It’s just a joke

(TW: rape)

Dear Dad,

I want to talk about comedy today, partly because comedy seems to be all anyone’s talking about today (fitting that it’s April Fools), and partly because the discussion of Ari Shaffir, Trevor Noah and Patton Oswalt has reminded me of my own experience with off-color jokes.

First, my story: It was my first date with this guy. He had heavy eyelids and deep brown eyes and a soft, melodic voice. He recited a poem to me before asking me on the date. He seemed so charming and sensitive. I met him at his house and we decided to drive one town over for burgers.

“Let’s take the backroads!” he suggested.

“All right,” I agreed, “but you’ll have to direct me. I don’t know how to get there from here.”

I drove and he was copilot, but as he gave my directions, I felt we were head further and further out into the countryside, instead of toward town.

“Are you sure this is the way? It feels like we’re heading to the boonies,” I said.

“No,” he laughed. “I’m just taking you out into the middle of nowhere so I can rape you.”

He chuckled. My heart raced.

“That’s not funny.”

“It’s just a joke, because obviously, I would never do that. That’s why it’s funny. I’m clearly not a rapist.”

“What if I were a rape survivor?” I asked.

“If you were, you would obviously tell me,” he said, as if he had created a super supportive environment with rape jokes on our first date. I’d like to say I dumped him right there, Dad, but sadly, it took me a couple more dates to realize he had no respect for personal boundaries.

But what does this have to do with comedy?

There are a lot of comedians in the news right now for making jokes people deem inappropriate, in bad taste or cruel. Ari Shaffir called out a fellow comedian by name in a national special, laughing at her for having one-arm and being fat. Trevor Noah, the future Daily Show host, has come under scrutiny for posting Twitter statuses joking about Jews and violence against women. And today Patton Oswalt went on a 53-tweet twitterstorm about how people are too sensitive about privilege, oppression and triggers.

Now, I think what Ari Shaffir did was mean and unfunny. I think Trevor Noah’s jokes were in poor taste, but I’m willing to see how he does as Daily Show host. And I think Patton Oswalt’s tweets completely missed the point, which is this:

Comedy is not an excuse to be mean. Saying “it’s comedy” doesn’t make something un-terrible. The guy who laughed off threatening to rape me with “it’s just a joke” didn’t make his threat suddenly okay. Comedy is not an excuse.

Love,

Victoria

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Telling diverse stories

Dear Dad,

Last weekend, the boyfriend and I went out and had the nicest date. There was live jazz music, there was wine, there was in-depth discussion of the international politics of World War II. (I know, we’re romantics.)

The bf’s a history buff, and he talked about how England’s version of events, the version that most of world talks about, plays down the French role in fighting Germany. Most notably, he described the Siege of Lille, where French soldiers held the German army off for five days to buy their English allies time to escape at Dunkirk. These are the same French we deride for always surrendering in the face of a fight.

I told him about my time in France in high school, and how my class had studied World War I and II. I told him about the monuments in every tiny village, about how an entire generation had been killed in World War I, and about how, naturally, the French developed a very strong pacifist movement, which contributed in part to Hitler’s rise, but doesn’t make them weak or cowardly as a people.

“Okay, cool history,” you might be saying, Dad, “but what does this have to do with feminism?”

Well, I’ve been noticing a strong anti-non-American current on Facebook lately, Dad. I saw one friend I admired go on a tear about “illegals” while another friend derided a writer’s validity because they weren’t an American citizen. There seems to be a tendency to disrespect or distrust people who aren’t American, and in some cases, to even go so far as denying them basic human rights in this country. (Think of the way we’ve been treating all the child refugees from Central America. We’re in a humanitarian crisis and we just want to ship them back? Because it’s inconvenient for us to be compassionate?)

My belief is that feminism is not just about equality of sexes. Certainly, as a woman, that piqued my interest in feminism. But feminism, good feminism, is about fighting for all people, making sure that every human being has a shake at life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, safety, a voice. As someone who has faced oppression because of my gender, I hate to see anyone be derided or discriminated against.

