try harder"--even in something as innocuous as asking me to a movie--is one of those few.
Actually it's less of a "raised voice" than a "furious growl of 'I SAID NO THANK YOU' followed by long rant about how there better be SOME phrase that means 'really actually no' to you, because otherwise you're clearly an unsafe person and you're never coming in my house again."
I think the key here is to take a person's answer at face value unless, like the Anon directly above, you've already worked out what's acceptable to push through when neither of you is in the depressed/otherwise ill state. I think it's analogous to basic safeword/consent stuff in other settings where one person wants or needs to be able to say "no" and have it over-ridden in some instances. But never, of course, in every instance.Delete
That's a good point. There are few if any people other than my spouse that I would accept this from, for one thing.
For another, I don't think either of us would do this in clear response to, "No, leave me alone!" But I don't think either of us actually say that? Racking my brains really hard in case I missed something but I really don't think those words or their clear equivalent has been said. The closest I can remember is me going "meh, don't wanna get up" and spouse pointing out that I'd probably change my mind once I had some coffee and a change of scenery but I needed to get dressed first. And being absolutely right.
If this makes sense, it is in general the difference between "meh" and "NO." "NO" is respected. "Meh" is something that we sometimes need to prod each other past.
I agree. My fiancee can sense when I need a little prodding and when I genuinely need some space--I'm one of those people who will reliably cheer up rapidly if just left alone for awhile. She's earned it; she knows me and I trust her.Delete
But she is the only person who I will let do that. Everyone else needs to respect my "NO, go away." I don't raise my voice, I mostly just keep withdrawing further and further.
Anon @ 16:28 makes a good point, and I think sometimes things like that are really the best course of action for some people and some relationships.Delete
But you need to be damn certain when you do something like that, because it can backfire in a big way.
It really shouldn't be one's default behavior.
I'm in my early-twenties. I didn't know what a healthy relationship looked like until 8 months ago. Jokes like this set me on edge, and people give me a hard time for that. I spent 8 years in an abusive relationship that I didn't realize was abusive until 2 months before it ended. "But how can you not know that you're being abused?" says the Peanut Gallery. Because I was constantly surrounded by jokes like this that led me to believe what I was experiencing was normal interaction. Now I have a reputation as being uptight and hypersensitive. Like a day at the spa will somehow make me not cringe at jokes that mirror abusive relationships.ReplyDelete
Augh. I'm so sorry. I grew up surrounded by abuse, so I also didn't know what a healthy relationship looked like until later in life (my 30's, in my case), and I found myself repeatedly hurt by partners, culminating in an abusive relationship with what I believe was a sociopath.Delete
I'm angry at your friends/family on your behalf - I seriously doubt that you're uptight and hypersensitive in the way that they accuse you of being. More likely, they're oblivious about feeding into a culture that ultimately condones abusive behavior, and you're understandably guarded after being betrayed so terribly. If they seriously cannot understand your reaction and show some compassion around the subject, please consider distancing yourself. I've been around people who are incapable of understanding, and thus incapable of being caring, and they can be downright toxic. It may not seem like it if you don't know any of them now, but there ARE people in the world who understand and care and would be supportive.
Thank you for this post. Let us as a society call out jokes about coercion as what it is. Let us as a society stop giving coercive behavior the ability to hide in plain sight.ReplyDelete
Keep on writing Cliff.
I don't see why this whole genre of joke has to hang around -- as you point out, it's stale, and generally pretty sexist (women are controlling and mercenary; men are incompetent slobs). Why do we want to perpetuate these ideas? To me, this kind of attitude is a bit like Thomas Macaulay Millar's idea of SLOp -- Social License to Operate. He talks about it in the context of sexual assault; that comments like "but look at what she was wearing" give people who want to commit sexual assault social "wiggle room." Don't attitudes like "oh hey, my wife is really controlling so I just did what I wanted isn't that funny ha ha?" give a kind of social license to ignore consent, since people will not only disapprove but think it's funny and egg it on?ReplyDelete
There are about a zillion things to be funny about. This joke is just old, and perpetuates crap that makes life worse. I say we vote this joke off the island.
