Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What's So Funny About Sexism?

Originally published in the BG News on Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ed Yourdon at Creative Commons 3.0
While a traditional asylum is often a place of security for displaced persons, the virtual refuge is not quite as serious.

Asylum is promoted as an Internet escape from nagging wives, controlling girlfriends and all the other things that tend to get men down. This retreat for all "mankind" is so predictable it's almost satisfying.

Anyone who understands irony and speaks fluent sarcasm would recognize Asylum's features as reminiscent of the Onion. And the humorous approach to news, when used correctly, can be quite useful.

But those contributing to Asylum are all too eager to make jokes at women's expense. Their shtick is covering hotness, which gets exhausted over, and over, and over again. And any implied commentary about the objectification of women is lost in a flood of imagery that further objectifies women.

One would expect the masterminds behind an operation like Asylum to be a traditional boys club, but five of the 17 staff members are women.

In fact, deputy managing editor Emily McCombs is Asylum's official "token girl," hosting "A Woman's Perspective," which is a lot like Sarah Haskins' "Target Women" gone horribly wrong.

See, Haskins cleverly critiqued the ways in which advertising "targets" women, hence the name of her popular Internet show, which is (sadly) retired.

McCombs appears to be doing something similar, but (to keep the pun going) misses her target.

For instance, McCombs' take on birthdays is that "they have everything that women like; dessert, attention, and the opportunity to wear a tiara." "A Woman's Perspective" appears to be nothing more than a man's perspective, served with a heavy dose of sexism.

McCombs relies entirely on gender stereotypes and self-depreciation to get a cheap laugh. Without obvious certainty that she disagrees with her own statements, she could be misconstrued as mocking women in order to gain men's approval, especially considering where her vlogs reside.

But Asylum doesn't just degrade women; men get short-changed too. Asylum anticipates their audience is a bunch of AXE-wearing cavemen whose interests include sex, sports, and more sex.

With that definition of "mankind" in mind, it's not surprising "A Woman's Perspective" is reinforcing archaic gender roles for men as well.

In a bit about male crying, McCombs explains "the truth remains that after a woman has seen a man cry, it's hard for us to ever respect him again." She suggests men use violence instead, to avoid shame and rejection. Then, by admitting she had already cried that day (because she is a woman) she upholds a double standard like a pillar of patriarchy.

Maybe we just don't get it? As the saying goes, feminists don't have a sense of humor.

But then how do you explain the hilarious antics of Sarah Haskins and other women comedians like Margaret Cho, Wanda Sykes and Amy Poehler?

Yes, feminism can be funny. And intelligent humor has this amazing ability to make audiences think while they laugh which is ultimately more rewarding. And, like the theme song of Poehler's Internet talk show states, "smart girls have more fun."

While McCombs' performance is over the top, it's debatable whether viewers are hearing hidden messages about inequality, or if the satire is as superficial as the rest of the site. Either way, this Asylum appears only to offer further oppression, rather than freedom from it.

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