And after all, I’ve been an immigrant. I was a stranger in a strange land where I had to learn the language and the customs. I was an exchange student, so I was welcomed with open arms, but not all people receive that treatment. In France, for instance, where people delighted in my desire to learn the language, black people are called names and routinely stopped and searched by police. One of my host mothers even believed that all black people are polygamists.

My time in France, though, didn’t teach me to discriminate against foreigners. Instead, it showed me the humanity in all people, that different races, cultures, languages and histories all have something wonderful to offer. I learned that human history is not always as simple or straightforward as what I learned in an American classroom. I discovered that stories have many sides, just as our history of World War II differs from that of the French.

I made friendships with people from every corner of the world, learned a little bit about their cultures and their languages, and learned that differences aren’t insurmountable barriers.

If I could, I’d make every American do a year of exchange the way I did, to get to know another country and culture intimately, and to realize that there are many sides to a story.

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When we all start to tell our stories, and when we begin to listen and cooperate together, beautiful things happen. Misunderstanding, suspicion and intolerance are destroyed,and we can start working together to create solutions to the real problems that our prejudice distracts us from, such as poverty, sexual violence and war.

We create better communities, and we lift everyone a little bit higher.

Love,
Victoria

On partying for the revolution

Dear Dad,

How are you? What have you been up to?

Me? Well, I had the best party last week! There were snacks, there were libations, there was loud music and lots of cute women, and there was frank and serious discussion of gender norms and the role that gender, sexuality and feminism play in our lives.

A t-shirt with velvet lettering reading "Girls invented punk rock not England." At the bottom, a piece of paper reads "What is Riot Grrrl?"

One woman even made an awesome T-shirt!

All right, so it wasn’t your average twentysomething party. I invited some of my best female friends over for an afternoon of beer, Bikini Kill and zine-making. Over the four hours, we cut up a half dozen magazines and made our own pages discussing where we saw issues of gender inequality in our own lives.

One of my friends talked about how the media focuses on body size, but she’d rather see a focus on girls’ education worldwide. Another friend asked me how I felt about the way gender roles affect men. Another talked about being treated differently at her engineering job because of her gender. Yet another woman talked about how difficult it was to find a job in her field because most businesses assume she isn’t capable of heavy lifting.

A set of six photos of a zine. Pictures of men and women are cut out with phrases like, "What's my name?" and "Does my body hair disgust you?"

We talked about relationships, our bodies, nail polish, our jobs, music, history. It was girly and fun and intelligent and educational.

It’s conversation that brings about understanding, Dad. It’s listening and learning and creating together that brings about change. I’m partying for more voices in the conversation, for more cognizance. I’m partying for the revolution.

Party on,

Victoria

On categories

Dear followers,

I’m working on organizing the blog, and categorizing posts to make them easy to search and navigate. Up until now I’ve kept them all “Uncategorized” for the sake of ease, but I’d like to divvy them up by topic, so I’m soliciting your input!

Right now, the three topics I’m considering are “Media Critique,” “History,” and “Personal,” but some posts aren’t included in those categories, such as posts in response to my father’s response blog, or posts about body image and sexual harassment.

So I’m welcoming feedback. How would you like to see the blog organized? What categories would you like?

Thanks for the support!

Victoria

On Father’s Day!

Hey Dad!

Happy Father’s Day! Sorry this post is a little late, I’ve been busy hanging out with you all weekend (and a little work, so I can buy you a nice present, shhhh).

In the spirit of this blog’s theme, though, I thought it only right to post a little tribute, to tell you I love you, to thank you for all you’ve done for me.

And it wouldn’t be a good post without a dash of feminism. This article from the editor of Rad Dad magazine has a whole list of cool feminist fathering behaviors (and a lot of them, like #1, #5 and #26 remind me of you). Plus it’s a cool dad’s perspective on what it means to fuse feminism with fatherhood, and how the two are not at odds.

Love you! And thanks for all you do!

Victoria