I'm with you. When I hear people tell jokes like this and I don't know them well, I'm always left wondering if this is how they really operate. If I know them well enough to know that this isn't how they operate, I still wonder what they find appealing about such a sexist joke. Either way, I end up thinking a little less of them.Delete
I remember reading a theory about humor (it might even have been here, in fact, it was a while ago) that perhaps applies to this story. In effect, the theory was that things are (often) funny either because "no one really does that" or "everybody really does that." I think that maybe in this case the joke was supposed to be funny because "haha, I would never do that" -- but of course, it fails to recognize that there ARE people that do that. Perhaps the reason people laugh when actual abusers make light of their own behavior (as in one of the comments above) is because they're thinking "haha, no one would really do that" when the laughter the abuser hears is "haha, everyone else does this too!"ReplyDelete
In which case, part of the solution is to spread the awareness that no, this is actually something that people actually do, it doesn't exist only in the distorted realm of jokes.
Thank you for posting this. Sometimes my partner makes comments to his friends about how he has to go do a chore because otherwise I will get mad, and I have had a hard time explaining to him why this bothers me - your post definitely helps.ReplyDelete
"women are controlling and mercenary; men are incompetent slobs" Except when women are shoe shopping and men are doing important man things, and then women are out of control and incompetent. Sexist stereotypes are soo contradictory.
Ok, I do understand why joking about actual abuse is problematic (I shut down a similar line of conversation at a party I was at the other week simply by stating that a toss-away line had, yes, been heard, but the reason it hadn't gathered much laughter was because it wasn't actually funny to make light of DV) but... what are those of us who really do have chores to accomplish to keep the wife happy supposed to do? Just keep our big furry mugs shut?Delete
Example: "Hey O, wanna go out for some beers after work?"
"Can't, I gotta catch up on the laundry, living room, and kitchen or S. will lose her shit."
My wife and I have different tolerances for disorder in the house. So I really do have to do chores before I would otherwise accomplish them on my own to keep from her always being the one whose threshold trips and doing the relevant task, which as you might imagine, she finds somewhat unfair and maddening.
I'm a bit puzzled, do you have to do chores because your wife is a cruel dictator or do you choose to because you are fond of her and want her to be happy, and certainly don't want to fight (and incidentally because you're a civilized fucking adult and it's your home)?Delete
What Ostropoler said. Perlhaqr, the last paragraph you wrote make it sound as if you and your wife are two reasonable adults who came to an agreement, and although it involves some compromise on your part you realise it's a fair agreement, and therefore you stick to it. The quote you're saying to your mates make it sound as if your wife is some unreasonable household dictator and you do chores simply in order to placate her. These are two different things.Delete
Assuming then that your last paragraph gives an accurate description of things, what you tell your mates is a bit of a joke, and merely telling like it is would be "Can't, I gotta catch up on the laundry, living room, and kitchen, since S and I have this agreement and it's my turn to do them today".
Yeah, I think a balance of "want to joke" and "not a total asshole who degrades my partner to my buddies and perpetuates bad cultural stereotypes" might be: "Can't, gotta catch up on the laundry, living room, and kitchen. S will be mad if I don't do this thing I promised." Tone: S is a reasonable person who will be reasonably angry if I shirk agreed-upon responsibilities for partying.Delete
This is different than "S will 'lose her shit' because she is a crazy unreasonably controlling person" which is the tone of the first one.
(Not the same Anonymouseseses who've already posted)Delete
So doing basic chores that you would have to do for yourself if you lived alone - regardless of timelines - become things you only do because "S will lose her shit" in your jokes to your workmates? Can't you see how much there is that's problematic about that? You're putting yourself into the image of the boy-man who has to do what wife-Mummy tells him, which is pretty damn demeaning to both of you. It also implies REALLY heavily that it's unreasonable for you to be doing domestic work at all; it's women's work, you're only doing it because she'd get mad at you otherwise.
Why do you need an excuse not to go out drinking anyway? What's wrong with "I've got stuff to do at home"?
Got it. Keep my furry mug shut it is. Here, I mean, since questions seem to lead to condescension and madness.Delete
Seriously, y'all interpolated that into "I think domestic work is the realm of women" and "my wife is an unreasonable household dictator"? *headshake*
No, the reason I'd phrase it like that is because all the people I work with actually know me and my wife, and know that I'm likely to be running a week behind where I should be as it is, so yes, if I'm turning something down, it's probably because S. will lose her shit if I don't get things done, and rightly so. Because I'm behind schedule. Probably a lot.
