A strange thing happened on Sunday night when I watched Seth MacFarlane joke that Zero Dark Thirty is a movie about how bitches be naggin', and listened to him croon about how lovely Jodie Foster's naked boobs looked mid-simulated-gang-rape. I felt...nothing. Just nothing. Nothing beyond exhaustion and an extreme desire for wine, anyway. I wasn't happy about it, but compared to what I was expecting from MacFarlane, it was a yawn. Compared to the sheer volume of hate and misogyny I filter every day for my job, it was a sneeze.
So I wrote happy jokes about other stuff instead. I bowed out, essentially. And I was thrilled to read and disseminate smart takedowns of MacFarlane's primetime misogyny on Monday morning, letting other people do the heavy lifting that I was too fatigued to engage with. Because this fatigue—it's really something.
My struggle as a feminist and a critic isn't to contain my outrage—it's to remind myself to feel anything at all.
Because it's important, here's Vulture:
Seth MacFarlane made a whole bunch of sexist, reductive jokes at the Oscars last night. It's frustrating enough to know that 77 percent of Academy voters are male. Or to watch 30 men and 9 women collect awards last night. But MacFarlane's boob song, the needless sexualization of a little girl, and the relentless commentary about how women look reinforced, over and over, that women somehow don't belong. They matter only insofar as they are beautiful or naked, or preferably both. This wasn't an awards ceremony so much as a black-tie celebration of the straight white male gaze.
And the New Yorker:
But since so much of MacFarlane's humor was rote and derivative, it's more likely that he just stopped at the idea that "Zero Dark Thirty" was about "every woman's innate ability to never ever let anything go." That's what it means when a woman in the office believes in something, and presses for it? There was a joke, too, about Jennifer Aniston not admitting having worked as an "exotic dancer"-and at that point MacFarlane had already more or less called Meryl Streep one. It's possible that the line about not caring that he couldn't understand a word that Penelope Cruz or Salma Hayek said because they were good to look at was directed as much at Latinos as at women, since he also mentioned Javier Bardem-but that doesn't make it any better. What are women in Hollywood for? To judge from a few other MacFarlane jokes, they're for dating men in Hollywood, until the men decide that they're too old.
And the Atlantic:
What the jokes were, really, was stupid, boring, and empty: humor that relied less on its own patently sexist, racist, homophobic, etc. content than on admiration for or disgust with the host's willingness to deliver it. So much of comedy is about the shock of recognition, of seeing some previously unacknowledged truth suddenly acknowledged, but the only recognition MacFarlane offered was that some people say dumb things about other peoples' gender/racial/sexual identities. Which, of course, should not be shocking at all.
Johansson isn't even on MacFarlane's list for a film she made. Instead, she made her way into the song because of a real-life invasion of privacy, where her nude photos were stolen from her phone and leaked to the Internet. That is an actual, not fictional violation, and MacFarlane played it for laughs.
Up top, y'all. Thanks for that. I really couldn't do it. I could barely care that he's said he won't be doing it again next year.
To put it simply, I AM TIRED OF TRYING TO EXPLAIN THIS SHIT TO PEOPLE WHO DON'T WANT TO HEAR IT. Especially "jokes" like MacFarlane's, which, to the layperson's ear, barely register above microaggressions (if the kind of people who see no problem whatsoever with "We Saw Your Boobs" were the kind of people who used the term "microaggressions"). I am tired of trying to have an intellectual discussion about dog-whistle sexism in a culture where prominent politicians are still trying to grasp what rape is, and in a world where little girls are shot in the head because they want to go to school. Asking people to think critically about some hacky jokes from a dancing cartoonist? You might as well wear a sandwich board that says, "Yell at Me With Bad Grammar."
I am tired of being called a shrieking harridan for pointing out inequalities so tangible and blatant that they are regularly codified into law. I am tired of being told to provide documentation of inequality in the comments sections of a website where a staff of smart women documents inequality as fast as our fingers can move. Like, you might as well write me a note on a banana peel demanding that I prove to you that bananas exist. I am tired of being asked to "cite sources" proving that sexism is real (that RAPE is real, even!), because there is no way to concisely cite decades and decades of rigorous academia. Allow me to point at the fucking library. We can't cite "everything," and our challengers know that. It's an insulting diversionary tactic, it's an attempt to drag us all backwards, and fuck it. Do your own research like the rest of the grown-ups.
What are you supposed to do when someone asks you to "prove" that feminism isn't a massive conspiracy theory in a country where we've only had 39 female senators in the nation's entire history, and 20 of them are serving right now? What kind of a stupid fucking question is that? What are you supposed to say when the 8,000th faux-incredulous jackass throws you the same argument about the wage gap or the draft or bumbling dads in Tide commercials—as though holding each of their hands individually through the empirical facts of the world around us is a worthwhile use of my time. As though feminist academics haven't filled books (decades of books) with answers to that shit already. As though they believe that if they can keep you occupied refuting their flimsy trump cards over and over forever, they can stave off any changes to the culture that keeps them on top. I am so fucking fatigued by this anti-intellectual repetitive shell game that all I could do on Sunday night was write jokes about Barbra Streisand's hella goth choker.
But. I couldn't quit doing this any more than my cells could "quit" processing oxygen (or whatever cells do! Us girls aren't so good in the sciences!). I'm not a feminist by choice, I'm a feminist because this is the world. And if my fatigue sounds defeatist, it isn't. It's the opposite. It's an internal rallying cry that reminds me how bad things are. If you pay attention to and comment on everyday inequalities—immense and tiny—if you let all of it filter through you and you hop around and eyeroll and groan and drive your boyfriend crazy because he just wants to watch the IT Crowd but you NEED to talk about what Pat Robertson said today, this is what happens. Seth MacFarlane will go on the television and make a joke about George Clooney having sex with a 9-year-old girl who is sitting right there, and your first reaction will be, "Well. At least he didn't literally say she should get raped. Pass the cheese."
That's bad. A famous man making sexist jokes on a primetime awards show watched by millions of people is so banal and status-quo in our culture, that to me—a woman professionally committed to detecting and calling bullshit on sexism—it just feels like a drop in the bucket. Luckily, there's nothing better than a depressing dose of apathy to remind you to FUCK THE BUCKET. If I'm not fatigued, I'm not caring enough. So fuck that stupid bucket.