Sex + Dating

Even if She Laughs, Your 'Ironic' Sexist Jokes Still Suck

Sexist Joke Still Stuck
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Haha, your buddy just told a joke about women in the kitchen making sandwiches! It’s funny because it's ironic! Get it?

Um, no. For something to be ironic, it has to be obvious to the listener that you don't mean what you're saying -- that, in fact, what you believe to be true is the exact opposite of the words coming out of your mouth. Try as you might to prove in every other way that you aren't, you know, actually sexist, you have one major problem: telling a sexist joke, even ironically, hurts women.

And nothing says "I'm not sexist" quite like hurting a woman just for a laugh.

Now, it stands to reason that if you're reading this, you don't consider yourself sexist and take no joy in the idea of hurting women. But not meaning to be sexist is not the same thing as perpetuating hurtful stereotypes that do nothing to advance this discussion. And that's the tack we need to take here -- not to demonize, but to illuminate a behavior we've more than likely all been guilty of in one way or another, and seek to resolve it.

Ironic sexism = hipster sexism = liberal sexism = SEXISM

Ironic sexism, hipster sexism, and liberal sexism are all the same thing. Pure and simple, these terms refer to sexism that's shielded by air quotes and winks; a ha-ha-sexism-isn't-funny-but-it-is-because-we-get-it's-messed-up brand of joking. The jokes are meant to make us laugh (I guess?), because even though the subject matter is totally offensive, it's OK because we don't really mean it...

We don't mean it because… we're past sexism in this country? Because we're educated? Because sexist notions no longer sexist? Um… no. At its best, it's misguided, shitty humor. And at its worst, it's propping up the same sexist structures so many of us have been railing against for years.

These are crappy jokes even if she laughs too (this is bigger than her)

She might laugh. She might! That giggle could be internalized misogyny, or maybe she heard you wrong, or maybe you just can't really tell when she's faking it as well as you think you can. But even if she truly doesn't mind (and are you sure you can tell?), we know that sexist jokes hurt women in general. How? By how they influence the people who hear them.

A recent story at The Conversation went into great detail about the science of sexist (and racist) jokes and their greater impact. In particular, author Thomas E. Ford points out that men who are exposed to sexist jokes are more tolerant of workplace harassment and that sexist jokes, even when told in an "ironic" way, actually foster discrimination against targeted groups. Yup -- even if you were only joking.

But this isn't all on you, either. While these effects are admittedly more studied in men, women aren't immune to misogynistic messages either. Women police femininity, buy into myths about rape, slut-shame, victim-blame, and trivialize our relationships with other women. We seek male approval rather than seek out ways to fulfill our own needs and desires. And just as bad, we rely on limiting tropes and myths about masculinity that will box you in with us.

These jokes are especially shitty if she doesn't laugh (this is emotional labor)

If she doesn't laugh, you've got serious issues to contend with that go beyond cultural context and consequence.

When she hears you express disdain for her gender, "ironically" or otherwise, she has a few choices. She can fake a laugh and die a little bit inside, seething at you secretly. She can stay silent and pretend it didn't happen and trust you that much less. She can speak up and risk facing even more targeted sexism.

None of her choices is easy. All of them require effort; this effort is emotional labor. It shows up in many other forms throughout women's lives, when we are expected to do the work of socializing men (or socializing for men) and this case isn't any different. Whether it's your own sense of humor that needs a makeover, or your buddy Jim's because he's just like that, or your uncle Jerry's because he's family -- what can you do, right? Prioritizing an ironic chuckle over her safety foists the burden of convincing you not to make men hate women onto her shoulders.

Stick around, maybe you'll learn something

The best thing you can do for her and your relationship is to do the work yourself. Read some science about how sexism -- even the casual, ironic kind -- directly impacts the women in your life. Talk to them, if they're up to it, about how sexist jokes make them feel. And don't get defensive. Tone it down, listen, and maybe they'll teach you a thing or two about actually being funny.

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Bex is a freelance writer and Internet Feminist™ (aka "misandrist") who will not laugh at your sexist jokes under any circumstance. Follow her on Twitter @BexvanKoot.