Satire is not an excuse for sexual exploitation

By Emma Claire Sohn

Why doesn’t your wife need a fur coat? Give up? Because it doesn’t snow between the bedroom and the kitchen! (Eruptive laughter ensues succeeded by a progression of especially masculine slaps on the back).

Ok, even I laughed at that one the first time I heard it from a well-intentioned close friend teasing my brazen, take-no-prisoners feminist self.

But a “spoof” article in the University of Western Ontario’s student newspaper wasn’t as well-received. The Gazette’s satirical article titled, “Labia Majora Carnage” described a fictional campus protest called “Taking Back the Nightie” in which the university’s feminist organization gathered in the streets to protest the “wearing of uncomfortable, soul crushing lingerie for their boyfriends, lesbian lovers and partners whose gender aren’t identifiable.”

The column details the march, reducing the feminist protestors to grotesque caricatures and employing language which this publication has chosen against printing. As the account of the make-believe protest progresses, it cites an exchange between law enforcement and a protesting student (called “Ostrich”) claiming, “… Police Chief Murray Faulkner stopped greasing his night stick and intervened. He grabbed the loudspeaker from Ostrich’s wild vagina and took it into a dark alley to teach it a lesson. To Ostrich’s dismay, the vagina followed, giggling as it said, ‘I love it when a man in uniform takes control.'”

This article crosses the line drawn by society’s usual standards of humor, going beyond institutionalizing the ridicule of sexual objectification to suggest that women actually enjoy being raped. It banks on human tragedy while further encouraging violence through the propagation of detrimental stereotypes about women.

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    But the publication of this column is not an isolated mistake by some student editor sleeping on the job at Western Ontario University Gazette. The media say the darndest things for a simple reason: Pushing the boundary from the verge of social acceptability to the obscene captivates the audience and sells papers at a shock value far surpassing my friend’s innocent joke.

    In doing so, the media establishes a new standard for what is acceptable in our everyday discourse, creating a symbiotic relationship between the press and its audience.

    Our lives are permeated by seemingly innocent humor about women. We joke about the disposable, objectified housewife or the tyrannical and inhumane feminist. And while these comments are not malicious in intent, they are reinforcing stereotypes and standards that lead to domestic violence, eating disorders, sexual exploitation and rape.

    While there is no question in my mind that The Gazette should not have published this column, the paper’s lax editing ethos is only partially to blame. The institutionalized exploitation of female sexuality is merely an extension of society’s everyday discourse, which is established based on what is permissible in the media.

    The key to any learned behavior is repetition. While one innocent joke, politically incorrect comment, or bigoted media blunder is not going to single-handedly inspire negative action against women, the positive feedback it receives inspires habitual behavior. If an individual is told something enough, they begin to believe it. In this manner, men begin to believe that they can be more aggressive with women, while women are convinced that they hold a more submissive role in society.

    If the humor is cut off at the micro level of jokes told in passing it removes any reason for the media, be they a nationally known radio personality or a college newspaper, to stoop to using shock value in propagating offensive humor in mass quantities. This results in amplified understanding of acceptable discourse across a broader public audience.

    Even feminists have a sense of humor. But media exploitations of female sexuality are merely extensions of day-to-day rhetoric in a self-perpetuating linguistic cycle. Eliminating misogynist misspeak at its source will aid in a gender blind battle against sexual violence.