Last year, in my high school class’s Facebook group there was a debate I’d like to discuss as it still infuriates me to this day. For context, I’m from a very small, affluent town in Connecticut. My town is known for being quite liberal, generally pretty progressive , and very well-educated. The public school that we all attended is ranked by U.S. News as being number 4 in the state and number 184 in the country. 99% of students who graduate from our high school go to college. For comparison, the national average of high school graduates who enroll in college is 65.9% according to The New York Times (2014). The percentage of Americans who actually attend and graduate from college is even lower. Every single person involved in these conversations is now attending a reputable college, including University of Indiana, Southern Methodist University, and University of Michigan. I don’t say this to brag, but rather to contextualize these comments and explain why I was so shocked by them. Given our shared background and education, this incident was unexpected. To further contextualize this, this occurred on social media with the knowledge that is was a form of mass communication. The people involved were aware of who would be seeing their posts. In order to analyze this, I will be examining some screenshots I have from the private group in which they were posted, and relating their contents to a variety gender and sexuality studies concepts, such as gaslighting, identity politics, and misogyny.
Despite having been graduated for nearly a year at the point when this incident occurred, someone decided resurrect our class Facebook group by creating a post in support of Donald Trump. When a fellow classmate, who happens to be female, spoke up about her dislike of the candidate, two male students felt the need to respond with the following comments: “95% of Hillary supporters are women…BOOM roasted” and “You’re allowed to vote from the kitchen these days?” These comments led me to believe that these boys thought that female supporters of Hillary Clinton do not count and are invalidated in their belief simply because they are women.
As degrading as these comments were, what happened next was, to me and to many others, absolutely enraging. Another former classmate of ours posted a porn video that depicted a female porn actor advocating for a woman’s right to voice her opinion, only to be interrupted by a male porn actor shoving his penis in her mouth. Many people, including myself, were shocked that this boy would look up this video and post it in a group that was intended for school-related information. Despite this, many of my former classmates, both male and female, liked this post before group administrators (who were former student government members, so ex-classmates as well) removed the post. Prior to this however, more hatred and misogyny were spewed at the students who asked for it to be removed. Though it was a relatively small group of boys participating in this hatred, I was still shocked at the number of students participating and what they believed was okay to say, particularly coming from as liberal and well-educated of as place that we do. Ironically, this all occurred on International Women’s Day (March 8th), which, in my mind, solidified the point that we need this day to celebrate women seeing as we still face this misogyny, even from our classmates and supposed friends who are college educated.
I’ve included some of the comments below. These comments included such things as “#nomeansyes,” followed by “and yes means anal,” which reflected an incident we had during our Senior year, when the Women’s Empowerment Club created a rape awareness campaign, and put posters around the school with the statement “Rape is not a joke,” many of which were vandalized with the phrase “lol”. This displays the mindset of many of the students involved in this debate, where they truly don’t see women’s rights or rape (which certainly extends to more than just women) as an issue.
Their comments showed to me that these boys see gender as a clear dichotomy; there are only men and women. Not only that, they perceive these two genders in a clear hierarchy where women are the lesser of the two. Their statements not only diminished women but also served to reinforce this dichotomy and created a notion of having to “choose sides” between men and women, or even between feminist and misogynist. The fact that this one boy thought he was “roasting” Hillary and her supporters by calling them women furthers this notion as it’s clear he thought this was an insult of some sort. Furthermore, this displayed a weak and simplistic version of identity politics, where these boys tried to create a sense of comradery and alliance because of their gender. Their beliefs are being shaped by their gender identity and the convictions that come with that. I believe that many of these students, as white, cisgender men, who were raised in a very affluent town, have never been the subject of oppression or faced anyone telling them they are lesser. Most of them have never truly faced hardship, which I can say confidently as I have known the majority of them since they were in diapers. They are able to make these statements because of their position in society.
The student who posted the video defended his actions the next day with this post below. He felt he was justified because, supposedly, girls from our class had messaged him telling him that they agreed that the other girls in the group, who were defending their right to be seen as equal, were being ridiculous. Because he had some support from females, it was okay. This again ties into the idea of identity politics where he is attempting to justify his beliefs on the basis of his gender and the support of the other gender. Additionally, it could be argued that he is gaslighting, where he is manipulating others into questioning their own beliefs. He refers to this whole situation as a “joke,” trying to diminish the impact of his words and mold the perception of his actions. He tries to defend his own character, implying that if he’s a kind person he couldn’t have done something offensive,insisting he’s “never said a mean thing” to any of his opposers. This likely won’t be shocking, but he was not a kind person in school. He considered himself a class clown of sorts, and was constantly making fun of others, but always under the guise of humor.
The outrage that followed these posts were undermined by the original posters complaining that feminists don’t have a sense of humor and that they couldn’t take a joke, which, from their perspective, is clearly these posts were. The people involved in both these posts and the anti-rape poster incident (which are groups that include many of the same members, unsurprisingly) excuse their words and actions with humor. Words have power. Actions have power. They are not excused because you think they are funny. There were many comments in this thread that told people to “take a joke” or “chill out” or “get a better sense of humor”. However, I believe that the comments they made are rude and insulting, and should certainly not be taken as a joke. This idea that women don’t have a sense of humor when they try to defend their rights as people is derogatory and degrading. This “joke culture” is harmful because it invalidates feminists’ claims as humorless without attempting to understand their arguments, valuing humor as the most important factor. It also attempts to minimize the impact of the offending statements and the culpability of those who make them because they “aren’t meant to be taken seriously,” which is problematic because not only are the perpetrators not seeing the other side of the argument, they often don’t even recognize that there is a problem. They don’t see that feminism and comedy can coexist, and that one does not negate the other.
The claim was made that “feminism definitely doesn’t have a sense of humor,” to which I must respond: I’m sorry that I don’t find rape funny. I’m sorry that you think I’m a “bitch” for arguing that all humans – male, female, or otherwise – should be seen as equal. I’m sorry that I can’t “just chill my nips” and accept injustices. I’m sorry that completely undermining another human and treating them like subhuman for factors that are out of their control is not hilarious to me. If that means that I don’t have a sense of humor, then so be it. I’d rather be able to see the value of a human than be able to take a joke. I’d rather be a feminist than a comedian.