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the (non)-sense of anti-feminists: can’t you take a joke?

The words ‘feminist’ and ‘fun’ are not usually words synonymous with each other in the vocabulary of an anti-feminist. But I was reminded of this with an article in a recent issue of The Sunday Age titled ‘Just like a feminist, only funnier’. It was an article about Caitlin Moran, a feminist, journalist and regular columnist for a Rupert Murdoch owned newspaper in England.

The fact that Moran writes for a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch was mentioned but it was surprising to notice that she was considered Murdoch’s left wing columnist. I couldn’t help but see this as some sort of ownership of Moran and that her left wing feminist column is something of an oddity. Even the title of this article, ‘just like a feminist, only funnier’, is highly questionable as it simply compounds the old stereotypes of feminists and simultaneously speaks to the unacknowledged belief that feminists have no sense of humour.

Comparisons were made between Caitlin Moran and Germaine Greer that related to their manner of speaking and their style of writing; their writing is fast, furious and you need to insert your own full stops. But the one major difference between these two feminists, according to Neil McMahon, the author of the article, is that Moran is ‘staggeringly funny’, which is an ‘un-Germaine bonus.’ Not only does this suggest that Moran is extremely funny where Germaine is not, but it also infers there is a difference between older and younger feminists in their sense of humour. It further cements Moran as something of a strange phenomenon because she is a feminist, yet she is also humourous.

But what is the purpose of suggesting that feminists don’t have a sense of humour? Anti-feminists have often said that feminists are too serious about the world and can’t take a joke. Suggesting that feminists are too serious is effectively saying that what feminists have identified as needing to change is not serious enough and that feminists have over analysed and/or misunderstood the world. In fact feminists have done this to such a huge degree and for such a long period of time they no longer have a grasp of reality. The implications of suggesting that feminists have no sense of humour are serious attempts to discredit feminism and to discredit the history of a social movement. Through discrediting feminism, and highlighting it has a warped sense of reality, is something akin to saying that feminism needs to be ignored and feminists should remain quiet because what they think needs to be changed is just a figment of the feminist imagination.

The phrase “lighten up” or the question “can’t you take a joke?” is the uncomfortable reaction of anti-feminists. Often the phrases “lighten up” and “can’t you take a joke” are said in a way that minimises and invalidates the experiences of women and the very real need for changes to society. It is also designed to humiliate feminists’ in front of other people and to deter women from saying ‘yes, I am a feminist’. Such words and beliefs continue to treat feminism and feminists as some oddity in the world and continues to make feminism appear as a failure.

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