Saturday, April 25, 2015

Sometimes a Joke Really IS a Big Deal

You may have heard that Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner made some offensive jokes at the expense of the Black Widow character and those with prosthetic limbs during their Avengers: Age of Ultron press tour. You may have also heard that both have since issued apologies (Evans' being infinitely more sincere than Renner's sorry-you-got-mad statement). If you've been paying attention, you may also have noticed that there are droves of people who have come out in their defense as they were clearly joking in the interview. Here's the thing: As anyone who follows the She-Geeks Facebook page should know by now, I adore Chris Evans. I'm also a big, ole fan of Jeremy Renner, and I honestly do not believe either of these men are sexist, ableist, or bad people in general. Rather, I imagine they're both pretty delightful humans who were likely extremely tired and attempting to have some fun answering a ridiculous question during the 800th interview they had given in an very short window of time. Such is the life when promoting a movie, and I do not at all envy them that task.

None of that, however, means that we should ignore the problems with the things they said. Jokes or no, fictional characters or no, there are issues with the things they said and this conversation (that so many people are extremely resistant to) needs to happen. Why? Well, there are a whole lot of reasons, but comments like these (taken from a friend's Facebook post about Evans' and Renner's apologies) are a good place to start:

"I have a feeling this is a 3rd wave feminist social justice bully attack but I'll bite - what did they originally say?"
"So Jermey Renner called black widow a slut....

Big whoop dee do!! Why is this news???"
First of all, I still do not understand why people think the term "social justice" is bad. Seriously, social justice is something we should all be striving to achieve. By its very definition, it benefits us all. Like civil rights and taco Tuesdays, we should all hold the concept of social justice up as a goal, not spit the words out like some kind of ironic insult. Second, calling Black Widow a slut is indeed a "big whoop dee do" because that joke is indicative of how casually women are belittled and dismissed based on their sexual partners. In this case, the question of how these guys feel about the character not ending up on one of their arms is met with "she's a slut" and "she's a complete whore," which is a reaction real women get from real men all. the. time. There is a very real and very scary trend in which women are attacked verbally (and even physically) when they reject a man's advances. The fact that so many women are legitimately afraid of the reaction they may get if they turn down a man that there are services designed to allow them to hand out a fake phone number instead of risking the ire of a rejected man, means that this is a pervasive problem that effects women around the world and needs to be addressed. In many ways, society and the portrayal of women in the entertainment industry have taught men that if they act a certain way, or endure enough time in the dreaded "friend zone"* they are somehow entitled to sleep with a woman; as if instead of being independent beings with valid thoughts, feelings, and emotions, women are little more than a prize for good behavior. Much like a child who didn't get the cookie they were promised for behaving at the market, we tend to lash out when we do not get something we feel we are entitled to. These kinds of jokes, intentionally or not, perpetuate the dangerous mindset that certain behaviors or actions entitle a man to lash out against a woman who doesn't reward him with the response he feels he's earned.

Do I think that's what either of these men (or the female interviewer who asked such a ridiculous question to begin with) meant by their jokes? Of course not. As I said before, I don't think ill of either of them, but the fact that such casual jokes are viewed by so many as harmless is why we need to have this conversation. I'm not writing this as a scathing take down piece; this is an opportunity to bring these issues to light and explain a point of view that has been traditionally less vocal for various reasons. You're welcome to tell me all the ways I'm overreacting to this when women stop getting shot for not giving out their phone number, or being stabbed for saying no to a junior prom invitation, or getting their throat cut for turning down a date.

Now, let's not forget the second part of that tasteless joke:
"She's got a prosthetic leg anyway." 

"Leading everybody on..."
So, having a prosthetic leg is a deal breaker? Does that make her damaged goods and somehow unworthy of Hawkeye or Cap? How, exactly, is that supposed to not be offensive to anyone with a prosthetic limb? Again, they were clearly joking, but being a joke doesn't make everything automatically ok. Racist jokes aren't ok just because they're jokes, and neither are sexist or ableist jokes. I truly do believe that nothing is sacred when it comes to humor, but it all lies in the delivery and how it's used. There's a right way and a wrong way to use humor, and using it to punch down for a cheap laugh is the wrong way. Comedy can be a powerful tool, and Uncle Ben taught us all years ago that "with great power comes great responsibility," so let's try to use that tool for good, eh?

* "Friend zone" is another phrase that I feel is used incorrectly. The "friend zone" doesn't sound like a place of punishment, or a place to which sad men are banished. It sounds like a magical place to hang out with your buds, where pizza and beer and laughter are prevalent, and the only thing you have to worry about is what video game you should play next. Please, put me in the "friend zone" as often as you can, cause my friends are amazeballs and I do not get to spend nearly enough time with them.


  1. Well said! Thank you for laying it out for all the skeptics out there. It IS a big deal, and they did have to apologize for it.

  2. "First of all, I still do not understand why people think the term "social justice" is bad."

    Yeah, how did we get to a place where people are essentially saying "I'm against our society being a respectful place for everyone"?