CONTENT WARNING, for discussion of misogyny, rape culture, cissexism
Yet another issue I had with this show is that….while things were undeniably worse in the seventies and there’s no doubt about that, they still are far from perfect. The men in the show seem to view all these attitudes as so old-fashioned as to be inconceivable, as though rape jokes really haven’t been on television for forty years. Yet laughing at rape and objectification is so normalised, I suspect that most of them would switch their horror for amusement if these jokes were presented in the edgy, self-aware format to which they’re accustomed. It’s very easy for comedians (well, male ones anyway) to sit there and pass judgement on the old days, but if male comedians had consistently pointed out contemporary sexism in comedy with the same vigor perhaps it wouldn’t be such a persisting problem.
You could easily make a compilation of moments from mainstream 00’s comedies that were exactly as bad as all but the very worst clips from the 70s. In a different form, sure–less cheesy, more gritty, less innuendo, more swearing, less clueless, more “ironic”. The first time I remember reacting to comedic sexism was when I was twelve, and it was on the Big Fat Quiz–David Walliams proudly declaring on national television that he wasn’t listening to Girls Aloud speaking because he was “trying to decide which one he wanted to sleep with the most”. Not the seventies. 2006.
Nor is it confined to the shows that everybody knows are problematic, like Top Gear or Little Britain. The IT Crowd has a whole episode where the punchline is there’s a trans woman, and in the end she gets into a physical fight with a man (in which she is injured to an extent that would provoke outcry if they hadn’t just kept implying she wasn’t a “”real””woman). There are episodes where the main punchlines involve sexual harassment and rohypnol, and another where the joke is that a “”deformed”” woman should be grateful for any male attention. Peep Show features an episode where a man gets raped and it’s continually used as a punchline and downplayed. Fuck, even Outnumbered—Outnumbered, the most family-friendly sitcom in the universe!—featured an episode where the joke was that there was a pretty blonde woman who needed to cover herself up so the boys (and the creepy man with the telescope across the road) could contain themselves, and that was just earlier this year.
Here’s the Big Fat Anniversary Quiz from 2007, another one I remember being particularly bad. Carol Vorderman was introduced as “the woman every man would love to take into dictionary corner and give a consonant-vowel-consonant-consonant”. An instance of sexual harassment is shown to audience laughter, which the panellists enjoy but proceed to make fun of the victim’s looks.
By the way, who remembers Lindsay Lohan on Alan Carr’s show repeatedly insisting “I’m not discussing this” as he badgered her “Are you Arthur or Martha? Are you back on the cock now?”
Mind that time on QI when Fry explained condescendingly that people just don’t find women funny, and in the same show held a discussion on how to spot a [transgender woman] (hint: not the term that was used. At all.)
Watch an episode of Mock The Week from 2008. Alternatively, don’t. There were probably more rape jokes in a series of that, than in a series of any seventies comedy show. (I might do some quantitative analysis about this later). Remember when rape was the hottest joke of the moment–well, second only perhaps to the sexual unattractiveness of famous women struggling with addiction?
Why am I mainly picking examples from the noughties rather than 2014? Well…honestly? I couldn’t think of many sexist jokes from the last few years that have passed without comment. I’m not saying they didn’t happen—but I can’t give you a big long list right off the bat the way I can with the latter half of last decade. I no longer feel like I can’t watch any comedy show without seeing blatant, proud misogyny, or like I’m the only one who isn’t comfortable with it when it is there. I can think of sexist jokes that have been shown (the Outnumbered thing, which is still tame in comparison to most of the comedy I grew up watching), but not many sexist jokes that haven’t already been called out in depth. There’s more and worse sexism in that quiz show I linked to than all the comedy shows I’ve watched in the last year put together, and yet I never encountered any criticism of it at the time.
In her piece, Lauren Laverne cites twitter as a possible factor behind changing attitudes towards sexist and harassing behaviour. It’s rare you’ll hear me singing the praises of twitter feminism, but if that is a factor it’s a definite upside. Maybe when a bit more time’s passed, we’ll have people looking at those 00’s clips saying “well they wouldn’t get away with that now.”