My fellow comedian Jen Kirkman is boycotting Twitter until men stop using it as a medium to be awful to her because she’s a woman yet still has the audacity to express her views on occasion. Or more specifically, until her male counterparts speak up against this kind of treatment.
Alright, Jen. I’m in. And this isn’t something I should have had to wait until it got this bad to be “in” about. This is something we should’ve done on our own and I’m sorry about that. But anyway, here goes.
The rest of this post is addressed to men in general, more specifically straight men who use the Internet to be mean to anyone, and more specifically, straight men who use the Internet to be mean to women.
Alright, guys: Imagine you’re a woman.
Shouldn’t be that hard. Don’t bring any baggage about “Women are like THIS, man” along with you. A lot of things about your life would be different but the overriding feeling would be one of just being a human being, which is the overriding feeling most of us feel all the time without even realizing it.
So, you’re a woman. Now, because you’re a woman, everything you say or do is judged out loud, by any stranger that feels like shouting or tweeting their opinion at you.
On its merit? On its logic? On its coolness or funniness? Not exclusively. Not at all.
Instead, all too often, it will be judged based on that person’s idea of what should be coming out of the mouth of someone who has the same sex organ you have. You are no longer whatever you are. Now you are a “female (whatever you are.)”
Fail to comply with each and every person’s individual set of standards about how a “female ______” should behave, and you will hear about it, and it will hurt.
Imagine that your every word and action could be held to an outmoded sense of standards by a bunch of strangers because you have one kind of sex organ instead of another kind of sex organ.
That each one of these strangers had a slightly (or in some cases wildly) different set of standards regarding how you should behave given the sex organ you have, and God forbid you should point out that these standards are outmoded, unfair, or downright backwards, because HEY THAT’S JUST HOW THEY WERE RAISED.
After emerging from the Imagination Chamber, maybe you say: “Well, if somebody’s offended by something I say, that’s just because they’re too sensitive. If I were them, I would take it in stride.”
Would you? I’m not sure you would. But even if that were true, it doesn’t matter. You are NOT them. And you demonstrate a shocking lack of empathy and imagination by being unable to place yourself in their shoes, to feel what it might be like to be them, to be subject to the torrents of abusive crap somebody like Jen, somebody like your girlfriend, somebody like your sister, somebody like your mom, has to put up with on an hourly basis.
If you find yourself saying “You’re too sensitive” a lot then it is entirely possible that you are, in fact, being a jerk.
You have exactly zero control over how “sensitive” other people are. But you have one hundred percent control over how much of a jerk you are. You do not have to share absolutely everything that is on your mind.
Not sharing absolutely everything that is on your mind all the time does not make you “not true to yourself” or “a pussy.” It makes you a human being. It makes you a citizen.
But let’s say you DO say something to a woman and she finds it offensive, so you say, “Hey, cool out, I still think you’re hot!” Or some variation on that theme. This is not a compliment. In fact, it is hard for me to think of a scenario in which this wouldn’t end up being more insulting than whatever the initial jerky thing you said was.
Essentially what you’re saying is, “The insulting thing I just said to you is NOT insulting because I still want to have sex with you. I still hold a low opinion of you, still feel the way I claimed to feel by insulting you, but I would also put my penis in your vagina, and so you’re not allowed to feel the way I caused you to feel.”
If I need to explain why that is an awful message to send to another human being, then you are lost, my friend.
“But,” you say, “I didn’t mean the first thing I said as an insult! IT WAS A JOKE.”
There are jokes and there are “jokes.” And the thing that separates jokes from “jokes” is that “jokes” aren’t jokes, no matter what your intention.
I have in no way experienced the volume of awful things slung my way that Jen or many (or, I honestly have to assume, all) of my female colleagues have, but I’ll get maybe three or four mean things said to me on the Internet a week. Which, now that I just wrote it down, sounds like that one day of World War I where they didn’t fight, they just played soccer in No Man’s Land because it was Christmas. But it happens to me occasionally.
Sometimes I’ll write back to the person, just to be like, “Whoa man, why was that so awful, that thing you just said to me!”
And the answer I receive almost always is “IT WAS A JOKE!”
I’m a professional comedian. I probably don’t think everything you think is funny is funny, just as you probably don’t think everything I think is funny is funny. But I feel qualified to distinguish a joke (even one I don’t think is funny) from an insult that the insulter wants to spin as a joke now because, wow, guess what, the insultee was insulted.
Saying something purely hurtful and then saying “It was a joke!” afterwards does not magically undo the hurt, or magically convert the thing you said into a joke the recipient should “just learn to take.”
Nor is “you’re a comedian, you should learn to take a joke” an acceptable response. If you work at fancy cupcake place, and I come in and shoot you and then say, “That’s not a bullet, it’s a cupcake, and you should know that, because you work in a fancy cupcake place,” it does not make you any less dead.
There are jokes and there are “jokes.”
Saying something hurtful to someone whose job it is to make jokes does not make the mean thing you said into a joke.
