Ironic sexism? Hahaha you’re killing me

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

Why do women wear make-up and perfume? Because they’re ugly and they smell. Hahaha hahaha. Hahahahaha oh God hahahaha my sides. Best joke ever. Wait – why aren’t you laughing? That one’s a classic! I thought it would have you rolling in the aisles! Today we’re going to talk about ironic sexism and comedy. Strap the fuck in.

You know those jokes you make to indicate just how much you ‘get’ that sexism is bad? When I say ‘you’ I may well mean you specifically: so many people tell me these jokes that it is starting to feel like I’m sitting at the back of a shit open-mic night filled with cut-price Jimmy Carrs.

Got to have examples, of course, because although I suspect many women might get what I’m talking about, those who make the jokes clearly have a bubble of protection sitting around them which prevents the point from truly penetrating into their brain because… they still do it! All. The. Fucking. Time.

They understand full well that these jokes are tedious and offensive when told by sexists, but reason that ‘hey, I’m not a sexist! So me telling that same joke ironically isn’t offensive or tedious at all!’

Maybe it’s not as offensive, my dude, but tedium is a whole other matter.

Ironic sexism: examples

These are all real examples from my actual life – paraphrased either from blog comments, emails, Twitter or conversations with actual men I know and love in the real world. I tell you this because including ‘men I know and love in the real world’ should hopefully help you understand that ironic sexism isn’t purely the work of Annoying Men On The Internet – it is the work of many good friends too. So – as with my post about things men explained to me – I’ll explain up front that saying this stuff doesn’t make you a bad person. However being a good person deep down doesn’t mean you’re A-OK to do it.

Another quick note: yes, these examples are all from men. Women use ironic sexism too, and it is still not very funny, but it is at least a tad less annoying. We’ll come onto why that is later, meanwhile please don’t burst a blood vessel and nip down to the comments to tell me I’m sexist before you have read the whole post. Here are some examples of side-splitting ironic sexism.

Me: pint please.

Him: ooh, one of the boys today, are you?

HAHAHA oh yeah I’m totally one of the boys! When I’ve drunk my pint I’ll get a 20% pay rise and then walk home without someone trying to grab my tits on the night bus.

Me: I hate it when men pop up in my inbox nagging me for nude pics.

Him: haha not all men though amirite?

HAHAHA no not all men oh God you have reminded me that this is a thing some men say ALL THE TIME and although it wasn’t funny when sexists said it, hearing it from the lips of a man whose dick I’ve touched brings a smirk to my face and a merry glow of warmth to my otherwise stone-cold heart.

Me: ouch fuck shit bollocks.

Him: what?

Me: I just stubbed my toe on the coffee table.

Him: see? This is why women should stay in the kitchen.

HAHAHA oh we’re going super-old-school now, and I am reminded of those hilarious adverts from the 60s that told men to spank their wives for not making dinner properly. What a joyful trip down memory lane!

Him: I bet guys never turn you down for sex, right? Men are such dogs.

Me: no, you know better than that.

Him: I KNOW, I was just jokingly perpetuating the stereotype.

HAHAHA oh OK now I need a cloth because as soon as you explained that this was a joke I immediately and copiously wet myself.

And if those examples aren’t enough for you, Hannah Moskowitz on Twitter summed up the issue nicely in this tweet thread:

Ironic sexism is funny like a cactus is a sex toy

Notice anything about the jokes above? They would look the same even if the person doing the telling was an actual sexist. That’s the beauty of ironic sexism: it’s all dependent on tone and context. Especially when you’re writing something down, the reader is going to struggle to know whether you mean it sincerely (“women belong in the kitchen!”) or whether you’re being hilariously droll (“sexists think women belong in the kitchen!”). It means that the listener has to either know you as a person (and understand that you’re totally not sexist, OK? You’re actually laughing at casual sexists, not with them!) or they have to take your joke at face value, choose whether to call you out on it, and potentially then be embarrassed when you reply to tell them the truth (“actually I’m not a sexist, thanks very much – I was being ironically sexist. Bet you feel like a proper nobhead now, huh?”).

What larks! Please hold my coffee so I don’t spill it while I double over in chuckling merriment.

Point number one, in case you hadn’t already guessed, is that ironic sexism is – in the vast, vast majority of cases – not funny.

From the examples above, I gather that those trotting it out are trying to use it for one of two things: to make me laugh or to continue a conversation. It doesn’t score any points on the former, and on the latter… what do you want me to say in response to your jocular misogyny? How does ironic sexism continue a conversation? Where do I fucking GO from there, mate?

