Is it really just a joke?

I’ve heard countless complaints about feminists and other women taking all the fun out of things. Every time I hear about it, I think of two things:

Penny doesn’t even realize she was being a bully until far later in the episode. Her example may be a bit extreme, but I think of this scene every time, along with the following question.

2. What made that joke funny in the first place?

I’m not gonna be so disingenuous as to say that I’ve never found an offensive joke funny, but let us not forget that it was the offensiveness to someone else that made it humorous. Even jokes about people in the same group are funny to those within it who think they could not possibly be classified with those in the joke. But dirty jokes are just one way that we downplay the manifestations of sexism and sometimes sexual harassment too.

I do believe that sexual harassment and sexism could be handled primarily at the interpersonal level without employer intervention, but there are obvious exceptions as well. Not that I normally engage in conversations here about race or sexual orientation, but this can play a factor into the way the bullying or harassing behavior takes place in addition to gender and religion.

Sexism and sexual harassment take on many forms. They can be an untimely firing, overt requests and jokes, isolating behaviors and more.  To me, the worst thing is when people in the same group shame or segregate each other. For example, when women say things like “I’m not one of those women.” I’ve said it plenty before I realized how damaging it was.  Even now, I recall women who I have been ashamed to be associated with and still have reservations about. But a lot of this is based on gendered expectations.
Why do we not get mad at the guy when a new couple has formed at work? Why is it still perceived as her fault? Then again, we also seem to culturally believe that only men perform sexual harassment or are susceptible to sexual advances in exchange for professional advancement.

But when two things are unequal that we desire to make equal, there are at least two ways to do it. This has represented yet another cultural problem. Everyone sees equality differently and many groups decide for their themselves what the equal thing is that works best for the group.
I’ve worked in places where the result of equality was not that no one told offensive jokes anymore. The result was that each group had equal boundaries within their offensiveness. Men can only get as degrading toward women as they were willing to accept being emasculated and vice versa. While this was not the policy of the employer, it set an equilibrium that was kept and maintained by the group with an unexpected amount of respect for each other. On the other hand, many  people try to see what they can get away with. True equality in a workplace can only be maintained by those within it, which means that as long as people, like Penny, fail to realize what makes their actions horrible to other people, sexism and sexual harassment will persist.

For as long as any of us fail to acknowledge why we are offensive based on our genders, we will not be done with the growth of feminism.

Join me next Friday for a talk about the elusiveness of equal pay! Follow me here and @createparity on Twitter!