Get Back In The Kitchen Woman

Sexist ‘jokes’ exist as part of the same system as domestic abuse, sexual assault, rape, murder. They feed a culture of misogyny. Intentions are not important in this context, the statement in itself is as damaging as all the other components of the system I speak about.
Diagrammatically you could consider it a pyramid:

Source: Ashley Fairbanks @ziibiing

Jokes like ‘make me a sandwich’, or the infamous ‘dumb blonde’ jokes, or innuendo, suggestive comments, ‘get back in the kitchen’ etc. etc. therefore operate within a wider framework which perpetuates violence against women.
As someone who has frequently expressed my distaste for these jokes, as someone who has offered the above pyramid as a reference point for my arguments- I am well versed in the defence argument that men often issue. The good old, ‘it was just a joke.’ This is a well engineered response, as it simultaneously undermines my reaction, whilst absolving them of any serious accusations of ‘Sexism’ or ‘Misogyny.’ I am often accused ‘ruining the mood’ or better still, accused of ‘taking myself too seriously’ (because who wants to take themselves seriously, right?). Whilst the context of these jokes has varied enormously, (whatsapp chat ‘banter’ to face to face confrontation) I have found the ‘but it was just a joke’ an almost universal defence mechanism.
I remember a close female friend advising me that I should tone down my reaction to these jokes. ‘They just do it because they know it annoys you”. Her policy was to ignore them until they go away. At the time, I believed her. I tried my best to ignore jokes of this nature, and tried to remember that my own sanity was a lot more important than a futile attempt to ‘teach those boys a lesson’.
But as I grew older, I became less tolerant. It took me years to understand that it was not my reaction that was invalid. It took me years of learning and unlearning to discover that the sexist ‘jokes’ made by so many members of the opposite gender in my life were a form of ‘comfortable’ sexism they could express freely, without fear of rebuttal. This is especially so in enclosed all-male spaces, I have friends who attend all-male  religious classes in which the teacher makes comments like ‘women are only in it for the money’, and then passes it off as a joke.  This is also the case in all-male WhatsApp groups.

As well as directly contributing to an explicit culture of misogyny, discrimination and rape, these statements and comments can also directly impact men’s implicit perceptions of the type of behaviour they can exhibit towards women.
Sexist humor is not simply benign amusement. It can affect men’s perceptions of their immediate social surroundings and allow them to feel comfortable with behavioral expressions of sexism without the fear of disapproval of their peers,” said Thomas E. Ford, a faculty member in the psychology department at WCU. “Specifically, we propose that sexist humor acts as a ‘releaser’ of prejudice. 

We need to get better at calling out these ‘jokes’ for what they are, and making people aware of the very real implications of the culture that they help to create. If we finally see how language feeds and facilitates these crimes against women, maybe we can get a little closer to demolishing the system altogether. I understand the scale of that goal. So I propose this one instead:  Each and every one of us, men and women alike, can make at least the space around us safe.

The ConveHERsation is the digital platform for Women Of Power UK

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  1. Great article Harmanjit! I was also the 'taking it too seriously' friend and got a lot of 'oh you should take it as a compliment'. Excited to see you in London soon! - Abby

  2. Hi Abby! Thanks so much for your thoughts, I completely resonate with that. Looking forward to meeting you IRL soon! Harmanjit

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