It’s International Women’s Day, and I as I actively reflect on the substantial impact that women have had in my life, something I’ve been mulling over since the 85th Academy Awards is still circling the drain in my head. See, Seth MacFarlane hosted, and he delivered his sarcastic brand of genteel, macho humor on Oscar night. I thought he did a pretty good job, which is why I was honestly disturbed when I found out that some critics were panning his performance as sexist.
I’m not going to recount his performance here, partly because it happened eons ago in internet time, but more importantly because there was nothing really new or surprising about MacFarlane’s material. In fact, it was pretty damned tame in comparison to the jokes regularly thrown around on his own shows, and I LOVE that stuff. And that got me questioning whether I’m unknowingly guilty of being some kind of male chauvinist.
That thought kinda chafes my self-concept since I actually consider myself something of an nontraditional feminist. In fact, I sometimes feel as though I take gender equality more seriously than some women. With that said, I stand firm on the belief that men and women are absolutely, positively, freaking different, and those differences lead to experiences that many of us encounter at some point in our relationships, at least in the straight variety. Men are inconsiderate and women nag. Men are insensitive and women are overemotional. Men are unfaithful, or at least want to be, and so are women…but women are crafty little fucks, and men are too self-absorbed to notice.
Anyway, it seems only natural to point out these asymmetries for laughs. If the joker happens to be a man, then his jokes will likely be from the typical male’s POV. So when I hear a female comic joking about how men are pigs, I don’t get my vasa deferentia all in a tangle. I say big whoop. It doesn’t mean that every man and woman fits neatly into those boxes, that they display those characteristics all the time, or that those traits aren’t socialized. Regardless, the shit is real, and it can be damned funny. Unfortunately, that rationalization doesn’t get me off the hook for enjoying the other side of MacFarlane’s guy-friendly humor, the side that glories in the female form. He’s not alone in this, of course.
One of my favorite examples comes from the late comic Patrice O’Neal, who dared to wonder aloud why we don’t implement a National Sexual Harassment Day to let guys just get it off their chest, one day a year. Buy a colleague some flowers or candy, engage in your normal small talk, then ask her if she wouldn’t mind playing a little flesh flute in the bathroom. No harm, no foul, ’cause it’s Harassment Day!
I promise, it’s funny when he says it.
Look, there’s no doubt in my mind that we live in a sexist society, so does enjoying, promoting, and even creating that kind of humor mean that I’m an unwilling co-conspirator with card-carrying members of NO MA’AM? I don’t think so. As a thinking man, I find comedy like that funny for two reasons.
First, the sentiment that he’s expressing is just embarrassingly true. If you are a woman with anything remotely resembling a physically attractive attribute, please know that dudes have imagined kissing, groping, or otherwise manipulating said attribute ad nauseum. And I mean that ad nauseum part literally. Dude could be about to leave the office with a 102 degree temp, but if you told him you were gonna give him a cubicle lap dance he’d probably sit right back down and reposition the trash bin just in case. They’d never let you know that though, ’cause they don’t want you to think that they’re a creep…plus they probably enjoy the benefits of gainful employment aside from surreptitiously observing you from behind at the water fountain.
The second, more important reason why it’s funny though is because it underscores the pitifully comic way that men are constantly bombarded by their physical attractions. That’s right, we’re the real butt of that joke. It’s like, “Ladies, we’re basically one step above Pavlov’s dog. Throw us a bone, please. We’re barely holding it together over here.”
Now am I saying that women have nothing else to offer us besides their bodies? Absolutely not. Am I saying that it’s cool to draw attention to their physiques just for a laugh, no matter the cost? No way. A catcall on the street ain’t a joke (though all male to female street commentary ain’t a catcall either), and a random sexual advance under cover of an insipid pick-up line does not the stuff of humor make. What I’m saying is that when a man makes an artful jest, carefully constructed and thoughtful, but firmly centered on his lust for a particular woman or women in general, the joke is actually on him. No matter what he says at the end, the true punchline is that he found himself in the presence of beauty—an ethereal, intoxicating, inspiring substance—and the only thing that he could do to relate its effect on him was to string together some silly little words.
I’m not a sexist. I’m just another schmuck that happens to be attracted to women, and even though that fact is sometimes the cause of great frustration, it always eventually makes me laugh. The hope is that when it does, you do, too.