Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Confessions of a Humorless Feminist

It's telling that when I googled "learn to take a joke" and searched specifically for images, that the first three results were a variation of the following.

Feminists can't take a joke! We're too uptight! We need to calm down! We're overreacting!

I try really hard not to be a feminist stereotype. I'm very adamant in my beliefs, but I try my damnedest to be patient and to teach Feminism 101 to anyone who asks questions or politely disagrees with me out of innocent ignorance. 

But I can't compromise my values just to be agreeable. 

Sometimes, this means I'm a humorless feminist.

Frankly, I don't give a damn.

Several weeks ago, Beau's brother and sister-in-law did their own version of a Thanksgiving with friends. It was nice because the group invited was a mix of people I'd met before and new people. It's important for me to get to know Beau's friend circle since I'll be living in his small town eventually, away from all of my friends in the city. 

Dinner was a lot of fun, and conversation flowed as freely as the alcohol. The smoked turkey was HEAVENLY. As we wrapped up dinner, we started discussing games we could play. One couple had brought Cards Against Humanity with them, and they were really persuasive in playing that. I did my best to rally two other people to play euchre with Beau and me, to no avail.

I have never played Cards Against Humanity, but Lauren and Hardy have both told me not to play it.
With a group of people I barely know, I couldn't just confront them about their horrible choice in board games. So I did the next best thing and quietly went upstairs to watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with Beau while they laughed about marginalized peoples: racial minorities, rape survivors, victims of public shootings, etc.

We came back downstairs after one episode to eat dessert. I had hoped that the game was over, but alas. Just listening to one round while I ate my apple pie almost made me start crying. I was literally blinking back tears as they read off cards about gang rape and child molestation. 

I blogged once about joking about difficult subjects. When done well, rape jokes can be both hilarious and healing.

The rape jokes, and the racist jokes, and the tragedy jokes in Cards Against Humanity are not done well, and they do not offer any healing.

I hope to maybe one day be good enough friends with these people that I can explain to them why I'm so disappointed (and aghast, and shocked, and disturbed by) their choice in a board game. I hope that I can figure out a way to explain this to them in such a way that they don't automatically dismiss me as hysterical or overreacting. 

Until then, I will be the humorless feminist who refuses to use my position of privilege to mock those without it.


  1. As a feminist who often plays this game with survivors of assault, I'm interested in the argument against finding humor in it. I've encountered the idea that certain things should not be made light of except in instructional ways, but I don't apprehend the reasoning. I personally suspect that the shared understanding that the games phrases are meant to offend, creates a context wherein it is clearly understood that those phrases are not socially acceptable and should not be.

    1. You actually bring up a good point that I considered when writing this, but I didn't want to delve into hypotheticals. I did wonder if playing this game intentionally with trauma survivors (not just of sexual assault, but of cancer or whatever, since that's mocked too! which I can't mock with my twin brother in remission from brain cancer) could be a way to find healing in humor, but it's nothing I've experienced or known anyone to experience personally. In the post I linked, I wrote about rape jokes and how finding humor in a scary situation for me helped me feel better about it. I think in the right setting, yes, humor can be a way to heal.

      The right setting is not a group of upper-middle class white 20-somethings who are the poster children for privilege. I don't know any of them well enough to know if any of them have personally suffered from any traumatic situation, but I do know my boyfriend. I do know that I have opened his eyes to male straight privilege considering the number of times he has to watch me cry talking about sexual assault and bisexuality. Before me, he would have understood the game isn't PC, but I don't think he necessarily would have understood how incredibly hurtful and offensive some of those cards are simply because he wouldn't have personally known anyone who has dealt with those situations for real. And on a surface level, I suspect his friends don't really grasp that those cards aren't socially acceptable. They might know not to joke about it at work or in front of their grandparents, but I don't see them necessarily getting that it's never acceptable.

    2. So by your reckoning no one should ever make jokes about a situation if they're coming from a place of 'privilege'? (Which is such an arbitrary term in and of itself. You were assuming privilege based purely on how this group looked to you, as you yourself admitted you had only just met them.) You have no idea of the scope of understanding of each of those individuals and to assume you do is, yes, judgmental.

      I have played the British version of this game and I found there is an even balance of offensive jokes (yes, there are still racist jokes), jokes made about inanimate objects and various public figures such as politicians and pop stars. In fact, I don't recall a single card where a rape victim, victim of child molestation or cancer survivor was the butt of the joke. But maybe it's because it's the British version and things had to be toned down.