And it's not an excuse to not go out. It's an explanation of why I'm not going out.
Gah. I am, no shit, seriously sorry I asked. *headshake*
Here is the discrepancy between what you are literally saying, what it seems you think you are playfully saying, and what I think people are reacting to:Delete
Post 1: "Can't, I gotta catch up on the laundry, living room, and kitchen or S. will lose her shit."
Post 2: "...because S. will lose her shit if I don't get things done, *and rightly so.*"
It's the "and rightly so" that takes the joking from belittling/wife-bashing territory that might be perfectly playful and healthy, but totally sounds unhealthy and indistinguishable from Badness to totally reasonable and playful and joking in a partner/women-respecting way. In Post 1, your words say "I will be in trouble because wife is crazypants." (and the point of this blog post is that even if that's not what you intend to say /it is still what a lot of people hear/, which is what makes it problematic). In Post 2, your words say, "I will be in trouble because I will have done something wrong."
So... you don't need to keep your furry mug shut. Just open it for a couple seconds longer and add the bit of the joke that makes it respectful without undermining it. =)
Perlhaqr, I don't think you are being criticized nearly as strongly as your second post implies. But I think that however harmless your intentions, saying "my wife will lose her shit" DOES feed into the stereotype being discussed here, as does the brother-in-law's comment that Cliff posted initially. But neither statement is a felony, and I don't think commenters are treating it that way.Delete
You told your story in the context of having also pushed back at a party when someone joked about domestic violence, and that's laudable. But I don't think it's unreasonable for other people to tease out the implications of your comment as it relates to the topic of the thread.
Perlhaqr (and everyone) - I called out the puppy thing, and people are calling out your thing, not because they're big deals. Not because they're things that, on their own, would say "I am in a disrespectful, sexist, possibly relationship and those relationships are normal."Delete
But because they're tiny, small things, basically harmless in isolation, that are so damn common that they add up to an atmosphere where everyone believes the "manchild and ball-and-chain" model of marriage. I'm not blaming any one remark for creating that idea all on its own. Only saying that you have to be conscious of whether you're contributing to it.
perlhaqr - it would have changed your story entirely if you'd included what you said in your second post. It would also have made the joke less relevant, because it moves it out of the creepy coercive jokes situation the post is about.Delete
I can totally see where you're coming from on this, but not everyone will agree that it's a problem. My husband feels the same way about jokes about infidelity or divorce. In our household we would never just jokingly say, "You forgot to take out the trash. Well we better get a divorce." It's just not funny to him. Other couples would say it and laugh. I don't think it makes people wrong if they can joke, "Oh yeah I was late because I was meeting my lover behind your back." and both parties know it's a joke and find it funny.ReplyDelete
In this case the brother in law perhaps should have been more clear that he was joking - not knowing his audience perhaps was the real sin here.
I think it's a difference between private joking and public joking. I might make a "[Minor infraction that doesn't really bother me]? DEALBREAKER." joke to my partner privately, because we both know where we are at (and can talk it out if one of us is having a sensitive day and doesn't find it funny). But I would never make that joke in a group, because it might make my partner or others uncomfortable and might not be clear how much is just a joke, how much is not, and how much is cultural stereotype.Delete
The problem is not joking with your partner at his/her comfort level. The problem is joking publicly in ways that are indistinguishable from abuse/control/badness. (See the "no one does it" v. "everyone does it" upthread.
This is why I find it problematic when my father-in-law makes grumpy remarks to his wife at things like that the butter is not spreadable, she forgot to put such and so on the table, and that she's a little stupid...ReplyDelete
They clearly love each other (lots of positive physical affection for example), and I know it's in jest (as my partner keeps affirming), but it bugs me, and makes me feel quite uncomfortable at times. I thought that was just me being overly sensitive...
