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A recent change of scenery from my usual progressive social circles has unveiled to me a place where humour formulated around prejudice is completely normalised. Granted, there are no social spaces in which prejudice is entirely absent, however, there are spaces where such discourses are far more prevalent. Through travelling I have observed places where white men (though not exclusively) interact and draw on a ‘communal humour’ that is often sexist, racist, or homophobic in order to find common ground with one another. We all wish to be liked and be part of a group but are these ‘offensive’ jokes necessary to the creation of friendships? Can relationships between men not be built and sustained without such humour being tolerated?

In a recent conversation, a man expressed his desire for a “blonde with big tits” to settle down with, and then proceeded to identify who within the group best fits this description and how he could ‘take her’ from her current partner. The conversation swiftly moved on, but I was left troubled, my progressive liberal echo chamber had clearly sheltered me. In retrospect, my shock at such overt sexism is laughable – how could I believe my views where representative of wider society? Statistics alone show that we are not all on the same page. A third of 16 – 18 year old girl report unwanted sexual touching at school and a quarter of women in Britain experience domestic violence with the figures even higher for disabled women. Sexist jokes are only a small part of a far bigger picture.

"While at Cambridge and other supposedly liberal institutions we may think such comments remain in the past, they do not."

Some argue that we have moved on from inequality, and that it must be those who say they are struggling that are at fault. This idea is particularly prevalent in relation to gender equality. I, myself, have been guilty of thinking that ‘we have never had it so good’, but my singular understanding is obviously not representative of the whole. According to the United Nations, globally at least one in three women will be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in her lifetime. The presumption that we have moved past inequality allows for the continued oppression of marginalised people internationally, and feeds into the stereotype of feminists as angry man haters, similarly to how a scepticism towards racial inequalities can reinforce the stereotype that black people are just white hating. Negative opinions of those who call out injustices make it difficult for those marginalised groups to challenge the status quo for fear of being outcast.

We need to reclaim our liberation. Countless times I have heard women distance themselves from feminism or men use it as an insult to quell women’s complaints about gender injustices. But like with any movement, the individuals who come together under the umbrella of feminism will have different reasons for doing so, different levels of extremity, and different ideas for how gender equality is to be achieved – homogeneity within any movement is impossible. Feminism as an ideology is simply the belief in equality between the sexes and, surely, we can all agree on this. Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist demonstrates the implausibility of attaining the ‘perfect feminism’, but we can all aim to be ourselves and strive to live our lives in a feminist way. Perhaps if we all proudly identified as feminist, the term would no longer seem abstract or sinister. Maybe then we could start challenging misogyny, sexism, and the patriarchy, no longer silenced for fear of being branded a feminist. Even for those, like myself, who do outwardly identify with feminism, it can be difficult to stand your ground in social settings where you find yourself the lone feminist.

"We are not just offended, we are tired and disappointed."

In a later conversation, a woman was being described and  a man responded, “Why are we talking about her? Is she intelligent? Is she beautiful? I don’t care if she’s intelligent but if she’s beautiful tell me more.” The comment was followed by laughter, but the underpinning assumptions that a woman’s value lies in her beauty rather than her intellect, or that the two are antithetical to one another is both harmful and outdated. While at Cambridge and other supposedly liberal institutions we may think such comments remain in the past, they do not. Outside of the bubble these ‘jokes’ are common, particularly in those in-between spaces where men come together to connect, and more often than not they are said when there is not a woman around to ‘say something’. It’s not our job to correct them; challenging prejudice is bigger than women calling out men, black people calling out other races, or gay people calling out their straight friends. We all need to do our part, even when the comment doesn’t directly relate to us, and straight, white men need to hold each other accountable.


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On hearing offensive ‘jokes’ I always wonders what the thought process behind them saying such things may have been. Obviously, there will be those that do not realise how their comment, so deeply ingrained in a history likely unknown to them, reinforces pre-existing systems of oppression. However, as a pessimist in this respect, I refrain from giving people the benefit of the doubt. Worse, however, are those who proclaim themselves to be ‘controversial’ and use 'freedom of speech' to justify their comments. By doing so, they turn the blame on those 'sensitive souls' who were offended – we are not just offended, we are tired and disappointed. With all the resources available shouldn't these individuals be expected to educate themselves? And, I may be naive in saying this, but it’s 2020 - can we not move past humour based solely on prejudice?