“HAHAHA what larks and joy! Reminds me of this one time someone was genuinely sexist and it sounded almost exactly like that, made me hugely uncomfortable, and then there was a long and awkward silence while I debated whether to call him a shitstick.”

Either way, no one’s rolling in the aisles here. Rolling our eyes, maybe.

That’s not to say ironic sexism is never ever funny. The reason I headlined this section ‘ironic sexism is funny like a cactus is a sex toy’ is because I personally know of a cactus-shaped sex toy, and according to the fabulous NinjaSexology, that little fucker is actually a very good shag. Read the blog post in the link and see. There is no denying that a phallic-shaped silicone cactus caused a fair amount of pleasure. However this cactus, like the very-occasionally-funny ironic sexism, is the exception that proves the rule. There may well be some cactus-shaped items that give you pleasure, but would you choose to fuck every single cactus just on the off-chance it would hit the mark?

Note, though, that I have not yet said ironic sexism is shit because it’s offensive. Let’s get onto that.

Ironic sexism and offensive jokes

I am very aware, in writing this post, that I open myself up to the charge of – horror of horrors – being offended. I’ve talked before about how offence isn’t usually taken: it is assigned. People who are annoyed that you don’t agree with their shitty views, or laugh at their boring jokes, will sneer sarcastically:

“Oh, have I OFFENDED you? Have I HURT your poor FEELINGS? I’m SO SOOOOO sorry.”

Luckily, though, we don’t even need to deal with that here. Some people might find ironic sexism offensive: I personally don’t. I get that you’re a lefty, feminist dude who is just trying to have a bit of a larf, and I understand that the target of your joke isn’t me, it’s sexist men. The ones whose ideas you’re repeating almost word-for-word in the hope that you’ll raise a chuckle.

I’m not moaning about your offensiveness, or your sexism. I am moaning because you are dull. Feel free to continue to be dull, but don’t expect me to feign a wry smile or a snort of ill-disguised mirth.

The only time ironic sexism will get a positive (ish) response from me is when women do it.

OH MY GOD I AM SUCH A SEXIST.

When women use ironic sexism between each other, it will usually land differently. The jokes may be just as tediously unfunny as they are when men tell them, but they have an extra soupçon of usefulness: they are a means of showing solidarity. It’s that nod to your female coworker during a meeting when you hear a guy start to repeat her idea. A nod which acknowledges ‘that was yours’. It’s the raised eyebrow to a woman on a crowded tube late at night that says ‘you OK?’, and it’s the eye-roll you both share over a pint when some twat tries to barge into your conversation to cop an eyeful of your tits.

Our shared experience doesn’t make these jokes funnier, but it does mean they serve a different purpose. Cameraderie, not comedy. What’s more, usually we know when to fucking STOP IT. A quick remark here to note that we recognise the other’s experience, then we move on. When men do ironic sexism, frequently it is a means to derail the conversation so they can do their well-rehearsed ‘bit’ on just how terrible men are and how ashamed they are of their gender, and here is an oh-so-witty example of the kind of thing that sexist pricks say. I cannot count the number of times a woman making an interesting point about sexism has been derailed by a guy who just HAD to slip in his favourite ‘not all men’ gag.

Are you telling me I can’t use ironic sexism?

No. I am absolutely, 100% not telling you that you can’t ever use ironic sexism. I love comedy, and I think that some of the funniest comedians are those that push boundaries and tell jokes you wouldn’t normally expect. It’s called ‘new material’ and ‘progression’ and I am totally down with that.

But we talk about this a lot, I think, and not always in a helpful way. Usually the comedians moaning that they want to ‘push boundaries’ are actually doing the opposite: they say ‘push boundaries’ and they mean ‘trot out the same old racism, ableism, transphobia and misogyny that audiences have been rolling their eyes at for years.’ They’re not pushing forward, but backward. And most of us have heard those before.

If you’re going to try and be funny you need to accept when something simply doesn’t work. Understand that ironic sexism, far from being uniquely edgy, is actually tedium personified. If you want to be funny you’ve got to know your audience. And right now half of them are asleep or having a chat in the back row because they have heard this joke so many times they could recite it in their sleep.

Regardless of whether it was funny the first time, it’s stale as fuck now, and you need to work harder.

So I’m not telling you not to tell these jokes. I’m not suppressing your free speech, or censoring your A-grade material. By all means tell all the knockoff Jimmy Carr jokes you like. Just don’t be surprised when no one fucking laughs.

