Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Feel Free to Slap Her: When Does Joking About Domestic Violence Cross the Line?

There's a hilarious story on the Onion that presents a fictitious Lifetime for Men movie in which the protagonist kills his nagging spouse. Overbearing women who are constantly trying to control every aspect of their significant other’s life drive me batty so I for one was glad this guy didn’t take it lying down. Later though I couldn’t help thinking about the bigger implications articles like this have.

Now I understand that this is a harmless joke and not one iota of its content is meant to be taken seriously. That is the genius of this site and the articles it presents. However, it did make me realize how mainstream jokes concerning domestic violence have become to the point that I don’t even notice them anymore.

My best friend will joke with his buddies about “smacking me around to keep me in line” all the time. He says it right in front of me and I laugh. I know this only encourages him further, but no big deal right? If that is the case, where do I draw the line about what's appropriate and what's not? With controversial humor presented on shows like Family Guy and South Park on a weekly basis, I feel like the line keeps getting further and further away for everyone.

I realized jokes about violence against women bother me in particular because it is still such a large-scale and horribly overlooked problem in our society. Politically incorrect jokes about hot-button topics that are no longer an issue don’t seem as destructive. It would be like making a joke about the Salem witch trials vs. making a joke about the genocide in Darfur.

If a current social issue is not taken seriously enough already, it seems wrong to fuel the fire by joking about it. Nearly one-third of American women (31%) report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. No punch-line there.

There is also a terrible double standard involved in these types of jokes. For example, if a man jokes about giving their girlfriend a good beating he is a monster; if I make the same joke I am a badass. Maybe the reasoning here is that historically a woman usually whales on a guy in physical self-defense, in which case that response is inarguably encouraged. But what if I nonchalantly say I am going to beat my boyfriend to a bloody pulp because he forgot my birthday…is the violence in this case ok since he so obviously deserves it? If the roles were reversed and I was the forgetful ho, shouldn’t I expect this type of treatment as well? This article is doing exactly the same thing; taking a classic Lifetime plotline and flipping the gender roles. Even in comedic form it sounds unfair to the men; because it is.

It is important for us to be conscious about the jokes we say and the context we say them in. Sure they’re funny but they are also making light of a serious issue. If we continue to joke about domestic violence with abandon it will continue to be handled with abandon.

So laugh, but don’t laugh too hard.

1 comment:

  1. I think that in many ways the fact that it is horrible is why people laugh. You are very right in that it is a huge problem and I don't think that many people really understand how huge it is. Even young and ambitious women who seem to really have their lives put together can be victims of this kind of violence. There are so many complex psychological reasons why the abusers do it and why the victims often stay silent. So sad.

    I love the Onion. It also comes out as a paper that is distributed free here in Chicago where they are headquartered.

    I found your blog from Tony's blog. You've got a great start here!