Letter: Unfunny jokes are hurtful

Editor, the Gauntlet,

Sexist and racist jokes are still current and common in day-to-day life. Despite the many works that anti-racist activists and feminists have done to end the formal discrimination of peoples, the sexist and racist joke is seen as an innocent commentary on “facts.” This then trivializes and downplays the power structures underlining the problem existing today.

In last week’s Gauntlet, “Faculty dress: a critique” [John Reid, March 5, 2009] was a commentary on stereotypical views of certain faculties. Arguably, it can be read as a relatively innocent, and yet true, observation of the faculty members. This, however, is offset by the fact that, regardless of the context of this piece, some of the commentary made has a negative connotation.

“Walking through engineering is a more multicultural experience than the UN and is usually accompanied by an assault on your nose of ethnic foods, body odour, cheap beer and anxiety sweat,” it states. “Girls don’t have to worry about a dress code because if there’s a girl in Schulich, she’s probably lost.”

Many people who have read this piece probably found it to be humourous. Indeed, the attempt was to make this as humourous as possible and although the author does engage in a bit of self-ridicule of his own faculty and gender, this does not mitigate or excuse the fact that negative language was used to describe what we so often see as the “other.”

It is not understandable why ethnic foods, for example, are seen to “assault” one’s nose. Also, by saying that multiculturalism exists in engineering and then to comment that body odour is prevalent makes it seem that multiculturalism is the reason why body odour exists in this department. Despite the intention of the author, which was to make a joke, there is no good reason why this should be seen as a social commentary based on a fact or why it is even remotely funny.

The last time I stepped into Engineering, my nose was not assaulted by body odour and ethnic foods. Also, I have seen quite a few non-ethnic (i.e. Caucasian) students and faculty milling around the buildings. Multiculturalism, although it includes Caucasians and what we deem “ethnic minorities,” implies that we are talking specifically about minority groups. This is usually because Caucasians are, wrongfully so, implied to have no culture or to have a culture of hatred towards minorities due to historical events.

In addition, despite the fact that the faculty of engineering is predominantly male, this gives no reason to point out that females are “lost” if they are there. Once again, the joke is inappropriate. How about parliament? Are women lost there too? What about nursing? Are men lost there? To say that a certain person is “lost” in a certain setting implies that this person does not belong there and cannot understand or appreciate said setting. Lost implies stupidity or even a possible misunderstanding of what a certain place is. This is, then, a negative depiction of association of women and engineering.

It’s one thing to make jokes that bash everyone equally, however the point is usually that these jokes are used to satirize a problem within our society. If this was the intent of “Faculty dress,” the mark was definitely missed.

All in all, there still exist certain power structures within our society that construct a social hierarchy. Regardless of the leeway we have made to ensure that discrimination is no longer legally acceptable, institutionalized racism and sexism continues to rear its ugly head. Unfortunately, this also means that many people who continue to accept and re-iterate these particular follies have no idea they continue, nor intend to continue, the cycle of “othering.” Pieces like “Faculty dress: a critique” are written from a point of power and privilege and their being unopposed demonstrates much more should be done to change the blind acceptance and continuation of underlining racist and sexist themes in our society.

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