I CANNOT stand it. It kept me from a close relationship with my father FOR YEARS before I realized it was a playful dynamic for him and his wife, because it was in many ways indistinguishable from the abusive dynamics in my mom's poor choice of other men and her extended family. Still can barely abide it, still find it a read flag, but know how to look for other green flags now.Delete
I agree with the basic sentiment... I tend to be the totally humourless person who calls people out on Facebook when they make sexist jokes about "haha, men are complete children, haha, women are always nagging, haha, the normal state of a heterosexual relationship is passive-aggressive warfare". I really do think this kind of humour is damaging. Not in the case that a single joke makes something worse, but the entire humour culture, because it helps to normalise bad things. Even people who don't live in abusive relationships might have a bit unhealthy relationships, a bit of that passive-aggressiveness and lack of respect going on, that they think is completely normal and just the way relationships work. Actually, I don't think these jokes would work unless lots of people recognised themselves and their own relationship A LITTLE BIT in them.ReplyDelete
Besides, getting an ANIMAL, a living feeling creature, without properly talking it through, is terrible for the animal. As an animal person, that was actually my first thought... Poor dog. You have to be pretty determined to put up with and keep loving a puppy that's gonna pee everywhere in the beginning and chew your stuff up... and to keep it and care for it for the next ten or fifteen years.
. I really do think this kind of humour is damaging. Not in the case that a single joke makes something worse, but the entire humour culture, because it helps to normalise bad things. Even people who don't live in abusive relationships might have a bit unhealthy relationships, a bit of that passive-aggressiveness and lack of respect going on, that they think is completely normal and just the way relationships work.Delete
People who are commenting "Y U HATE JOKES?", this is what I'm trying to say, in a nutshell.
It's not about "he talked about buying a dog just like an evil abuser, he is the worst person." It's about the general culture that comment was just one part of.
One thing I have found rather useful for shutting down this is the "literal-minded Aspie approach". If someone says something and you're worried that it sounds... off, say "really?" in a non-sarcastic way.ReplyDelete
"Your sister said the only way we'd ever have a dog is if I'd already brought one home and she had no choice. The next day, I brought home the puppy!"
"No, what kind of person do you think I am?"
Then just give them a 'look'. Somewhere between "Well, I dunno" and "There are actually are people like this."
I am Aspie myself, this is how I 'learnt' this technique. I've found it also helps with getting away with stuff like this, because they can't hold me to the same level of advanced social skills (read: crap-approval) as everybody else.
I favour this one too. Another version is the one I learnt on Captain Awkward - saying "Wow" and leaving a long awkward pause. Or "Wow (short phrase of displeasure)" - eg "Wow, I don't find that funny at all". Or ask them to repeat what they just said, again, until it sounds stupid in their own ears and you're still obviously not 'getting' the humour in it.Delete
Also, I agree that this kind of joking really isn't a good idea. I've seen couples that do this sort of joking, and yes, some of them seem to really get along fine, no problems. But one of them is my friend's parents and her mum is definitely being abused by her dad. It's sickening to sit at their table and be expected to laugh along and essentially be complicit in his framing of the whole situation as a silly joke. So I'm reluctant to tell/laugh at any such jokes. It's not such a hardship, there's a whole world of humour out there that isn't being used by sociopaths!
And this is where different relationships work differently. I can totally see my dad doing this and my mom being perfectly happy with it (in fact that's happened, more than once). My dad is an animal lover and can't resist one that needs a home, my mom likes animals but is more ambivalent about them. So if he comes home and says "How much do you love me?" she replies "What did you bring home?". This has been everything from rabbits to dogs to a llama (seriously, he did that). In their relationship this is okay and something they both laugh about but it's certainly not the way many spouses would react to their partner bringing home a new pet unannounced. Sometimes I think people make a mistake of equating their relationship to everyone's which is how jokes like that can fall flat.ReplyDelete
"One of the major steps toward creating a consent culture is making consent look different from coercion."ReplyDelete
Hats off to Rowdy. I'm going to use this in my new blog. (Which isn't quite ready for prime time. But it's about stuff like this.)
Happy new year to you and your friends and loved ones, Cliff.
I saw the excellent comedian Robin Ince recently, and he began as if to tell one of those jokes about his wife - he then stopped, and said 'I can't really think of any of those jokes about my wife, because I married someone I actually like.'ReplyDelete
Tangentially, but also related to consent, he said 'Don't look so terrified, front row. I'm genuinely not going to pick you out of the crowd and make you talk if you don't want to talk. Really. This isn't a joke.'
If only everyone was like him.
