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New Required Reading: How a Wound Heals

Did you watch the Oscars? I didn’t. I don’t have cable, and to be honest even when I did the Oscars seemed like a complete waste of time. Other people like them though, so my Twitter feed was absolutely SLAMMED with #Oscars tweets, which is how I learned that satirical news-site The Onion decided it would be hilarious to call 9 year-old actor Quvenzhané Wallis a “cunt”. Yeah. Funny, right?

Now, The Onion executive went on to apologize for the tweet (to the collective outrage of a chorus of dudebros who think that publicly and misogynistically dehumanizing a 9 year-old is a ‘zero bad’ kind of situation), but the damage was done. The attempt, as far as I can tell, was to satirize the flood of people whose only joy in life seems to be publicly hating on Hollywood actresses, no matter how innocent of any wrongdoing they may be. The problem is that… well, it’s not really my place to explain it. Here’s the absolute best discussion that I’ve seen anywhere:

I’m not outraged about this one tweet. I’m outraged about the cultural disease that spawned this tweet, the one where certain people are devalued and denigrated for sport and then told to laugh it off because hey, you know, it’s humor.

Or I’m outraged because I was twelve the first time I was called a cunt and I didn’t even know what the word meant. I was nearly thirteen the next time, and by then I did know what the word meant. An old man told me he loved “fresh cunt” and was not shy in detailing what he was going to do to mine. I was wearing a jumper and tights. And that’s also part of the cultural disease, this need to explain to you that I didn’t ask for it, that I was dressed modestly. This particular incident is not even something I have ever spent too much time thinking about because, frankly, it’s one of the lesser offenses. It barely registers until something reminds me of it, like a poorly considered tweet. Cultural disease.

If you get too riled up about this sort of thing, you’re humorless. You’re easily offended. You’re told to “get over it.” You’re told to have a “sense of humor.”

I might be all laughed out.

Rarely does anyone stop to consider that certain groups of people are always the butt of the joke, and, all too often, the jokes are just stupid. Give folks a break, once in a while.

Once again, the problem that the defenders of the tweet think is to blame for the controversy is the fact that women (particularly black women) just don’t understand humour. That they’ve never faced jokes before. That they’ve never stopped to consider the nuance and clever sophistry at play when someone publicly calls a 9 year-old black girl a “cunt”.

The actual problem is that the defenders of this brand of humour are the ones who lack a sense of humour – they don’t understand that they are the only ones laughing. They’ve never faced dehumanizing harassment and verbal assault for the crime of existing while black and female before. They’ve never stopped to consider the horror and undeserved shame of failing to live up to some constantly-moving standard of acceptable femininity – a target that is small enough for white women but that is near-imperceptible for black women. They’ve never had to deal with the violent consequences of being a “cunt” when someone isn’t just making high-larious jokes.

I sincerely doubt there was a single person among the flood who immediately objected to the tweet that didn’t “get” the joke. We live awash in a culture that makes these sorts of jokes. That same culture also justifies violence against black women* by finding endless reasons to make that violence a consequence of “cuntiness” rather than misogyny. We live, floating perpetually in a sea of these kinds of comments, the attitudes that inform them, and the behaviours they lead to.

The Onion was right to apologize, and the people defending the original tweet need to really ask themselves how important the freedom to say things like that about a 9 year-old girl is to them.

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*And not just black women, as Edmonton Police so shockingly demonstrate. Trigger warning for violence, victim blaming, abuse by police.

Comments

  1. says

    I am so fucking embarrassed by my city. It used to be that living in Edmonton was the only thing that kept me sane while living in Alberta. Between this and the Katz-licking “business friendly” toadies in city hall, that’s no longer the case.

  2. mythbri says

    They’ve never stopped to consider the horror and undeserved shame of failing to live up to some constantly-moving standard of acceptable femininity – a target that is small enough for white women but that is near-imperceptible for black women. They’ve never had to deal with the violent consequences of being a “cunt” when someone isn’t just making high-larious jokes.

    hat same culture also justifies violence against black women* by finding endless reasons to make that violence a consequence of “cuntiness” rather than misogyny.

    This kind of language that makes it possible to have humor based on de-valuing women and impossible to object without being told to “lighten up” or “let it go” or “stop being so sensitive” is absolutely a part of the rape culture that deems certain “types” of women to be unrapeable. This means that no matter what is done to these women, they must have done something to deserve it. Their value is so low that they are not worth society’s protection. They do not deserve society’s empathy. Society prefers that they shut up and take it.

