I make a lot of jokes. Often, it’s just for the sake of making the joke and, yes, I am hilarious, thank you very much. However, sometimes my jokes have a sneaky, secret purpose: I’m trying to fix you, and you don’t even realise because you’re too busy laughing.
Usually, this special tactic is something I pull out in a group situation, when someone says something they shouldn’t. Maybe it’s a sexist comment, maybe they’re saying something smug or mean, or they’re making a dig at someone else and I feel compelled to rush to that person’s defence. In that scenario, you can’t turn to the offending party and say, “Actually, I don’t think it’s OK for you to make comments like that.” That would be weird. That would be intense. That would make it awkward for everyone else. Instead, I make a little joke. I turn it back on them. It’s a playful but real jab in the ribs; a truth-bomb-telling-off wrapped up in a humorous bow. Everyone’s laughing. The offending party puts up their hands and concedes defeat. I am victorious.
Except, I haven’t really changed a thing.
Because what happens when you fight back with humour, is that people think you’re making light of it. They don’t understand that you’re playing a subtle game of change, that there’s a nugget of truth in the joke you’re making. They think, “We’re just having a laugh now, so what I said must be funny. In fact, this is banter. This is our little in-joke now. I’m going to make comments like this even more, and then even more laughter will be shared. How wonderful.” In fact, this week my partnership group were talking about how to lovingly tell people when they’re doing something wrong, and I brought this up as an example. And my friend Josh (who is not, I hasten to add, a person with whom I ever have to employ this tactic) said, “I have to say, as a man, that is incredibly confusing. I would just think, ‘She’s laughing. This must be OK.’”
And this makes me wonder (and I hate to wonder these things if I can possibly help it)* is this a men-and-women thing? As women, are we generally expected to be indirect when expressing our opinions, and so we laugh it off instead of calling it out? I thought I was a fairly direct person. If anything, I thought I was almost too confrontational for my own good. But, now I think about it, I often employ this joke-y tactic with guys instead of girls. Am I too scared to step up and go toe-to-toe with the big boys?
Because men, I’ve heard it said, appreciate directness, and yet there is still a culture of women trying to change men through subtlety. It’s that “let him think it was his idea” kind of thing. The “oh, it’s nothing” when it’s really something, and making him guess what it is. When a man keeps asking when I plan on having kids, and I retort with, “Get out of my uterus” everyone laughs, but it’s hardly surprising that that man then thinks it’s fun to wind me up. I think I’m conveying the complexities of asking a woman that sensitive question; that a woman is more than a baby-maker and would appreciate being asked about something else once in a while; that it’s weird and rude to ask about a person’s sex life; that you don’t know what a couple might be going through with conception or miscarriages or if one of you wants to have a baby but the other one doesn’t – but, now I think about it, it’s hard to get all of that across with “Get out of my uterus”.
I think I need to stop laughing things off when I should be shutting them down. I think I talk a good game about being direct, about arguing well, about not imagining the conversations but actually having them – and now it’s time I actually practise what I preach. I think I need to find a way to speak truth to people without getting too intense or making too light of it. Maybe it will be awkward, maybe it will be uncomfortable, but we are called to restore each other, to make each other better, to speak up in truth and love and be open-minded when our friends do that with us. That’s how the world changes, and that’s certainly no joke.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti
*At this juncture, for my own sanity, I would just like to say that I am making sweeping generalisations that might apply to a large chunk of men or women but doesn’t necessarily apply to all men and women; that we are all uniquely made and if you don’t identify with what I’m saying that doesn’t mean you’re not every bit the woman or man that you are. OK, just had to get that out there, you can go back to reading the blog now.