Tuesday, May 16, 2006

It's just a joke

I’m generally quite an outspoken person. My first degree was in literature and I am now studying law, both of which appeal to me because I love expressing my opinions, learning about other people’s thoughts, and generally having a good old fashioned debate. However I find that I am very reluctant to comment if those around me make uninformed or offensive comments about women. I know why this is, and the reason doesn’t make it any better. It is somehow seen as humourless, aggressive, negative to call people out in this situation. Rather than appreciating that you have been made to feel uncomfortable, you are quite often left feeling even more uncomfortable and out of place.

In a seminar yesterday a few comments were passed. We were discussing the role of ‘undue influence’ in contract law. This doctrine was developed to assist people who have entered a contract because of pressure put upon them by someone with whom they have a ‘special’ relationship. This could be a solicitor exerting pressure on a client, a grandchild bullying a grandparent, or, quite often, a woman who is being controlled by her husband or partner. Now there were obvious discussions around this issue, where it was suggested that if a woman enters a bad deal it is effectively her own fault. Obviously silly, obviously ignores the inherent problems caused by patriarchy, but these comments weren’t actually the ones that got to me. Perhaps this was because they were structured as discussions and therefore I felt that there was a place for me to discuss my views.

It is the passing comments that get me. The ones that are always followed by “don’t look like that I was only joking”. You know the ones - in this case a joke about women not being good with business anyway they need all the help they can get chortle chortle followed by my tutor chipping in with stand up comedy style comment about his ogre of a wife. Jocular male laughter all round. I just don’t find this funny. I find it insulting. When I have said anything in the past I have been shot down, after all, it’s only a harmless joke. So now I don’t say anything. I just keep my distance. And that isn’t great, I’m not proud of myself, and I’m not happy that in an environment where I should feel comfortable even the tutor is involved in it all. Ultimately it isn’t just a harmless joke, it reveals something about the way they feel about women, and when someone who objects to it is dismissed as humourless it demonstrates this lack of respect even further.

It was great to get home and read lelyon’s positive experience of challenging thoughtless comments and inherent sexism. It made me feel like perhaps I can do it too, although I know from past experience that with some of these particular people the behaviour is just so ingrained maybe the best thing I can do is just ignore it. But more of that in another post, revision calls.


At 9:04 pm, Blogger asdgasdfaserwe said...

People try to shut me down all the time, but it doesn't work, because their opinions of me simply don't matter.

The whole joke excuse doesn't hold. Jokes have meanings. If they didn't have meanings jokes would be nonsensical and not funny. A joke says a lot about the person delivering the so called joke. Another reason that the joke excuse doesn't hold, is that laughing at something is not the same as making a joke about it.

Is there anyone else on your course that feel the way you do about the comments being passed around? It might get you down less if you get support from someone on your course.

Furthermore, those comments are discriminatory and it is the course tutors' responsibility to ensure such insulting comments are not accepted. University's have a duty to stamp down on this type of behaviour.

At 9:22 pm, Blogger la somnambule said...

Yeh I have been thinking about whether to say something. It is a private institution offering professional law courses - but I think if anything that makes them more receptive to equal treatment etc than a university. Thinking back on it I should have said something at the time. I didn't because there has been a lot of friction between me and one of the individuals involved and I didn't want to make it worse.

I have just taken a look at the college policy which says:

"You can expect equal opportunity and respectful treatment for all students irrespective of age, class, creed, disability, ethnic origin, gender, marital status, nationality or sexual orientation"

I certainly felt uncomfortable and as if the behaviour of fellow students was disrespectful.

As you say, I also get the impression that other women in the group feel uncomfortable and perhaps I should talk to them.

Thanks for posting I really appreciate your thoughts - this is something that has really been bothering me.

At 12:21 am, Anonymous le lyons said...

My first thought was "Wow, which law school was that at?" Which was followed by "Could've been any of them."

This is definitely a specific situation. I personally don't like to argue for the sake of arguing because all it does is make me tired. So, if you have tried in the past with these guys and they didn't listen, I might stay quiet too.

Although, if it were me, I would totally become friends with the tutor's wife. And I would go about trying to get her to realize that she deserves more and not to let him joke about her that way. Because chances are, if he does it in class, he does it at home.

My other thought is about the other women. I find other women almost always appreciate it when someone is brave enough to speak out during those times. That is usually the most rewarding part for me. So, even of the guys choose to continue to be jerks, maybe the women will benefit from hearing someone brave speak up.

First and foremost though, only do what feels right for you. Not that you need me to tell you that. I just mean, don't feel bad if you don't speak up every time. I have yet to meet someone who is that strong.

At 10:22 am, Blogger la somnambule said...

'My first thought was "Wow, which law school was that at?" Which was followed by "Could've been any of them."'

Yeh - I'm really looking forward to going to a university next year to do my LPC as I've been pretty disappointed with many different aspects of the private sector.

Thank you for the feedback I found it really perceptive and it is great to get support.

I was meant to be in college today but a hospital appointment means I won't be back for a couple of weeks now (when my exams begin). I'm going to take that time to think about whether I want to say something before I leave the institution - I certainly know people who are in two minds about their decision to stay on and perhaps if I say something it may help them next year. Who knows. Time for reflection will be good though.

At 12:04 pm, Blogger FallingStar said...

I agree with Lelyons. I've also come across certain remarks - but I think most of the time these go over my head because I can't hear them..luckily!

I haven't come across anything like this during my course at York Uni because I think people doing sociology may be more sensitive to these kind of things. Lots of other women in my gender and society module discussed sexist comments and most of them agreed that speaking out against them can be a good policy, despite the whole 'I didn't really mean anything by it, lighten up' thing. If they didn't, then why did they say it in the first place? Grr. It is still a form of discrimination.

I also agree about being friends with the tutor's wife! It would be the perfect way for the two of you to get back at him for being such a misogynist ;) Having said that, it probably wouldn't be possible!

At 2:10 pm, Blogger la somnambule said...

I have to say when people make comments about my vegetarianism/veganism I have no real issues with saying something back. Society just adds insult to injury by suggesting that speaking out against sexist comments is somehow worse than making them. Grr this is just annoying me now!

I loved the idea of making friends with the tutors wife, although I think the effort involved in that would be somewhat freaky as I have never met her!


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