OH THANK GOD an actual decent human being doing comedy.Delete
I was uncomfortably reminded a few days ago about how unimportant social consent is outside of my sheltered little pocket of the Internet. I was at a party where there was a showing of a video of interviews, and the interviewees were all at the party. Of course, one of the interviewees didn't want to watch her own interview; I think to myself, 'whatever, we can skip it.'
The entire rest of the room goes, NOOOO IT WILL RUIN THE EXPEEEEEERIENCE.
Every time I jumped up to skip the interview segment (which took about two seconds, honestly, guys, relax) the entire room exploded with protestation. Cliff and Captain Awkward are pretty much the reasons why I was able to be a decent human being instead of sitting there feeling gross. And it felt way better to have the interviewee safe and comfortable than it would have felt to watch her interview. So thanks, guys, I guess is what I'm trying to say.
Good for you! Internet high-fives.Delete
Note to self: Look up Robin Ince.Delete
I can't tell how many times I've heard someone basically saying that their partner is a useless twat in a way that made me think "why the hell are you WITH this person?". I mean, there's friendly, non-passive-aggressive joshing beween people who are close, and sure I know that people sometimes need to vent about someone they really care about (probably the best example I can think of is Mil Millington's old Things My Girlfriend and I have Argued About site, which paints a clear picture of him saying 'my girlfriend is mad but actually I'm a useless twat and hey well done you got the subtext, here is a bonus joke just for you').
But there are so many people who seem to genuinely dislike their partner or hold them in contempt. It's baffling.
That's all too rare in comedy! So much stand-up is just creepy bullying, whether it's jokes or picking on the audience. Like Edna Everage, a character I've always found about as unfunny as they get. Humphries might have started satirising Australian suburbia but he's been nothing but a schoolyard bully with added vocabulary for decades.Delete
Every joke has a victim, and the most socially acceptable kind of joke to make is to gently make fun of yourself. Humour is socially powerful; just think of the history of satire that has brought down whole governments. With that in mind, I think it's quite fair to examine how humour works on an everyday level, especially for such 'mild' jokes. The bottom line is that he thought people would laugh at his joke. My biggest reaction was 'holy shit, a puppy? I would be furious at anyone who foisted that level of responsibility on me against my will.' The most generous interpretation of his joke is the joke is that he made a literal interpretation of his wife's instructions "she said the only way I'm going to do something is X way" and so he did X. I could laugh at that - it's a common misunderstanding in relationships. But I can't laugh at going ahead with a plan when your wife expressly opposes it. So whenever I hear a joke I ask myself 'what exactly am I being asked to laugh at?"ReplyDelete
I had a male friend who had a very domineering wife (I will stop short of saying abusive because I didn't know her that well, and he was in fairness a very passive guy) and he once told me "At first I didn't want kids and so we had one. Then I was fine with one kid and so we had another." And he was making a joke of it, but he was also a dying a little inside. In the end, he loved his kids but holy hell how can someone impose these things on anyone? I can't laugh at jokes like that, they seem to sketch out a whole relationship lacking in respect. I've never really liked his wife after hearing that.
Not to mention the implications of what can happen if the pet or child really isn't wanted and the person being imposed upon just isn't suited to caring for them. Great way for potential child neglect or neglect/abandonment of an animal. My first feeling about the puppy joke was that it's this dog's LIFE being gambled with if it had really played out that way.Delete
On the subject of every joke having a victim, I was reminded of something.Delete
When I was in high school, I took an English class on comedy that involved writing our own comedic material. The first (and pretty much only) rule the teacher gave us was, "Only make fun of people who have more power than you. If you make fun of people with less power than you, you're just being a bully."
Agh. I just need to vent. My father, a really sexist man, was playing football with all my cousins and my sister on Xmas. When my sister tagged my little cousin (he's maybe 7), my father said, "Are you gonna let yourself get tagged by a girl?" Thankfully my cousins called him out on it, one female cousin in particular. She walked out of the game, and straight-up told him later that his comment ruined the game for her. He tried to play it off as a joke, and that she didn't have a sense of humor, but she refused to be baited and told him how she felt.ReplyDelete
The sad thing is that my sister had just decided to ignore him, because he is ALWAYS LIKE THAT. And he honestly doesn't see what he does as a problem, because usually no one calls him out on it. It's just Mike, joking the way he does, he's a great guy deep down, etc. Not calling out his "jokes" has enabled him to continue to spread that kind of crap around his entire life, and believe that he's perfectly entitled to do so.