17 Comments

  • Bee says:

    You missed out my absolute favourite.

    Him: why aren’t you laughing? Is it that time of the month?
    Me: *face*
    Him: oh come on, you know I’m only teasing.

    *sigh*

  • Journojulz says:

    Apologies for the delay, I know it’s 100 years since women started getting votes and stuff but there is something in our collective male culture that is dragging its heels.

    We have recently cone to grips with challenging casual racism and homophobia, but sexism is proving more stubborn.

    The Weinstein revelations have had a deep resonance with many of us men feeling quite shamed by how we have tolerated these people in the past.

    Casual sexual bullying is something men need to get better at challenging – especially as we have been largely immune from it.

    It’s largely dawning in many of us that if we don’t police each other, it won’t change.

    Unless all are free, no one is free.
    Until all is fair, nothing will be fair.

    Caring about other people’s challenges and problems is something we really need to get better at.

  • Valery North says:

    One of the hardest things to deal with from my side is *how easy it is* to think of these things in a situation.

    The “jokes” and attitudes are so deeply ingrained in society it’s impossible to not know them so that the script/skit (however “ironically” I may wish to engage with it) springs unbidden to mind when certain situations arise. The way my mind works I can instantly label it as “if I were sexist, that’s what I would say. I don’t want to be, so I won’t” but there is a temptation to verbalise externally the internal acknowledgement (which also has to be quashed because no amount of hedging around it disguises the ugliness of the attitude/joke itself, right?)

    The gender (or perceived gender) of the other person definitely plays a part – I don’t feel the temptation to speak when there’s other men present, because I know how I feel when I hear another man make those comments (regardless of if they think it’s “ironic”, it makes me cringe and feel horrible and icky inside) and have internalised the idea that any sexists there will think I agree with them if I do say it.

    Not sure where these musings are taking me, or if they’re useful in working out the thought processes behind “ironic” sexist jokes and thereby hopefully ending same. They are the thoughts that sprang to mind immediately on reading though.

    • kat meow says:

      Glad for your insight.

      Do you think it comes down to a bit of mental laziness as well? I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately, because one of my closest male friends often uses this kind of humour and I get the sense that it must be similar for him to what you’re saying (i.e. how easily it springs to mind). He’s a really funny and intelligent guy, but I think he uses this as a fallback when he can’t be bothered pushing a bit further into thoughts that are more creative or insightful.

  • endymion says:

    COMMENT DELETED

  • SweetTheSting says:

    I didn’t notice the T shirt slogan before. Thanks, Endymion!

  • Skunk says:

    I will tolerate men trotting out “ironic sexism” when actual sexism has died a death. Until then, if you choose to spout the same old tired bullshit as the Old Boys’ Club, albeit re-packaged so you can feel like a Modern Man, expect to be treated as the sexist fuck you are. You’re not edgy, you’re not contributing to the conversation, you’re Schrodinger’s asshole and women are tired of your shit.

  • wayne says:

    I believe you could have done a better jog of defining “ironic sexism”. When women use it its OK because its about camaraderie. When men use it its not OK. It is demeaning? Insulting? Boring? All three? I never understood what a difficult experience women have in today’s culture. We certainly don’t understand them, nor do we make any effort to try. We rarely encourage them to be their best, and we never support them when they try to be that. We have no time for their setbacks, their defeats, or their pain. We ignore their triumphs and dismiss their joy. We’re too busy sharpening our ironic sexism, daydreaming about sex, or jerking off.

    • Girl on the net says:

      I thought it was pretty clear in the article that my answer to that question is ‘because it’s dull.’ Some people will also find it offensive, but personally I am just frustrated because it’s dull – and as mentioned it often derails what could be quite an interesting discussion about sexism because some dude thinks he’s witty and wants to do his own little ‘bit’ of ironic misogyny to try and get people to laugh. But yeah I guess from your descriptions in your comment, it is all three – to varying degrees, depending on the specific incident. Mostly for me the issue is that it’s boring, and people seem to not know – they often expect a tonne of laughter even though what they’re saying has been said a million times before.

  • kat meow says:

    Yes! This is something that has been really starting to bug me. Like you, it’s not that I find it hugely offensive, it’s just boring. The same old lines being trotted out for years. Get some new material already. With one of my friends, it almost seems like he takes my non-response (or periodic mild complaint) as though it’s part of the ironic ritual.

Leave a Reply to Journojulz Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *