OK to be a Feminist Killjoy

Why don’t feminists have a sense of humour? Looking at the covers of women’s magazines you would think our life is one endless spa-break of pampering, celebrating life and self love. Why are we not floating around with euphoria plastered all over our faces 24/7? Why we so difficult?

Exhibit 1: Woman gets ready to place an order for her regular Sunday breakfast bowl at her local. She has a small table to herself. She opens newspaper once the order is placed. The waitress returns. “Excuse me, madame, but would you mind terribly moving to the communal table because the monsieur who just arrived would prefer to have this table? Would this be OK?” Woman is so surprised that she’s incapable of being irritated. She mumbles “sure, I suppose the monsieurs of this world are more important”, gathers her stuff and moves to sit around the communal table. The waitress smiles and sighs awkwardly. Soon she returns: “The monsieur would like to pay for your coffee for your trouble.” -Absolutely non, woman replies, spoons off her granola and leaves avoiding eye contact with the elderly monsieur who in the meanwhile has gotten rather comfortable at her table. 

Was the woman supposed to be mainly pissed off at herself for having moved table, at the man for having had the audacity to ask her to be shooed off her table, or at the waitress who did not simply direct the man to the communal table?

Oh well, the Central Europeans with their stuffy old ways, you think. Well, let’s move up North and to exhibit 2: Women sit in a bar. A guy sits down at their table (uninvited) and makes himself comfortable. He comments the two women: “I like your specs, they are very cool,” then says to one “but why do you wear such huge glasses? You are hiding a perfectly beautiful face behind them. I can barely see your pretty face from the big specs.” 

Were the women supposed to be flattered and/or amused? 

Exhibit 3: Woman uploads a new profile photo on her professional twitter account in which she finds herself to look rather fierce. Male colleague (who has not been requested to present his assessment): “Yeah, but you don’t smile. I mean you would look friendlier and kind of prettier if you did smile”. 

Should woman be amused?

Dear reader, trust me I’m hearing the choir right now! “Lighten up!” it sings. “Have a SENSE OF HUMOUR!!” Must everything in life be so bloody serious? “You call the above sexism? You don’t know of sexism.” Frankly speaking, sometimes I’m not sure myself. That’s why I love how Caitlin Moran put it in How To Be a Woman“Very often, a woman can have left a party, caught the bus home, washed her face, got into bed, read 20 minutes of The Female Eunuch and put the light out  before she puts the light back on again, sits bolt upright and shouts, ”Hang on – I’VE JUST HAD SOME SEXISM AT ME! THAT WAS SOME SEXISM! WHEN THAT MAN CALLED ME “SUGAR TITS”  – THAT WAS SEXISM, AND NOT AN HONEST MISPRONUNCIATION OF THE NAME “ANDREA”!” 

Things is, very few people want to be killjoy party-poopers who have no sense of humour: We are expected to be good guys, especially at work, but preferably also socially. Good guys shrug off this kind of stuff because they are cool and not bloody uptight. Plus also, we should be flattered by the nice comments that rain on us.

The bigger problem is that the specifics for what being a good guy entails and what is meant by humourare rarely set by women. Feminists cannot be good guys if that means accepting degrading or sexist language in the name of humour, I’m afraid there’s no way round this. 

Instead of discussing whether #metoo has gone too far or whether we’ve reached a point where men cannot say anything anymore without being labelled sexist misogynist pigs, how about we woke up from the “must not appear difficult” -haze and smelled the flowers: It’s OK not  to collapse laughing at shit jokes.

It’s OK to appear difficult and uptight. If we are afraid to be that, exactly how were we thinking of changing the structure that considers sexist behaviour and humour to be perfectly fine?

I love Caitlin Moran’s feminist classic How To Be a Woman because it is funny. Different from academic feminist literature, it is one of the first 21st Century attempts at popularising feminism in literature. The book came out in 2011 – in the aftermath of the garish SATC movies and in the beginning of the Girls –fame. During the book’s PR-tour Moran was calling for popular culture to own feminism – having only Bridget Jones and Sex and the City represent modern women was a world she did not want to live in. Have a look: the book has aged well despite the world having moved on since – yet, sadly, you’ll see how little progress has been made with mainstreaming feminism.

Penguin has come out with a snazzy collection of mini-reads of their short classics, and I got interested mainly because they are a) pretty and b) short. For a more traditional feminist manifesto, read Betty Friedan’s The Problem That Has No Name, first published in the 60s about the American Stepford Wives -syndrome that was one of the catalysts for the women’s movement. 

The picture below is taken from Terry Newman’s book ​Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore and features Maya Angelou with Gloria Steinem on their way to the March on Washington in 1983. The book also features Simone de Beauvoir, Donna Tartt, Joyce Carol Oates, Oscar Wilde, Joan Didion, Zadie Smith, Virginia Woolf, Patti Smith, Truman Capote, Nancy Mitford, James Joyce, the Fitzgeralds, Sylvia Plath and many others. 

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