Is This Cartoon Sexist?

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, January 1, 2019

I told my wife I was going to put this cartoon on my Facebook page and she said I shouldn’t because it might be considered sexist. It’s a cartoon by Alex Gregory whose work appears exclusively in the New Yorker. You can read an interesting bio of Gregory and a description of his work methods at A Case of Pencils, a blog devoted to New Yorker cartoonists.

I didn’t post the cartoon on Facebook because I’m now worried it could be sexist, but I wasn’t sure either. I asked a few women friends and some said it was okay and some weren’t sure. None took offense. So I went looking for definitions to “sexist” online. I was surprised by how many different definitions I found.

  • referring to women’s bodies, behavior, or feelings in a negative way
  • a person who believes that particular jobs and activities are suitable only for women and others are suitable only for men
  • suggesting that the members of one sex are less able, intelligent, etc. than the members of the other sex
  • a person who believers their gender is superior and says unfair things about the other gender, or assumes that only one gender as a certain trait
  • relating to or characterized by prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex
  • a person with sexist views
  • if you describe people or their behavior as sexist, you mean that they are influenced by the beliefs that the members of one sex, usually women, are less intelligent or less capable than those of the other sex and need not be treated equally
  • relating to, involving, or fostering sexism, or attitudes and behavior toward someone based on the person’s gender
  • involving sexism and the belief that men and women should be treated in a different way

By studying these definitions I might need a Supreme Court ruling to know if this cartoon is sexist or not. Part of the humor of this cartoon is it plays around with all of these issues. It assumes the stereotype that men are usually in the car and women are looking in the window. Just reversing roles is funny. If the man wore hotpants and the woman a suit, it would be a different kind of funny even without a caption. The cartoon is making generalizations about men and women behaviors, but are those generalizations negative? Is it an absolute generalization? Few people are prostitutes or hire them, so maybe it’s making no absolute assessments about either gender. However, many people, including myself, see prostitutes as victims of a sexist society.

I think the first thing we should ask: Does it offend anyone? Now I can’t answer that because I don’t know how all seven-plus billion people on Earth think. The next question: Could it offend anyone? And this is my present quandary. I don’t want to offend anyone, nor do I want to be perceived as sexist. The prudent solution: never generalize about gender. I shouldn’t be writing this essay and I shouldn’t post anything on Facebook that could ever be construed as dealing with gender differences.

I feel sorry for comedians, humorists, and cartoonists. This morning I read “These 13 Jokes From ‘Seinfeld’ Are Super Offensive Now.” I have to admit I thought them funny back in the nineties. So much of humor is observational generalizations.

But here’s the thing, almost everyone along the gender spectrum likes to occasionally generalize about others on the spectrum. This cartoon is funny to some people because it makes observations that coincide with their personal observations. We have a natural ability for organizing patterns into behavioral traits. We see certain kinds of clouds and we think it’s going to rain. We see certain prices on a menu and decide a restaurant is expensive. We see a movie preview with a superhero and we assume it’s based on a comic book. All of these can be false assumptions, so this ability creates a lot of prejudices.

What is this cartoon assuming? Even here I can’t say for sure. Everyone will see something different. My assumption is women think men don’t listen and wouldn’t it be funny if some women are so horny to be heard that they will pay for a professional male listener. However, I know men who feel women don’t listen, and a reverse of this cartoon could work for them. There are stories about prostitutes with Johns who pay just for conversational companionship.

Cartoons about prostitution generally involve men who can’t get laid paying women for sex. Should men consider such cartoons as demeaning to them? I would never use a prostitute. Should I be offended by the possible suggestion that all men would? Or will some women be offended at the suggestion that some women would be willing to pay to be heard? And will psychiatrists feel offended if they think their profession is a kind of prostitution?

I would guess that many women would say they know plenty of men who are poor listeners so the idea of paying a man to be attentive to their conservation all night long could be funny. Is that an insult to men? I know plenty of men who complain about having to listen to their wives and girlfriends, so this cartoon should be funny to them, but will it offend women in general? The reason why I even have this cartoon is one of my male friends thought it insightful because he feels his girlfriends talk too much. I thought it funny because so many women I know seem to like me because I’m willing to listen. I thought I could be that guy in the cartoon.

