Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sexist Irony, Retro Sexism, and Poe's Law

Sexist Irony, Retro Sexism, and Poe's Law

So lately I've been getting increasingly irritated with sexist jokes. Part of the reason that I've been becoming so annoyed is simply the vast quantity of these jokes that I come across. The rest of my frustration comes from a surprising part of myself that turns out to be rather feminist. I've never really thought of myself in such terms but given the conversations I've had with people lately I should probably accept it. And you know what? I think I will. Sexist Irony, also known as Retro Sexism, is still sexism - And I'll gladly be one of the kill-joys that spells it all out.

I see and hear sexist jokes all the time. I hear them from people I despise and from close friends. The sexist joke has become somewhat like a 'knock knock' joke - Normalised, predictable, and tired. The only difference is that a knock-knock joke doesn't risk undoing decades of work trying to establish a more egalitarian world for women. Yeah yeah, I can hear you now - 'Listen to Andrew getting all melodramatic - they're just jokes'. Well yeah, they're jokes for us, the post-feminism generation. We can appreciate the irony of telling a woman to 'get back in the kitchen, or saying 'make me a sammich' because we understand the context that makes the joke funny - the stereotype of the 50's housewife. But what about the people who don't understand the context of the joke yet find it funny anyways - why are they laughing? On the internet it's especially hard to distinguish between 'edgy jokers' and 'sexist jerks'; the digital medium with its lack of expressive capabilities (tone of voice, facial expressions, etc) means that sexist jokes are bound to be misinterpreted.

Imagine you had a friend who liked to make racist jokes. Oh yeah, he's edgy, brave, non-conformist - But how many racist jokes does he have to tell before you suspect that he may actually be racist?
All this is reminiscent of Poe's Law, which essentially states that: 'a parody of something extreme by nature (sexism) becomes impossible to distinguish from sincere extremism'. I think that the current trend in 'parodying' sexism is becoming increasing difficult to distinguish from actual sexism. 

A new term for this trend is 'Retro Sexism'. Retro Sexism is defined here as being: 'Modern attitudes and behaviours that mimic or glorify sexist aspects of the past, often in an ironic way.' There is also a really interesting youtube video on Retro Sexism here ^^^ (you only really need to watch the first minute or so to get the gist of it). An example of 'Retro Sexism' might be your average 'women in the kitchen' joke. Even though I don't find them particularly funny provided that everyone understands that the joke is made ironically then theoretically there is no harm done.

BUT, when I see things like this. . .

I think otherwise. So maybe you wonder 'what is the difference between a 'women in the kitchen / make me a sammich' joke and the above image?'? The difference is that 'Christina' in the image above has completely missed the irony - she's treating the JOKE as REALITY! Worse more is that she is endorsing the sexist message!

The underlying message that Christina seems to be trying to convey is that girls should  either A) have a boyfriend that they make sandwiches for, or B) not have a boyfriend at all. Fuck that. If I were a girl I wouldn't want some asshole boyfriend with an attitude of entitlement that asks for (and expects) sandwiches simply because he thinks he 'deserves it'. Women are (and should know that they are) 'special enough' to deny making their boyfriend a sandwich without being seen as 'bad girlfriends' or anything else. And we ('we' referring to anyone who has ever made a sexist joke - myself included) need to stop normalising this type of culture before we actually revert to a pre-feminist era. Notice that the picture comes from a website called - This shit is funny? THIS has gone VIRAL?! It makes me want to stab myself in the eye with a fork. Personally I'd like to find girl with the independence and self-esteem to defend herself from over-dominance or oppressive attitudes. Nothing is more of a turn-off than a doormat.

Anyways, the point is that what began as jokes are now regrettably becoming a part of our culture - It's Poe's Law in action. 'Women in the kitchen' style jokes are sexist, cliché, and becoming less and less funny by the second - Please stop telling them. Also, this:



  1. Nemesis tells me that women love being treated badly. He tells you to be a man, and that gender roles exist for a reason: it is evolutionarily fit.

    If women do not belong in the home and they exist in offices etc, how will the next generation be procreated? We do not have incubators just yet.

    1. 'Women love being treated badly'. . . . Excuse me?

      'Be a man'. . . . you mean biologically? Well yes, of course. I am a man in this sense and can't help 'being' it (short of sex-change, etc). But I suspect you mean something more than that. I suspect you mean that I should aim to fulfill the stereotypical gender role of a male. The role that has been arbitrarily defined and normalized over thousands of through men assuming positions of dominance.

      'If women do not belong in the home and they exist in offices' - The point is that women neither exist in the home nor in the office. The 'gender role' is a myth. Allowing freedom from gender roles does not, contrary to your belief, lead to a lack of procreation. And even if it did wouldn't that be a good thing? We are currently living in a world that is becoming increasingly overpopulated and are quickly diminishing the earth's resources. Procreation is not, and should not be, a number one priority. It's not, to use your words, 'evolutionarily fit'. I see no reason why a world in which women (and men) are treated well should have any affect on birth-rates. And if it did, so what? Are you assuming that life is intrinsically valuable and that our goal as human beings (our telos, our ergon)is to reproduce? How depressingly shallow. It's a sort of 'quantity over quality' type of argument I find far from persuasive.

      Let's play devils advocate for a second: If it were deemed 'evolutionarily fit' (by a panel of experts) to strictly adhere to stereotypical gender roles would that mean that we would be obliged to condemn women to lives of child-rearing and men to lives of work? - I think the answer is 'no'. There is no reason why what is 'evolutionarily fit' is desirable. For a start evolution is a slow process that lags behind our cultural changes. For example, we currently desire fatty , sugary, and greasy food because it is engrained in use from a time in which such foods were hard to come by. It is not longer 'evolutionarily fit' to eat those foods. In the same way the most I'm willing to concede is that *maybe* once it was 'evolutionarily fit' to obey strict gender roles. . . however this time has passed in the same way that we do not need to eat masses of fatty food.

    2. You are wrong on several points:

      1. "Are you assuming that life is intrinsically valuable" - Nemesis believes this, and views to the contrary lead to war and other forms of institutionalised slaughter. If you don't believe in the value of life, then by extension, how can you value your own life, and how can Nemesis value your life, either? Why doesn't Nemesis cut you down while you sleep? Surely you would not have any problem with that? What's wrong with wanting to exist, and wanting your people to exist into the future? You tell me. If we do not procreate as a reaction to the environmental crisis, then everything you believe in, dies with you, because there is no culture to sustain your values.

      2. The meaning of life is survival and reproduction. This is the ONLY meaning which can be drawn from our existence - all others are subjective. Who cares if it is shallow?

      3. Women have to bear children - because there are no incubators, it is a biological necessity for our continued procreation. Women have a strong inclination to nurture children across all cultures - it is again a biological imperative. Thus, women will end up spending some part of their lives raising children - if not the mothers themselves, it will be the women who dominate the childcare industry currently in Australia.

      Finally your last paragraph is wrong:

      1. There is an evolutionary desire to eat fatty foods, NOT to eat MASSES of fatty foods. There is a slight difference here, and if recognised, your analogy from this to gender roles falls over.

      1a) Also, even if we accept that the first leg of your analogy is correct, in that there is a lag between evolutionary fit qualities and current environmental conditions, you still have to recognise that to reject gender roles will have a dysgenic effect as it leads to lower birthrates. There can be no more powerful refutation than since the 1970s and feminism birthrates in the West have been declining below replacement and continue to fall. This will surely lead to the overturn of the West.

      - Nemesis