October 8 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 23  

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Nobody WINs with cheap jokes

Kats got your tongue
Laura Katsirdakis

News Editor

Feminism has become a dirty word. To out yourself as a feminist is to risk being perceived as a man-hating complainer. When stripped down to its basic components, feminism is something quite different than what many perceive it to be: people should not have different rights based on their gender. In other words, in the eyes of the law, don't treat me differently because I am a woman.

It's true some feminists are quite extreme. Who can forget Gloria Steinman's statement "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle?" This bitter extreme can be contrasted by feminists who believe women should find fulfillment through housework and child bearing. Clearly, when one refers to "feminism" it can mean one of many things.

Why is it then, when I call myself a feminist, people ask me if I burn bras in my spare time? Where does the assumption come from that dictates all feminists must be angry butch types? Just because I feel compelled to defend equality in my daily life does not mean I am bitter.

A recent editorial in The Gazette joked that all members of the Women's Issues Network do not shave their armpits. This implication slots WIN members in the category of "angry feminist," despite the fact WINs focus is on all equality issues, not just those concerning women.

Some may see this as a harmless joke, but I see this as an implicit stereotyping which may have the effect of discouraging those who want to stand up for equality. It may seem like over-analyzing, but much of what differentiates women from men is cultural. Things we don't even notice (like this joke) can socialize people in a certain way and teach them that in this culture, to defend women's equality is to be a laughable person.

Perhaps legislation has changed how gender roles are played out in this society, but if a child grows up with a certain concept of these roles, the laws will not interfere with what they expect from the opposite sex. So much of what forms these concepts are deeply intertwined with things like jokes and generalizations.

Every time a male mutters that a grumpy girl must be "on the rag or something" and every time a female grumbles that men are "all the same," these oversimplified concepts of female and male are reinforced. Stereotypes like these can be dangerous.




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