Should gay men make sexist jokes?

Stand and deliver ... do gay comedians have carte blanche to tell sexist jokes?

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.”

He's right.

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.

63 comments

  • It's no surprise that some gay men make sexist jokes. They might be gay but they're still men. One of the most mysoginist men I've ever known was a gay man and sadly, even women can be mysoginists.

    It seems to me that sexism is the last bastion of political incorrectness. Racism and homophobia are no go zones. Mysoginy? A free for all.

    Commenter
    Mel
    Date and time
    February 22, 2012, 8:56AM
    • Mel, I'm curious to know your opinion on the plethora of main stream television shows (and nearly every commercial ad break for that matter) featuring men portrayed as utter morons that have to be unhappily but patiently borne by the poor long suffering and far more intelligent female featured beside them? Given that you seem to think that men hold a patent on sexism, I point out your seeming lack of awareness at the sexism inherent in the statement 'of course they can be sexist they are still men'. Sexism is sexism.

      Commenter
      Aaron
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 22, 2012, 12:45PM
    • Well done Aaron - first reply to a post and it is the 'poor men' brigade. Because men are so terribly disadvantaged compared to women. I'm not suggesting there is no sexism in both directions, but just do some learning and stop being so self-centred. The NUMBER ONE preventable admission to hospital for women is domestic violence. Number one. Almost all rape is men raping women (note I said almost, I acknowledge it happens to men too - although ironically again men are usually the perpetrators) Stop side lining everything for your own agenda.

      Commenter
      Narc
      Date and time
      February 22, 2012, 2:14PM
    • @Aaron, I'm surprised by your ignorance and, I should add, just slightly offended. Sexism is a one-way street; a woman simply cannot be sexist towards a male. By definition, sexual discrimination is harrassment and/or negative attitudes by men directed at women. Anything which appears even remotely similar to the lesser male mind is an echo of thousands of years of having things their own way, and anything a woman does to a man is not only deserved but thoroughly justified.

      Commenter
      Empowered woman
      Location
      Everywhere you look
      Date and time
      February 22, 2012, 2:23PM
  • Of course sexism in comedy is not exclusive to men. Please find me a female comic who does not based half of their jokes on how awful men are. And we have all heard women joke about how ugly penises and scrotums are. Corrine I think you have failed to understand what comedy is really about. I never saw you as a comedian anyway, so I don't expect you to understand.

    Commenter
    Mr S
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    February 22, 2012, 9:00AM
    • It's not a competition. She's raising an issue. It's also an issue that many female comedians do as you say, but you're wrong in sayintg that they all do (or all women do).

      The issue Grant is raising is the double-standard between straight and gay male comedians - it doesn't mean that there aren't other issues, and you're derailing the point by trying to turn it that way.

      Commenter
      vacri
      Date and time
      February 22, 2012, 12:49PM
  • you had me until the bit about Tom Ballard finding vaginas disgusting and claiming that that is a sexist position.

    Think about it Corrine, a straight male may or may not like vaginas but they are part of the body of the sex he is attracted to. A gay man has no attraction to women and therefore it is quite logical that he would be repulsed by the whole vaginal area.

    It really is no different to me as a man saying that I find other men's penises ugly. Thats not being sexist, it is just stating a fact - and as Tom says, "being honest".

    Commenter
    martin
    Location
    melbourne
    Date and time
    February 22, 2012, 9:12AM
    • I find men's arseholes revolting too. Does that make me a homophobe?

      Commenter
      Franco
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 22, 2012, 10:49AM
    • repulesed is a prettty strong reaction... and that strong a reaction is not really in the 'logical' cateory

      Commenter
      sherri
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 22, 2012, 2:07PM
    • I think she was referring not to the mere opinion but the hate and vitriole that accompanies it. Have you ever seen a gay comedian? I've seen several - I went to a few comedy clubs in NY (where most of the comedians for one reason or another were gay) and was shocked at the three main topics:
      1. sexaul assault/rape is apparently hilarious
      2. women are repulsive and inadequate at everything
      3. fat people are really funny to denigrate, partiucarly if they are women

      Commenter
      Narc
      Date and time
      February 22, 2012, 2:17PM

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