It blows my mind that anyone can not get why "You're inferior! Ha ha just kidding!" is annoying/inappropriate...and yet obviously it happens all the time.Delete
One of the things I most love about my husband is his refusal to participate in any kind of socially acceptable wife bashing.ReplyDelete
Yeah, that's one of the best things about my boyfriend, too. We were hanging out with his family and they were watching a movie with a really awful torture scene in it; when I walked out, they tried to tease me, but he refused to play into it and matter-of-factly told them I didn't like torture scenes, totally flattening their joke. It was AWESOME.Delete
As a male partner who also refuses to participate in any kind of socially acceptable wife/ woman partner bashing, I am sad that such kind of behaviour is considered somewhat exceptional. We all actually can joke on edgy themes like DV, rape, abuse, but why oh why should these jokes be about making rapists, abusers, woman-batterers thought patterns and behaviour seem socially acceptable. Though, I think to promote consent culture, we need our own, feminist, humour to take on issues like this. I don't have an idea yet how it should sound like. As it was said before in comments above, humour is a powerful tool, able to remove entire abusive regimes. So how do we make use of it for consent culture promoting sake?ReplyDelete
Wow. Thank you so much for this. It's been in the back of my head for a while, that this stereotype/trope in jokes bothers me for reasons in addition to 'it is sexist as all anything', but I never knew why. Now I know, and that is so true.ReplyDelete
Another way that culture screws with our heads so that we don't fight back against bad things, because the fighting back seems not OK, instead of the bad things.
Thank you for helping me notice them - not only because this helps fight them in the world, but because it helps me fight them where they've gotten internalized in me.
Brushing aside complicated cultural issues...ZOMG a puppy! And a pitbull!ReplyDelete
We've got one just like that from the pound (pitbull mixed with assorted other breeds) about a year or two ago and she's just a big, adorable baby. She has a ridiculously heart melting stupid-cute face that makes you go DAAWWWW when she looks at you a certain way.
And she goes ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NUTS when we shine a laser pointer around. In fact, she knows what it looks like, knows where we keep it, and if she even thinks you're going near it she's on her feet, alert and ready, and just STARES as she's waiting for it.
Just a quick toy tip for you. :)
Our other dog, a beagle+black lab+we-have-no-clue, doesn't react at all to the laser. Doesn't look at it at all, as if she can't even see it. She's not blind, so she just must not be interested at all.
My poodle reacted to the laser pointer exactly ONCE. Then he caught on that the little red light was not an actual thing, and lost interest.Delete
I was reminded of, I think, a related type of joke: parents, particularly fathers, "humorously" threatening violence against people who might be considering activities that could potentially threaten their daughters' virginities -- sometimes even into what most people would regard as adulthood.ReplyDelete
Another fascinating post Cliff, thank you. I always react with horror when people tell me what they or their other half actually did without their spouse's consent (and then remember to tack on a fixed smile; sometimes it seems like treating it as a joke is a helpful way for them to process it).ReplyDelete
It doesn't seem to be fixed along gender lines: I've known a wife commit to a house purchase without the husband knowing. My husband usually says, 'You wouldn't put up with that, would you?' in a rather wistful way. It shakes my little universe up when I realise that plenty of people still seem confused about consent and decision-making, particularly in a marriage.
This is a really interesting post - I have been guilty of this kind of joking, but I also have big problem when other people do the same thing. As soon as my boyfriend and I started dating, we always used to joke about me "making" him do things, when in reality, I would suggest something and he would say "yeah, that sounds like fun!" I guess it's like if someone took an airplane for the first time and then proceeded to complain about airplane food a lot because now they were finally in on the joke. Making all these jokes to me is kind of like saying, "Yay, I have a boyfriend now!"ReplyDelete
But I have always been very sensitive to this kind of joking when other people do it. I will usually say, "She can do what she wants!" or "Don't let her tell you what to do!" only to be told that the people are joking. I do this every time because I really hate pressure. I never realized how often I make the same jokes that I don't buy from other people, but I'm going to stop now because it does really bother me.