    This language only reinforces it. This “humor” only reinforces it. It is so deeply entrenched, like the author of the linked piece says, that some women and girls don’t even get to the point of a reflexive defense of themselves – they are told, repeatedly, that they deserve. When you’re raised to believe that you can’t protest bad treatment, and you receive a hell of a backlash if you do….

    I can’t believe that people don’t understand that Quvenzhane was being insulted not just as a girl, but as a black girl. The perceived “hypersexualization” of women of color is commonly used to excuse violence and abuse against them – this tweet was sexist, and because of its target, also racist.

    This is not being too sensitive. This is screaming in pain as someone pours salt into open wounds.

  3. smhll says

    That same culture also justifies violence against black women* by finding endless reasons to make that violence a consequence of “cuntiness” rather than misogyny.

    “Cuntiness” can often be a misogynistic projection. It’s in the mind of the beholder, not in the behavior of the person being ‘beheld’.

    Thank you for writing about this.

  4. edithkeeler says

    I had an “interesting” convo on twitter yesterday re offensiveness and humourlessness — which I have immortalised in storify form — with a guy who proudly claimed to be offensive and called me humourless for objecting to him use of the word retard. After a short bit of digging we find out in fact he has his own contextual objection to the word, although he has not replied to my pointing out that makes him just as ‘humourless’ as I am.

    This conversation confirmed what I had already suspected. The squealing about ‘not getting the joke’ is just a figleaf for wanting to not giving a shit about other people.

    (NB. In Australia the Liberal party are the conservatives)

  5. ck says

    You forgot the Seth Macfarlane joke that was the backstory for that tweet:

    So let me just address those of you up for an award, so you got nominated for an oscar, something a 9-year-old could do! She’s adorable, Quvenzhane. She said to me backstage. “I really hope I don’t lose to that old lady, Jennifer Lawrence.” To give you an idea how young she is it’ll be 16 years before she’s too old for Clooney.

    It seems to me that they were trying to use that joke to take a jab at Seth’s terrible misogynistic “jokes”, but in doing so, they effectively did the same thing Seth was doing, and used the child the exact same way Seth did.

  6. says

    I seriously tripping on the irony of the assumption that those of us who are most consistently, constantly, targeted for dehumanization and ridicule by the Onions, Seth MacFarlanes and Toshes of the world are especially, specifically in need of having the nature of such jokes explained to us, and be “taught” what they are and how to “take” them, by exactly the people who are always in the position of audience, never the target.

    Like…what the hell does some 20-something, middle-class, cisgender, straight, able-bodied white guy know about “taking a joke”? He never has to. While I, as a trans woman, am dehumanized and ridiculed by literally-I’m-not-even-joking-seriouslys-guys-almost-EVERY stand-up and sitcom and jokey “liberal” fake-news show and comedy-blog on Earth. But I’m the one who needs to “learn” here, and he’s the one to do the teaching?

  7. freemage says

    I would like to say that the Onion’s apology was spot-on–there wasn’t an ounce of victim-blaming in it. Just a flat-out, “Wow, this was wrong, we’re sorry, and we’re taking steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again, in part by figuring out what was going on that let it happen in the first place.” It was also fast enough to come across as sincere, rather than manufactured–and it didn’t once use the word “if”, as in, “If we offended anyone…”. They owned it, and so long as the future shows that the lesson’s been taken to heart, that should be the end of it. (One effect, of course, was a demonstration that they actually understand context and “punching up” as key rules of satire, something the others just don’t seem to get.)

    MacFarlane, of course, is just a privileged libertarian asshat whom I would dearly love to see get the Twilight Zone treatment.

  8. Yoyo says

    The onion frequently makes outrageous jokes, like the piece they did about Lincoln following the Oscar win. However, there is no excuse for calling a child a cunt. Although as a feminist I really object to the fact that we have assigned cunt as the worst of swear words, (why not prick or dickhead for example,) because it is such a violent and sexually charged epithet, attaching it to a young girl is a hideous act of violence.
    The fact that it is often coupled with a racial slur ” you black c..t” cannot be taken out of the equation.

  9. Rieux says

    Piggybacking on freemage @7: What do folks think about that apology? The Onion staff behind the apology certainly is taking a different tack from the dudebros who prefer to defend the tweet; how much credit should we give the staff?

    (Like freemage, I was reasonably impressed/relieved by the apology, but as a privileged-group member in everything but my atheism, I’m one of the folks who is here (as usual) in the category for whom, as Ian put it, “it’s not really my place to explain,” or to comment meaningfully. Thus my questions.)

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