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.