Allow me to tell you what some now believe to constitute a “joke”: what have you done wrong when your wife comes out of the kitchen and starts nagging you? Answer: made the chain too long. I heard this a few weeks ago and it is, sadly, a commonplace, youth culture “gag”. There are many more where that came from, and a lot of them are more extreme.
After coming across such large multitudes of so-called “jokes” like these, which quite blatantly have no comedic merit, I began to wonder why on earth such “humour” was still acceptable in modern day society. One may have thought that chauvinistic bile like this was a thing of the past, long dead along with vulgar, offensive jokes about race. As dated as Davidson’s “Chalkie White”. But this is not the case.
I am a teenage boy, I come from a middle-class background and go to a well-respected state school. What is more, my school is also Church of England-based. For the most part, the students are normal, middle-class teenagers, a lot of them Christian (or rather, they’ve been baptised into the Church). Would it surprise you if I said that sexism was widespread in my school, and most others for that matter? That such “jokes” as the one I used to open this article are found to be very funny?
As a feminist, someone who actively believes in gender equality, who does not support male superiority and female submission, I was aghast when it dawned on me that misogyny is still largely alive in teenage society. What happened to feminism? Where are the feminists? Why are there no rallies, no outcries of rage and disgust amongst young people against such barbaric bigotry?
People laugh it off, say it’s “only a joke”. It may well be now, but that “joke” grows and embeds itself in the psyche of the impressionable young, it translates into living, breathing prejudice, it gives male teenagers a clear message: women are your tools, do with them what you will; women are not worthy of your respect; women are your cleaners and your cooks. And perhaps even more horrifically, it gives female teenagers the same message. Its inexplicable prevalence and popularity makes misogyny acceptable, even humorous.
And I wish I could say that the youth-based popularity of sexist “jokes” is ironic, that the teenagers who share these gags with each other don’t actually believe them. To an extent, this is partly true. I don’t think most of the students who tell these bigoted quips think that actually chaining a woman to a stove is justifiable. But when it comes to roles in society, teenage misogyny is a very real thing indeed. There is a common belief that women are meant to be home-makers, that it’s a woman’s job to cook and care and be submissive to her husband’s will. Indeed, many teenage boys would like a meek, acquiescent wife who does just that. A literal chaining of a woman is considered extreme, but a more subtle, metaphoric one is largely accepted.
Again, I ask myself why. Why is this the case and why is there no longer a generation of gender egalitarians ready to combat it? And a worry nags at me - misogyny is growing amongst the young; I fear it is also thriving in the adult population, in a society where sexism is still at work and found to be funny and acceptable.
So if you thought feminism’s work was done, you’re very much mistaken. If you thought misogyny was in the past, than you are living in a sheltered naivety. This is not the time for complacency, this is a time for action. Feminism and feminists alike have a lot to do yet if we wish to tackle the casual sexism still prevalent in in 21st Century Britain and the world.