Into the Non-Existent Kitchen: Funny vs. Harmful

Have you ever been at the receiving end of any type of joke that is specifically aimed at your gender identity? Perhaps you didn't find them to be particularly offensive, rather considering it as just a joke, but to understand the means in which they rely is to know that, although not offensive to you, they reinforce stereotypes and lead to prejudice and discrimination, in this case, sexism.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself reading this article that speaks about jokes that are aimed to a specific social group and that are considered offensive. The author argues that sexist, homophobic, racist, transphobic, classist, and ableist jokes rely on harmful cultural narratives about privileged and marginalized groups. In more simple terms, they rely on stereotypes and by doing so, they enforce such stereotypes and stigmatize these groups; it’s not just simply “offensive”; it is stigmatization and marginalization that furthers these stereotypes and leads to prejudice.

Feminist Frequency, a youtube channel that explores mass media and gender issues, turns the light on sexism. Retro-sexism, the author points out, is exploited by companies and marketing campaigns that try to sell us, the audience, their product through an ironic ad that relies on cynicism and humor: “They know that I know that they know that they are being sexist” and since we all know about it, it’s alright, because it’s humor; it’s ironic and it’s stupid to feel offended by the sexist remarks and imagery that is solely intended to be humoristic so they can sell us their product.

Well, marketing campaigns, scratch that last part. It is offensive to the degree that it stereotypes and produces prejudice. Mass media shapes culture and society, and because of this the growing trend of making fun of a specific group for any purpose has surely made its way into the World Wide Web. Do the comments “go back to the kitchen and make me a sandwich” or “that’s a funny looking kitchen” ring a bell?

I am one of those regular internet users of the female population that dares to venture into lightly (if not at all) monitored boards and pages; if you are like me, you have probably encountered a very wide variety of remarks that pertain to the “place of a woman” in sites such as 4chan, 9gag, and even Youtube now.

If the previous phrases that I mentioned sound familiar, then you’ve been victim of a quite rude and sexist joke, but it’s okay! Because it’s supposed to be funny and not sexist at all; it is just enforcing traditional gender roles in a mannerism that mocks woman when they try to speak their mind and partake in conversations or debates with the opposite sex, and let us not forget those of the female population that also like to partake in such funny and not-offensive-at-all jokes.

These sort of jokes, although they might not harm us in a subjective manner (hurt our feelings or offend us), aid in reinforcing stereotypes and marginalizing a specific group (women, in this case), which later leads to prejudice and discrimination. We might not find them offensive, per se, but the meaning behind the “joke” is something to seriously consider due to the reinforcement it has on traditional gender roles and stereotypes, and the harm it does to women who are trying to stray away from them and make their voices be heard in a male-dominated society.

Harmful or funny? Whichever is the intent behind these jokes, considering the possible implications that they carry is important in order to produce social change. Reinforcing stereotypes leads us to a retrograde society and prevents growth for the groups that are affected by such comments, not only women, but overall gender identities, races, sexual identities, cultures, and ethnicities, are shapes or forms in the matrix of domination.

Now, back to the kitchen, aye?

Latest articles