And while we’re here: saying something someone may find offensive is not automatically a joke.
I know a lot of the shows you think are funny deal in material a lot of people find offensive. From these things, and from other things, you may have constructed an identity as a guy who likes “offensive” humor.
Now: humor can play with subjects that may give some people offense. But “offensive” does not, in and of itself, equal humor. There are well-constructed well-executed things that some people might find offensive, and then there are lazy or truly mean-spirited things that some people might find offensive. Don’t be surprised when someone is offended by either one of them, but definitely don’t be surprised if someone is offended by something that is quite simply a slur.
If “offensive” that is the primary characteristic you think defines your taste, or your Internet persona, let me do you a favor: being offensive for the sake of being offensive will not make you funny. But if funny is something you want to be, you’ll be a lot closer to finding out what actually makes you funny if you abandon the idea of being offensive for offensive’s sake. (I say all this as somebody whose comedy group made a sketch called “Girls Are Not To Be Trusted,” which we felt that, to anyone with a pair of eyeballs, was very clearly satirizing heartbroken nerd rage in student film form (with our laughter aimed squarely at the male nerd in question, not his very reasonable-seeming ex-girlfriend). Over the years, though, I’ve seen instances where this thing is beloved by people who quite clearly agree with the title. I’m not apologizing for it, I can’t control every single person’s reaction to my work beyond making sure that work is honest. But what I can do, and what I maybe haven’t done enough, is to say “Hey, offensive doesn’t equal funny, being mean doesn’t equal funny, being sexist doesn’t equal funny” in more public forums. Because I feel those things very deeply, and they’re true, and too often discussions about what is and isn’t appropriate are reduced to simple “____ IS NEVER FUNNY” and “FREE SPEECH MEANS I CAN UNDERTHINK EVERYTHING AND SIMPLY BE A JERK ALWAYS” binaries.)
To the “offensive” guy:
If you find yourself saying “These people just can’t handle me” a lot, maybe it’s not that we can’t handle you because a great majority humankind is just magically oversensitive. Maybe we can’t handle you because it exhausts us, angers us, disgusts or bores us to handle you.
Take a second to consider that you may not be edgy.
You may just be obnoxious.
And no matter how different being obnoxious in real life and obnoxious on the internet FEEL to you, they are the exact same thing. In the soul of the person you hurt, an actual insult yelled with a human voice and an online insult hurled from the comfort of anonymity echo in exactly the same painful way.
The conversation over what is and isn’t funny, and is and isn’t appropriate, doesn’t have to be a minefield of screaming and accusations and name-calling. It can and should be a dynamic and nuanced and interesting, and god forbid, even fun sometimes. We go a long way to making it a less tense subject to broach (and it’s not going away, nor should it) by not being so quick to shriek “HEY, HOW COULD I BE SEXIST, I HAVE A SISTER AND A GIRLFRIEND I EVEN LET SPEAK” any time the word is even mentioned.
Men have defined the conversation around gender (or whether or not there even SHOULD be a conversation around gender) for so long. Now we owe our fellow human beings a chance to be heard on their terms before we shout “YOU GUYS GOT THE RIGHT TO VOTE AND THEN BURNED SOME BRAS AT ONE POINT, SO STOP IMPLYING THAT SEXISM STILL EVEN EXISTS AT ALL.”
Guys: There is no war on men. And you may disagree with me, but I do happen to think there’s a constant, seething war against women, skirmishes in which take place on magazine covers and Facebook statuses and then boil over into domestic violence and political movements. And I don’t think it’s lead by some central conspiracy of dudes in a boardroom somewhere, though it is certainly aided by dudes in boardrooms quite often. I think it’s led by a virus, by a cloud of old, bad ideas and hateful superstitions we ought to be better than by now, employed daily, thinkingly and unthinkingly, to wound, terrify, and control.
I’d like to give you the benefit of the doubt if you think sexism isn’t around anymore. Maybe you just think it isn’t because it doesn’t seem like it ought to be. It is old, and awful, and we need to uninstall it now before it spreads to the next generation. But we have to acknowledge that it exists, that it thrives all around us, before we can do that.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We have let gender be a battlefield when it ought to be a playground. The way we are made is glorious, the ways we make ourselves, every bit as glorious. SHUT UP and SIT DOWN: that’s caveman shit. STAND UP and SPEAK OUT: that’s the way forward.
And we take the first step into a fun and a funnier future when we stop telling women to shut up. And when we stop allowing other people to tell women to shut up.
Oh, and one more thing: if you think that “discrimination against men,” social, cultural, or institutionalized, is a problem on par with discrimination against women, you need to A) shut the fuck up and D) all of the above.
Don’t like the way I just talked to you?
Then don’t be so sensitive.
DC Pierson is a writer, actor and comedian. His comedy group Derrick made the film Mystery Team. He's also written a novel, The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To. You can follow him on Twitter.
Republished with permission.