Stand and deliver ... do gay comedians have carte blanche to tell sexist jokes?
I'm tired of hearing stuff like this onstage:
“Don't get me wrong, I love Christina Aguilera--I just can't hear her singing over the sound of her chins wobbling.”
“If women had penises, then I'd talk to them.”
“Every time I even think the word 'vagina', I want to gag.”
If a straight male said something like that, the audience would destroy him. However, it's a different story for a gay male comedian. Gay male comics can declare how disgusting they find women's bodies, how ugly older women are, how women are hags, nags, sluts, bitches and whores and the audience will laugh.
Why do we find it acceptable for gay men to ridicule women? I've been guilty of doing this myself. I've smiled politely as my gay friends have mock-vomited at images of naked women, or declared “If I saw you nude, I'd have to take my eyeballs out and soak them in bleach. Ha ha ha!”
I'm tolerating behaviour I'd never accept from straight men.
Gay male misogyny is seen most obviously in the work of stand up comedians and drag queens. Of course not all drag queens and gay male comics make demeaning jokes about women and not all straight male comics shy away from them. However, for those gay males who do use women as a punchline, it's the intensity of the nastiness that stands out.
Jokes that ridicule women purely for their age, weight or appearance are very difficult for straight men to deliver successfully and yet, audiences will laugh when it comes from a gay man. And a straight man referring to a woman as a bitch, without irony or political context, may as well have an onstage death wish.
Joel Creasey, an emerging comic who is gay, understands the double standard. “I was at a gig recently and a straight guy did a joke that I found incredibly insulting to women. He lost the audience straight away...I did wonder, if I did that joke, would I get away with it?”
Maybe we tolerate this sexism because we worry that if we criticise it, we'll be labelled homophobic.
Dr. Peter Robinson, lecturer in sociology at Swinburne University and author of The Changing World of Gay Men, believes that might be the case “but if it's misogyny, it's appropriate to point it out, just as it would be if it were homophobia or racism. The collectivity of the gay community is now large enough and strong enough to have those discussions.”
Triple J announcer Tom Ballard believes it is because gay men are seen as women's allies.
“I think audiences give greater leeway to gay male comics...because, as a general rule, gay men have very close and strong relationships with women ("fag hag" relationships, close bonds with mothers, etc), so we assume the comedian doesn't really mean what he's saying, it's all just a FABULOUS joke.”
However, straight men have strong bonds with women as well (wives, mothers, daughters) and sexist jokes from them are seen as just that: sexist.
It's an uncomfortable thought but maybe we don't think gay men are 'real' men and that's why we don't take attacks from them seriously.
Peter Robinson tentatively agrees. “It could well be...and if that's the case, it's patronising.”
One young gay friend of mine told me emphatically that he had never witnessed misogyny. I remember thinking the same thing when I was a teenager. I even wrote a speech entitled “Has Feminism Gone Too Far?” It was only as I got older I realised hatred towards women still existed, and I'd just been failing to see it.
Peter Robinson believes that “men who came of age during the height of feminism are sensitive to issues of sexism. But younger cohorts don't have the benefit of women's liberation to help them unpick their ideas. I know that's a bit controversial, because feminism still exists, but maybe that's a contributing factor.”
When I asked Tom Ballard his thoughts on why gay male comics can get away with misogyny (for example, doing jokes about how revolting they find vaginas) he replied, “...I wouldn't say that someone saying that they're disgusted by vaginas is necessarily misogynist; it could just be them being brutally honest.”
I know Tom and I know he cares about women; his routines often point out the hypocrisy of discrimination against them. However, this may be an example of what Peter is talking about—it's not deliberate sexism, it's simply not always recognising it for what it is.
Honesty does not cancel out misogyny. Finding vaginas revolting is hating something that is exclusively female. We would be horrified by a straight man saying such a thing and yet we exempt gay males from the same scrutiny. That doesn't do either us or gay men any favours and it excludes them from the mainstream debate.
Most comedians, myself included, have a few jokes that rely on stereotypes, but there's a difference between an easy joke and a cheap shot. Sexism, like racism and homophobia, is a cheap shot.
Gay men face abuse every day. They know what it's like to be judged on something that is intrinsically a part of them. The ability for empathy is there. It's time we started questioning the gay male performers, and our friends, who use women as a punchline.