We Saw You, Boob

OscarSeth McFarlane’s hosting of the Oscars has been roundly criticized.  As a man who works to stop violence against women, I want to add my voice to the chorus.

I wasn’t upset because his humor was “risqué” or “too edgy,” as some critics charge. Quite the opposite – far from being edgy, his schtick was a regurgitation of tropes that should have gone out with “comedians” like Andrew Dice Clay.  McFarlane’s sexism, racism and homophobia wasn’t just lowbrow comedy–it was lazy comedy. I often find McFarlane quite funny and talented; he could have done a little more work, and come up with some actually creative material to share with a billion people.

I wouldn’t be working to end violence against women (indeed, I wouldn’t be writing this piece) if strong feminist women hadn’t taught me so much. One of the things they’ve taught me is that sexist humor isn’t simply “offensive” but works to silence women’s voices in the public sphere. In this case, McFarlane’s “comedy” silenced women’s voices in cinema. As Margaret Lyons of Vulture.com put it,

I dream of someday watching women win all the non-performance categories [at the Oscars], of women making as many films as men do, of women and men being nominated for a comparable number of awards. There are a lot of reasons why that day is far, far in the future. But I’ll tell you what’s not helping: the biggest night in film being dedicated to alienating, excluding and debasing women. Actual gender equality is a ways away, but I’d settle for one four-hour ceremony where women aren’t being actively degraded.

Certainly McFarlane wasn’t consciously intending to silence women. It didn’t work, in any case: Watching the Oscars, we men noticed the stark contrast between McFarlane’s “jokes” about Hollywood women and the women themselves. We stood and applauded incredible vocal performances, then cringed as McFarlane called women fat and hairy. We cheered as Oscar-winner Anne Hathaway spoke out against sex slavery and violence against women (“Here’s hoping that someday in the not-too distant future, the misfortunes of Fantine will only be found in stories, and never more in real life”) after McFarlane made a joke that trivialized violence against Rihanna. We marveled at the poise of Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence, then watched as McFarlane called her the C-word—rhyming oh so cleverly with “Helen Hunt.”

Many women have pointed out McFarlane’s sexism–Lindy West links to many of them in her Jezebel article. Her article also coined a wonderful phrase: “sexism fatigue.”  She says,

I am tired of trying to have an intellectual discussion about dog-whistle sexism in a culture where prominent politicians are still trying to grasp what rape is, and in a world where little girls are shot in the head because they want to go to school.

I think West has every right to be tired, and I think it’s men’s job to confront this kind of sexism more than we have been.  Maybe some men were laughing at the “boob” song, but I was cringing and so were my guy friends.  I received emails where the subject line was capitalized and included the F bomb. Guys who understand the connection between daily indignities of “comedic” sexism and violence against women were outraged, and it’s our duty to speak out against it.

Guys, let’s write to the Oscars here or here and let them know what we think of sexism, racism and homophobia masquerading as “humor.” Not because we haven’t laughed at or made similar jokes in the past.  Maybe because we have.

Photo from Flickr user Pop Culture Geek under license from Creative Commons 2.0


  1. Thanks for your thoughts on this. My male partner commented that it must be so hard as a woman to have worked so hard to get to the point where she is being nominated for an award, and then she has to sit through that (Seth MacFarlane). I am encouraged by his comment and also by this article.

  2. Excellent piece, but please correct the spelling of MacFarlane’s name so that your arguments are more credible.

  3. I thought the same when I saw the gala, totally agree with you. The worst part was when he joked about Rihanna… In my country, a West “developed” country (Spain), around 75 women die every year because sexist violence; a lot of women die for this cause all around the world. I can´t imagine him joking about muslim terrorism victims, which is the difference between those victims and the women who are murdered by sexist men? They are all human beings. This joke was completly out of place and most of people there laughted. Terrible.

  4. Hi BEN,
    Thank you for writing this – I felt very tired of trying to articulate what was just, well… stupid about a boob song or a joke about domestic abuse (are we STILL making jokes about Rihanna?!).
    I think you sum it up best here:
    “McFarlane’s sexism, racism and homophobia wasn’t just lowbrow comedy–it was lazy comedy. I often find McFarlane quite funny and talented; he could have done a little more work, and come up with some actually creative material to share with a billion people.”
    Thanks man!
    PS – I’m holding in a lot of F-bombs while writing this.

  5. Moonshadowesse says:

    Thanks Ben. I didn’t see the Oscars this year but boy, have I ever heard and read a lot about it. And frankly, from what I have gathered, I’m very glad I didn’t witness this, it would have greatly upset me. As a feminist, I feel I can certainly to relate to the term “sexism fatigue” coined by West in the Jezebel article. It can be very exhausting and is really an ongoing battle for many women. It’s refreshing when men come forward to speak out about inappropriate jokes and the silencing and degrading of women. From my past experience, men haven’t come forward about issues like this very often, but it seems to be happening more frequently now, so I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate it and feel somewhat reassured by it despite the fact that there is still so much that needs to be done. Thanks for this.

