Can’t You Take a Joke?


Lydia Payne, Staff Writer

When I was in 6th grade, my teacher sat me with a group of boys in the back of the class. He said it was because he wanted me to “have an influence” on them, so I agreed and originally thought there would be no issue with this. 

It started out small, with comments about my appearance and asking me out “as a joke.” I ignored their antics and just played it off in my mind that it was because they were 11-year-old boys. Then, their “jokes” evolved. 

It got much more physical. The boy beside me began to touch my thigh. I tried my best to display my discomfort and asked him to stop. He did not hear me, or pretended not to hear me. All he heard was his friends’ laughter across the table as they watched us. 

His hand just reached higher and higher. He tried to touch my private areas or rest his hand on my butt under where I was sitting. 

I felt like a piece of wood. Silent, even though I was speaking loud and clear to them. I was scared. I knew they would never advance past touching outside my clothes, but I was so embarrassed. There were five boys watching this all happen. They never did anything to help me, just laughed at my own demise and extreme discomfort.  

I never thought to tell my teacher, because I did not want to get them in trouble. It was a joke, after all… right? 

How many of us have laughed or stayed silent at  “jokes” like these, but never really understood what was funny? Maybe it was a friend, or even a family member. You laughed, not because it was funny, but because you felt the need to laugh for them to feel better; you stayed silent because of what would happen if you didn’t. You got bashed for being “too sensitive” or told that you can’t take a joke. So,  you sat there, no matter how offensive or hurtful it may have been. The problem was never confronted directly. 

Women have done this for years–hiding and avoiding when confronted by vulgar jokes, comments and harassment, both verbal and physical. Many women do not want to make the person uncomfortable themselves or to start a “fuss.” 

Sometimes, the comments go further than jokes. In a 2010 study by YouGOc for the End Violence Against Women Coalition, 71% of 16 to 18 year old girls reported hearing sexist name calling, such as “slut” or “whore,” used a few times a week or on a daily basis. 

However, for many people, mocking women is not seen as funny as it was, if it ever truly was. Recently, there has been an uprising of women who have brought both casual sexism and more serious sexual harassment into light. This has inspired other women to say “Me, too,” sharing stories and finding ways to stand against these everyday circumstances.  

But of course, this has not gone unnoticed by sexist men. If a woman is “too aggressive” when she points out a hurtful joke, they make her into “a toxic feminist.” Women cannot win in this situation. It is not easy to stand up to casual sexism, but saying nothing shows that we think it is acceptable. 

Women are not the only ones who should be acknowledging this behavior and considering it unacceptable. Men also need to understand this. Mistakes happen–we are all humans after all. Men need to realize, however, that they can’t stay in this cycle of using women for humor. Adults cannot “let boys be boys” and get away with hurtful mistakes that affect those around them.

Men also need to realize that women are not out to get them. We are not here to ruin their good time or make them seem like villains. Our only goal is to establish an understanding between what is funny and what is hurtful.

Humor is evolving, as is everything in this generation. It is up to every person, individually, to work on keeping pace with the changes in the world. It is not society’s responsibility to decide what is acceptable to say and do and what is not. It is up to each of us to decide not to say and do harmful things in an attempt to be funny. 

I wonder if those boys from 6th grade regret anything, if they felt any remorse after what they did to me and how they made me feel, or if they even remember it. I wonder if someone ever taught them to respect girls. I wonder if they understand that I will never forget what happened, or how scared I was at that moment.