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Haha sexism

BY SAMANTHA MILLER | NOVEMBER 11, 2009 7:20 AM

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A very handy tool on everyone’s favorite search engine, Google, will fill in subsequent words in your inquiry you may be intending to search for. For instance, if you begin to type “Brad,” it will anticipate you are searching for “Brad Pitt.” Google does this because Brad Pitt is the most searched Brad. Voilà. Time saved.

As handy as it is, it can also highlight the most popular beliefs and interests of those who use the search engine. Let me elaborate: Google “women should” and just see what it recommends based on previous searches.

No, it doesn’t suggest “run for president” or “have equal pay.” Instead, the top three searches will tell you women should “wear white like all other domestic appliances,” “not wear pants,” and “not speak in church” (oh, and if for the latter you were hoping to alternatively search for “be silent in church,” fret not, that’s Google’s following recommendation.) As you read further down the list, you get other helpful search ideas such as “stay at home,” “not be in combat,” and “not preach.”

Thank God for Google. It reads my mind … or someone’s mind, at least.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not faulting Google for suggesting the most inquiries of its users. No, I’m just deeply disturbed these suggestions are the most likely inquiries of its users.

In a year in which Gloria Steinem celebrated her 75th birthday and women for the first time make up half of the country’s working population (how about that?), sometimes it takes a slap in the face to bring high-flying feminists (myself included) back down-to-earth and make a hard realization: The accomplishments that still need to be made may lie less in statistics and more in the attitudes of friends, neighbors, and ourselves.

So how does one go about changing the attitude of a person, let alone millions of people? Well obviously, there is no concrete answer to this, or all issues of sex, ethnicity, class, and gender would be solved. (And we all know that’s not the case.) I guess the most effective way of dissecting attitude issues is to look at the problem itself and its sources.

The problems surrounding anonymous sex attitudes don’t just show up on search engines, websites, and blogs. Some of the most common instances in which sexist (yeah, I finally said it) attitudes and comments enter our eardrums is often in the cloak of comedy.

Now, I’m not arguing that any joke that deals with an individual’s sex is sexist or mean-spirited. In many cases, comedy is effective at pointing out ironies and diffusing tensions dealing with sensitive topics such as sex. But a specific brand of comedy that has become popular concerns me. You’re familiar with the type: Programs on TV, such as “Family Guy” and late-night standup, get their riles by making audacious and taboo comments about people or groups, which are often effective because of their use of hyperbole and ironies. It can be some really funny stuff.

But this kind of humor has spread to the mainstream, and clearly most of us are not comedians; sometimes we just take it too far. You know the joke — the overly sarcastic comment poking fun at women at home, women in the workplace, women in politics, etc. The kind of joke you can’t call someone out on because they’ll say they were just kidding — after all, it was all a joke, right? It seems like this distinction of jokes targeting women has escaped the critical eye that exists with ethnicity or class. I’m not necessarily arguing that all these jokes fail to be funny. But what is still unsettling, I think, is that these jokes are reinforcing attitudes and stereotypes that women have worked so hard to refute for decades, especially during the second-wave feminism movement.

In a time that many consider post-feminist, I worry that sexist attitudes are too comfortably nesting in hahas.


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