  6. I do NOT plan to watch MacFarlane ever again in any media. He is now on my BOYCOTT FOR LIFE list.

  7. jefferson eliot says:

    Glad to hear men speaking up. I understand why most of the commentary has come from women, but you don’t have to be a woman to be depressed by the aggressive ickiness of the show.

    • Hi,
      Always great to see men speak out against the foul injustices directed towards women. Seth was not humorous on this night of the award show. His tasteless jokes could have been saved for his T.V. show or another award show.
      Also Seth, did not call Ms. Lawerence the C–t word.The word was directed at a Black year old and the youngest nominatedfor an award .Her name is Quvenzhane Wallis.

  8. Beautifully said. Please let it echo for all to hear.

  9. Sorry Ben,
    Typing on my mobile. It was the Onion that called the child a C- word. However, Seth did make reference to this young child being able to date George Clooney in nine more years. Not cool at all to say! Women of color have always been sexualized and made fun of. So, to reference her with an adult male was inappropriate. His satire was totally inappropriate to all the women that sat in that audience that evening. It continues to be an assault on women these days. Again thanks for standing up.

  10. Thank you Mr. Atherton-Zeman for your simple and inspiring piece, i enjoyed it. Also, thank you for having the interest and courage to be a feminist. I think I’m in love (hahehoha)!

  11. Veronica says:

    MacFarlane’s humour is getting more than a little repetitive and stale. There’s a fine line between being edgy and being offensive in a way that perpetuates damaging ideas in society. His portrayal of gay and trans* people in his own shows is well across this line, and so is too often his portrayal of women and people of colour.

  12. What if we combatted the dilemna of with humour? Like this – http://youtu.be/S9DMOE-K5ro

  13. “We marveled at the poise of Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence, then watched as McFarlane called her the C-word—rhyming oh so cleverly with “Helen Hunt.””

    And I thought the ‘only’ sexist motif Seth McFarlane did was the “We Saw Your, Boob” song, which has its own horrible implications: http://movies.yahoo.com/news/jane-fonda-slams-seth-macfarlanes-saw-boobs-oscars-171500679-us-weekly.html

    I didn’t really watch the Oscars, but seriously, people can say the C-Word and not get BLEEPED? Of course, in our society it’s okay to ‘say’ or ‘hint’ sexist derogatory language against ‘only’ women (“Don’t Trust the B—- In Apartment 23”), unless he also said racist, transphobic, homophobic, etc. “bad words,” too? At least be an ‘equal opportunity offender’ and call ‘everyone (as in, whether everyone is part of a marginalized group or not)’ ‘all’ the degrading language, so everyone knows what’s it like being degraded constantly.

  14. McKenna says:

    Awesome article. Have read in sociology that only people at the top of the hierarchical pyramid of power can change the lower systems of discrimination– meaning men can help other men become less sexist, misogynist, violent, etc. . . while women would have a harder time convincing the opposite sex. Same with racism. It took white people in positions of power to abolish slavery. And, just as there is active racism and passive racism there is active and passive sexism– by making sexist jokes McFarlane was being actively sexist, but anyone who laughed or even didn’t laugh but didn’t speak up either were participating in passive sexism. Only by speaking out against the sexist/racist/whatever joke is one being an agent of change . . . or not sexist . . . which you are! Congrats on bringing to the table what needed to be said.

  15. Hi Ben,
    Thank you so much for writing this article that hits the head right on the nail, to coin an old phase. I really appreciate you and your organization that helps raise consciousness about sexism and its relationship to violence against women and works to end it. Keep up the great work.

    Jerilyn Stapleton

  16. Learkana Chong says:

    Hmm, when I watched the Oscars online, MacFarlane didn’t explicitly call Lawrence the C-word. He instead said “adorable”–I think that was joke, the implication that he would call her the C-word because it would rhyme with “Hunt”, but didn’t. I don’t mean to say that the implication itself isn’t still problematic to some degree, but I did enjoy non-sequitor aspect of the joke.

  17. Judy Marlin says:

    MacFarlane is so bright and talented and at the same time so hopelessly infantile and immature.

  18. Great item – thank you for sharing!

  19. Hey i may just be a simple guy but everyone here is in agreement with one another about the boob-song being sexist.. can anyone explain WHAT exactly is so sexist about it?

    Humor makes visible/palpable where tensions lie in interpersonal relations. This song gives a very explicit invitation to discuss issues female actors in Hollywood might face. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    MacFarlane is not to blame, don’t shoot the (comic) messenger. He’s the court jester and you all try to start a manhunt while all the screenplay writers keep omitting any meaning from female characters.

  20. I have not watch Macfarlane from the time kill the cat name James on his show family guy OSCARS should be a shamed I,M much for women rights I stop watch OSCAR when that had song turn the channel.

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