Maybe the humor is even simpler. Maybe its saying men want sex and women want conversation. Many married couples might agree, but does a portion of the population seeing humorous validity mean its not offensive to couples where the woman wants sex and the man conversation?

And where’s the inequality? Is it offensive to desire talk more than sex?

But you never know what words will do. For example, when I wanted a copy of this cartoon I searched on Google for “Male Prostitute” and selected the Images tab. I got copies of the cartoon but I also got mug shots of male prostitutes. It didn’t even occur to me what those words could also bring up. That’s the thing about worrying about offending, we never know the full consequences of words.

(Now I worry about what kind of ads I’ll be seeing in the next few days.)

JWH

 

6 thoughts on “Is This Cartoon Sexist?”

  1. Against your warning, let me generalize. It is rather sad that men or women would have to pay to be listened to and that others would find that funny. Indeed, prostitutes have told me that some men want to talk more than to have sex—their clients are starving for both. Women don’t think men listen to them, but they also don’t think men talk, particularly about their feelings. Men talk differently and women aren’t listening either. When I ran a divorce recovery group at our church, everyone talked and everyone listened. The men thought it was normal conversation, the women were shocked that men talked about their feelings. I moderated the discussion which may have made the difference.

    As to your question: “Could it offend anyone?” Good luck with that. These days everything offends someone. I’m sure someone will find something in your current post offensive.

    You subscribe to my blog site so you know I post fiction stories. Some of them I have second thoughts about—as being possibly offensive. November a year ago, I posted “Protocol Requires We Not Offend” (https://wordpress.com/post/keithkennyblog.wordpress.com/1034). I wanted to write a story where my protagonist was a flamboyant gay man—get my LGBTQX? feet wet. I ran the story by a gay relative and his husband. I liked the character quite a lot and they said they did, too. My relative said if I didn’t want to offend anyone, I would never be able to write anything.

    1. That is true, it’s rather tragic that we have so much loneliness in this very overpopulated world. I have known a number of women that have complained that men don’t express themselves, but when I’ve tried with them I got such impatience, indifference or criticism that I just stopped trying. The problem of talking and listening is rather complex. I have a friend who is dating again, and he said he was looking for a woman that talked/listened in the 50-50 range but would settle for 60-40, or even 70-30 but he felt like he was mostly meeting women in the 90-10 range.

      I imagine in your church counseling group, the structure promotes a balance of talk and listening. You must learn a lot from all the people you hear.

      By the way, that link didn’t work. I think it’s to the editor because your posts have dates and titles in the URL.

      1. My wife and I talk frequently about talking. Like most men, I don’t talk cathartically, i.e., to get something out of my system and help me face it. Men can often express their wants, needs, and problems in a dozen to twenty words. Some women think such short conversations indicate that they are not important to us … If the were we would talk more.

        Some nights after my church counseling group, I’d come home and cry for an hour. When my wife asked what was the problem, I told her I’d heard some terrible, terrible things. But privacy kept me from sharing them even with my wife. I do draw on these experiences in my stories and get some cathartic release there.

        I wasn’t aware that the links to my site didn’t work, so thanks for that. You might be able to pick up the stories by date and title in the archive.

      2. It must be very hard to be involved in counseling. I was on the grand jury for three months once, and we heard over a thousand cases. Most of them were about human misery. We really dreaded the child abuse cases. Also, I have a friend who is a lawyer who worked in child services and the juvenile courts, and she heard about so much misery too that she’d sometimes tell me about without personal details. It’s easy to ignore the misery in this world when we’re lucky and comfortable.

        That one link didn’t work. I think you must have been editing the page and used its link.

        I’m the kind of guy that holds it in. I can talk about abstract stuff all day long, but it’s hard to express my real emotions. Usually, that’s because I’d be talking to people I know and I don’t want to hurt people or cause emotional distress.

  2. It’s funny because it’s a stereotype. It doesn’t necessarily follow that this is your personal opinion of what men and women want, but you’re bound to get a few ‘haters’ along the way. I’m regarded as an outspoken feminist, and it made me chuckle.

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