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Girls jumping on trampolines

If you are like me, after reading my headline, you will chuckle to yourself as you recall one of the funniest shows to ever grace your television screen—Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla’s The Man Show on Comedy Central. However, I am definitely aware of those of you out there who think that their show was the most vile, chauvinistic, sexist, insulting show to hit airwaves.

I do have to admit that even as a huge fan of the show—the humor and entertainment of which relied on half-naked “juggies” writhing among the studio audience, sick comments made by chubby prepubescent boys to unsuspecting women and endless demeaning jokes about women’s place in society and in sexual relations—I have recently begun to wonder about the negative affects its type of humor might have on society.

What impact do sexist jokes have on women’s equality? In our culture it is generally considered a taboo to tell religious or racist jokes unless you are making fun of yourself (for example, Dave Chappelle). But it is okay, using the example of The Man Show, for two middle aged, fairly unattractive men to tell demeaning jokes about women.

Why is it socially acceptable for men to tell awful jokes about women? Maybe it is because of people like me. We let them be acceptable. Many women even make themselves the butt of the joke. For example, the women who get naked for Howard Stern only to have him critique their breasts for being too small or their asses too jiggly.

I doubt you would find many black people laughing at or taking part in crude racist jokes told by a pasty white man. Women, however, rarely stand up for themselves in situations like these. Sexist jokes are a part of our everyday existence and most people never even think to question their inappropriateness. Men and even many women, including myself, laugh at jokes that put women down or use derogatory terms about women. I have heard women suggest that the reason that some women do laugh at these jokes is because it makes them so uncomfortable that all they can do is laugh to keep from crying or screaming. Whatever the reason for my laughter, I’ve recently begun to wonder if I am hurting the female cause by doing it.

I really don’t want to do anything that helps others set females back. We have already come so far, but there is one aspect of gender inequality that really bothers me. No matter how “successful” or “equal” women become, it does not change the fact that so many women are sexually and physically assaulted by men.

Every time I hear another story about sexual assault right here on Duke’s campus, especially those committed by Duke students, I get so frustrated. I don’t even like to ask this question because it is such a depressing thought to me, but I can’t help but wonder, can women ever really be equal to men if we always have to fear them physically? Physical strength gives men so much power over women. I realize that most men thankfully do not use this power, but there are enough who do. Because of those men, many women find themselves held back by fear.

Do sexist jokes and television shows facilitate an environment in which sexual assault occurs? Obviously millions of people watch shows like The Man Show or Howard Stern and never commit attacks on women. Is it possible, however, for those men who do commit attacks, that a lifetime of inundation with demeaning jokes and comments about women has helped formulate their mindset that sexual assault is okay? Does watching women demean themselves on television make men think that women want it or deserve it? Does hearing female friends laugh at or tell sexist jokes propagate this frame of mind?

I’m not going to be all moralistic and ask you to stop watching funny television because that would be rather hypocritical of me. There’s no real punch line or last hurrah here for this column. I guess I just wanted to bring up some ideas that have been running through my brain and ask a few questions that have been bothering me. Who knows, maybe some of you have answers for me.


Lauren Fischetti is a Trinity sophomore.


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