Posted Thursday, April 21, 2011, at 1:26 PM
Toronto police officer Michael Sanguinetti probably thought of himself as a noble warrior against the arbiters of political correctness when he, at a crime safety seminar at Osgoode Hall Law School, claimed that the key to keeping men from raping you is to "avoid dressing like sluts." But what he actually ended up doing was putting the final nail in the coffin of the narrative of the "humorless feminist" vs. the yuk-yuking sexists who have a monopoly on the funny. The result of his comment - a series of protests across Canada and the United States called SlutWalks - demonstrated that the narrative has been completely turned on its head. Increasingly, it's the sexists who are clutching their pearls in horror at the lack of ladylike decorum on the left, and the feminists who are embracing nose-thumbing humor as their primary weapon.
Contrast the SlutWalk with its rape-protesting predecessors, the Take Back the Night rallies that emerged in the '70s and '80s. The rallies were historic and empowering, but they weren't especially amusing, which is understandable considering the gravity of the crime they were protesting. But because of this, Take Back the Night rallies were open to right-wing criticism accusing feminists of being prudish and humorless. Of course, actual feminists were not as humorless as was claimed, nor were the eye-poking artists of political incorrectness like Andrew Dice Clay or Rush Limbaugh particularly funny. But the narrative stuck, to the point where feminists that were born after the era of political correctness still feel they have to contend with negative stereotypes.
Now the stereotypes have completely reversed. Famous female comedians like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are associated with feminism, shows like The Daily Show use explicitly feminist themes in their humor, and feminist writing and organizing online (like much of the online world) values snark over earnestness. Meanwhile, the right is defined solely by its priggish lack of humor, which was on full display in the responses to SlutWalk . I even found myself in a recent Bloggingheads post being forced to make explicit the fact that SlutWalk is about using humor as a political tool, because it was becoming clear in my discussion with Daniel Foster that this was an aspect of the SlutWalk he hadn't considered. The image of the pinch-mouthed feminist scold telling the fun-loving boys to keep it down has quickly become a dinosaur, replaced now with the image of the knuckle-rapping church ladies telling third-wave feminists to roll up their stockings and tone down the dirty jokes on their ironically named blogs.