Your jokes tell me who you are

Warning: This week I quote a patently offensive joke involving domestic violence.

Timing is everything.

I think I mentioned that I’m a bit of a gamer, yes?  As part of my effort to make some social contacts out here, I go on Wednesday evenings to the local gaming shop and partake in the silliness that is Wizards of the Coast-spawned Encounters, based on D&D.

Yes, I know they bought D&D.  I have some Opinions about what they’ve done with 4th edition, and most especially with Encounters.

I’d like to thank my fellow gamers there for giving me something to blog about this week, because I kinda put it all out there last week and didn’t have a good plan for this week.

Hurr!  Hurr!  Boobs!

The group there is about half folks old enough to be President and half folks in their early twenties.  Including me, there’s two women out of the eight or so regulars in the Encounters group and the proportions are about the same for the other store patrons on Wednesdays.  This seems to still be fairly typical for ‘serious’ gaming environments.

Which is why, I suppose, they still consider it ok to make women-as-object jokes.

I’ve been doing the thing most women do when they consider the overall experience still worthwhile – considering polite ignoring of such jokes part of the price I pay for interacting with other folks in an activity I enjoy.  On good days, I respond with some non-hate-y humor of my own, and from time to time put in a sharp line of not-what-you-expected wit.

I play male characters not infrequently; humor befalls the players who happen to forget that.

I used to pretty much take this kind of low-level mysogyny in stride.  Whatever, whatever.  This week, not so much.

Your jokes tell me who you are.

This week, near the end of the game, two of the guys about my age in the group started trading flat-out women-hating “jokes”.  After two or three, the exchange culminated with this one:

“What do you call a woman with two black eyes?”
“Nothing!  You already told her twice!”

And they both laughed.

The rest of us, just sat there, stunned and uncomfortable.  Including, sad to say, me.

I mean, what is there to say to that kind of complete asshole behavior?  What could I say that might not be dismissed as just being a reactionary, irrational, defensive, feminist that hates all men?

After a minute of pained silence, I just plowed on with the conversation about dividing up the loot.

In the long run, though, just ignoring it and moving on isn’t enough.  No matter what your parents told us as kids about ignoring bullies until they give up, that’s a tactic for the times when you don’t have a choice about being there.

I have a choice about going to the gaming group.  One of my options is not to go – to decide that listening to this kind of crap is a price too high for a few hours of entertainment. But then we all lose.

It’s a matter of trust.

I was thinking about this in the Shower of Anti-Productivity, and trying to figure out what drove them to tell and laugh at that particular joke.  By the time I was done with the conditioner, I concluded that it comes down to one of two options:

  1. They think domestic violence is OK.
  2. They enjoy making me uncomfortable and unhappy.

That’s pretty much it for potential reasons.  I’m hard-pressed to come up with a reason that doesn’t boil down to one of those two.  They are both pretty lousy reasons, and I am not ruling out the possibility that it is both (embrace the power of “and”).

On the other hand, it’s totally fucking useful to know this.  Now I know how far I can trust them – which is to say, I trust them to be assholes.

And maybe, just maybe, that’s the answer.  To peel back the social facade and the veneer of civility they’re pretending to, and let them know that we see what they did there.

So – to my fellow gamers, let me say this:

Thank you.  Thank you for letting me know exactly where you stand on domestic violence and the value you place on the women in your lives.

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8 Responses to Your jokes tell me who you are

  1. Teaspoon says:

    That two-point breakdown is so spot on, and I think it might be a useful way to frame the problem in situations where it’s safe and I have enough deal-with-it energy to confront this kind of asshole. “The only possible reasons you would find that funny are because you think domestic violence is okay or because you think it’s funny to make people uncomfortable or afraid. Which is it?” Confrontation comes with risks, though, which can only be measured at the time.

    A tangentially related post by brainwane at Geek Feminism Blog touches on the idea of “pernicious socialization,” which seems to apply somewhat:

    • Victoria says:

      Exactly … the maternal advice about bullies sometimes -should- be followed, because it’s safer than the alternatives.

      Thanks for the link … it’s got more than enough awesome reading for this afternoon and maybe more posts to come!

  2. Shauna says:

    You know, I’ve heard that joke before. And your reasoning just confirms again why I don’t trust my brother (who’s the person who told the joke, and on more than one occasion). I just wish I knew a good way to react to it.

    • Victoria says:

      “Jokes” like this are hard to respond to, especially when it’s from someone that’s hard to cut out of our lives.

      One important thing to remember is that the kind of person who usually tells this kind of shock-joke is trying to get a reaction – either anger or disgust works for them. So, instead of that kind of head-on response, sidestep. The safest level of response is to not respond at all … just carry on the conversation as if they didn’t speak at all. There’s a lot of information out there in the blogosphere already about responding to sexist (and other -ist) crap, as you may already know, which is likely relevant.

      Best of luck to you.

      • Lewis says:

        An alternate method is to wait a beat, sigh, then ask them in a quiet but clear and carrying voice, “Why do you think that advocating violence to women is either funny or acceptable?”

        • Victoria says:

          In situations where one has the spoons and is willing to debate about it (even if one hopes that it won’t go that way, it’s a possibility), that can totally work.

          Another alternative is exactly the way that I ended my blog post – “Thanks for letting me know where you stand on domestic violence.” It’s a bit less confrontational, but pretty clearly conveys the point.

          • Victoria says:

            [NOTE: this comment was in response to another comment which has been removed at the commenter’s request; I’m leaving my response visible as clarification of why I did not add “thoughtlessness” to the list of possibilities.]

            I considered and rejected “thoughtlessness” as a possible alternate reason – I believe that it is subsumed under either of the other two, particularly in the case of jokes about domestic violence. If you thoughtlessly joke about domestic violence (or rape, or bullying, for some other examples), you’re agreeing with the culture that thinks those things are ok.

            I am glad to hear that you are not living in situations where you are likely to suffer physical or emotional abuse, lose your job, get kicked out of your house, or have to spend more spoons than you have, or otherwise have negative consequences for standing up to assholes. I look forward to a day when this is true of every person on this planet. In the meantime, I’ll do what I can when I can, and encourage others to do what they can when they can while making sure they’re safe enough to do so.

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