      I also clicked through to those examples of 'safe' rape jokes, and I personally didn't think weren't funny. I understood where the author of the article was coming from but I fear that the analysis of those particular jokes would go over the head of most people (the fact that the rapist was being made fun of as opposed to the victim). To most watching those videos without reading the comments in the article, it just comes across as 'rape can be funny', which in no way, shape or form furthers rape awareness. It trivialises rape, which is always a bad thing. The last comedian even jokes about being raped and then saying she would falsify facts of that rape to make it seem worse! When women are already blamed and told they're making things up when they say they've been raped, joking about falsifying rape details to get the man into more trouble is downright poor form.

    3. I'm trying really REALLY hard not to snark in my reply to you, because at least you seem to think rape jokes aren't funny, even if you clearly missed some details in the original post.

      If you are white, you should not make jokes where the butt of the joke is a person of color.

      If you are straight, you should not make jokes where an LGBTQ+ person is mocked.

      If you are middle-class, or wealthy, you shouldn't make fun of poor people.

      In my original post, I mentioned that the group was a mix of people I knew and people I met for the first time. I had just met SOME of them, not all of them. I've known my boyfriend's brother and SIL for two years now, quite well. Another couple I had hung out with several times. If only the six of us had been hanging out, I would have spoken up about why I thought the game was horrible. But since I was meeting the other three couples for the first time that night, I held my tongue, and just quietly refused to play.

      Furthermore, I mentioned that I hope to count all these people as my friends some day, and not just the friends of my boyfriend and his brother. Contrary to popular belief, people don't have to be perfect to be my friends. But the more I respect you, the more I expect from you. So I'm frankly shocked that my boyfriend's brother played this game because aside from some problematic vocabulary choices, he has yet to utter anything prejudiced in front of me (unless he's making a sexist joke with a huge grin on his face, intentionally baiting me). Thinking that a bunch of white, upper-middle class, heteronormative people are wrong for laughing about rape, racism, homophobia, etc. is far from judgmental.

      I know they're white by looking at them. I know they're upper-middle class from where they all work. I know they're heteronormative--even if one of them is a closeted bi like myself--because they showed up in male-female pairs. Privilege, privilege, and privilege, which are not that difficult to deduce.

      I honestly don't understand how you can think I'm judgmental for not wanting to play Cards Against Humanity in its worst form, and then turn around and say that you've only played a milder version AND you never think rape jokes are funny. Your first paragraph does not resonate with your two other paragraphs at ALL.

      It's not my place to tell an oppressed or marginalized group how to deal with their problems. My friends and I made a stupid joke that made me feel better about living with a sexual predator in my apartment building. I make jokes about modesty culture and purity culture and the prude/slut dichotomy, but women are never the butt of any of my jokes. I don't think most people are that stupid or naive to understand why a well-done rape joke is funny, and then think that all rape jokes are funny. If you get the humor in a joke that makes fun of rapists or rape culture, then you are aware enough to understand the actual problem with rape in our society.

      If I understand the last joke correctly, the whole point is that rape has to be really really bad for anyone to care. That "normal" rape isn't good enough to garner sympathy or even an arrest.

    4. I do appreciate you containing the snark. And I do apologise if I came across that way. As you have swiftly deduced, I have very mixed (and opposing) feelings on this.

      I want to point out that I didn't say I felt you were being judgmental for not wanting to play the game, (of course you are justified in that!) I felt you were being judgmental for assuming privilege based on face value of the people you had just met. You may be able to assume, and quite often be right, but to be able to say 'he's white, middle-upper class because of where he works and straight because he came with a girlfriend' seems very box-ticking to me, and makes me very uncomfortable. I don't feel a persons life experiences can be judged at face value and without knowing their history (maybe these people are the children of immigrants who lived below the poverty line and faced daily taunts and oppression because of their heritage?) Yes, racism is wrong in every context. Or is it worse to be the victim of racism based on the level of oppression throughout history of the minority group you identify with? (Sorry if that sounded snarky, it's really not meant to.)

      To be honest, I'm really confused by my feelings right now. On the one hand, as mentioned, I don't really ever think rape jokes are funny. Not in any way, shape or form because, having been the victim of rape, I remember those dark thoughts and feelings from the days, months and years afterwards and there is no place for humor there. Not for me, and not ever. But on the flip side, I feel really uncomfortable with always being the serious one who has to turn every joke into some sort of moral battleground. Mostly, I just can't be bothered. That probably makes me a bad person. (It's probably why I did (and still largely do) blame myself for my own rape, because I just didn't want to make a fuss and I could have done more to not be raped.) I'm not stupid or naive, but regardless of how well you might think the joke is done, to me, it's still never funny.

      I think I'm a good person. I'm open minded, I don't pay any attention to the colour of a persons skin, if they may be wealthy or poor or if they have an 'obvious' sexual orientation because to me, none of that matters. We're all just people, making the best of whatever hand we're dealt in life (though I agree, sometimes that hand is undeniably easier than others). I treat others the way I would like to be treated, end of. Isn't that enough?

      All of this has quite obviously gone nowhere and I'm not any closer to sorting out my feelings. I think I'm also feeling annoyed with myself for playing the game and finding it (mostly) funny, and I'm trying to figure out if that makes me a horrible person or not!

  2. The game features a 'fill in the blank' format, so it is up to the players how they use their cards, and the cards themselves can be interpreted differently by each person. As for rape jokes, there was a card originally which was 'date rape', but that was removed. When confronted by a lot of fans angry that a subject would be considered 'off limits', one of the creators responded with this:
    "Obviously the core of Cards Against Humanity is finding shocking or offensive things (historical or contemporary) and trying to identify a funny or absurd angle to make fun of. The goal of our game is to make people laugh, so we have be sensitive to the line between delighting people and upsetting them. If a joke is too upsetting to too many people, it gets cut.
    Rape jokes almost always tip the scale to "upsetting people" instead of "delighting them." If I had to guess why, I would say that it's because about a quarter of all women have been sexually assaulted. Additionally, while nearly everyone recognizes that The Trail of Tears and Auschwitz were wrong, not everyone agrees that rape is wrong.
    We're not here to tell you what kind of jokes you can or can't make. But Cards Against Humanity is our game, and rape is something we don't want to joke about"

    Some people find humour in framing experiences in a different way, some do not, but I don't think it is fair of you to be so judgmental. Lots of people have experienced tragedies, and it does not make them a bad person if they find a coping mechanism within that.

    1. SIGH

      I will give you the benefit of the doubt here, something you hardly bothered to give me. That's because I'm a good person. I don't know if you're a bad person or just a lazy person or just a judgmental person who likes to call other people judgmental. That's why I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt on your first comment.

      1) I address the whole coping mechanism situation in my reply to the comment above you, which was posted a good three hours before you commented. I suggest reading it for further explanation.

      2) It's really NOT "judgmental" to refuse to play a board game on principle. It means I have principles. It's also not "judgmental" to think that a group of upper-middle class, white, straight, cisgender men and women are either woefully ignorant of their privilege (seriously, I really hope this is just ignorance) in relation to marginalized groups or are assholes who find humor in the misfortune of others.

      The set they were playing with included rape jokes, since in the short amount of time my boyfriend and I were downstairs eating dessert, I heard two of them in a single round. It's great that the game creators decided to remove some of those cards, but clearly this version still thought that child molestation and gang rape were funny.

      As far as "finding humour in framing experiences in different ways," yeah, jokes about oppressed groups which subvert the oppression can be hilarious. But cards that say "roofies" and "the hardworking Mexican" and "raping and pillaging" and "whipping a disobedient slave" and "child abuse" aren't subversive, and they aren't funny.

      Finally, I suggest reading the blog post that I linked within this one on making rape jokes. I didn't feel like reinventing the wheel in this post to re-explain the how and when of appropriate jokes about tragedies.

    2. I've played the game with many people, of varying religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation, and had a good time each time. As for the format of the game, as mentioned, its a 'fill in the blank' game which, yes, it could lead to moments that might make people uncomfortable, but it doesn't have to be played that way. You can even remove any cards you are uncomfortable with. A lot of the times I have played with friends the jokes which are made are of our culture, of the privilege that surrounds us (like 'what's that sound?', my father-in-law played 'the glass ceiling', or there are other jokes like 'gay marriage' is a slippery slope that leads to 'interspecies marriage' - none of us playing the game truly believe that, yet there are people that do, even supposedly intelligent polticians).
      The reason I said judgmental is because you have never played the game yourself, and are basing your opinions on that of second hand knowledge, which is most likely to be the extreme of things as there are some people that like to post the card combos that elicit extreme responses or present shock value. There are lots of things in life that you can look badly upon if you highlight the negative aspects- take the bible for example; there are passages that condemn things in life that are considered normal now, and parts which convey that people are not all equal, but it also has good messages and codes which people can live by too.

      Ultimately it is of course up to you if you ever do want to play the game yourself, but don't automatically assume that everyone plays the game just to laugh at obvious put-downs of minorities based solely on privilege.

  3. oh, dear, I've never heard about that game but it sounds horrible. and it also sounds like it could be a trigger for many people!


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Comments are moderated because I receive a lot of spam, and I think CAPTCHA is annoying. I reply to most of your comments within the comment section because it inspires discussion between readers. For first-time commenters, I try to reply by email.

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