Posted on | August 9, 2014 | 26 Comments
This week, First Lady Michelle Obama said something weird:
“We can’t waste the spotlight. Time is short. Change is needed. And women are smarter than men,” Obama said during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit to a laughing audience, according to White House press pool reports.
She continued, “And the men can’t complain because they are outnumbered today.”
Obama and former first lady Laura Bush spoke on Wednesday at the summit’s “spousal program.” The daylong event took place at the Kennedy Center, where the first ladies addressed spouses of African leaders visiting the capital this week for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.
What was this about? What prompted the First Lady’s remark? Why did the audience laugh? Why was this funny? Nobody has been able to explain. However, feminist Jessica Valenti felt a need to interpret the “joke” (and reaction to it) as a critique of sexism:
Michelle Obama told a joke about men
they didn’t find funny. That’s hilarious
When I saw that Michelle Obama joked at the US-Africa Leaders Summit this week that “women are smarter than men”, I prepared myself for backlash. And — what do you know? – Politico wrote that the First Lady had “engaged in a battle of the sexes”, anti-feminist author and Fox News contributor Suzanne Venker called it a “sexist and elitist display”, and the headline at Business Standard read “Michelle Obama claims women are smarter than men”. As if it were a serious assertion rather than a joking aside!
This isn’t the very first time Michelle Obama has taken flak for, well, just about anything. Her tenure in the White House has been marked by nasty racist and sexist attacks (in fact, they started before President Obama took office) on her body, her feminism – even her love of Beyoncé.
But when the First Lady made the quip — at an event with former first lady Laura Bush, while addressing the spouses of African leaders — it wasn’t a humorless dig at men. It was a light-hearted moment of girl-power on the outskirts of a conference for heads of state that is incredibly male-dominated.
Actually, I wish she’d said it with the intention of mocking men — with all that political, economic and social power they’ve cornered by marginalizing women, I think they can take a light ribbing. (I’d prefer a total overthrow of the patriarchy, but I’ve always had champagne tastes.)
Besides, laughter is the best medicine, especially when it’s a guffaw redirected right in the face of sexists.
So, according to Jessica Valenti, this was a “joking aside,” “a light-hearted moment of girl-power,” “a quip,” “a guffaw redirected right in the face of sexists.” Except it wasn’t. What the First Lady said was not a “quip.” This was not clever wordplay, a pithy aphorism worthy of Dorothy Parker. No, it was a non sequitur. And it was neither directed nor redirected in the face of sexists.
Rather than defend this nonsensical “joke,” however, Jessica Valenti goes on the offense, claiming that the reaction to Mrs. Obama’s opaque attempt at humor proves . . . well, something about how stupid men are: “Hahaha, men don’t get the joke!”
What Jessica Valenti is displaying here is an example of what Professor Glenn Reynolds has called “shrew culture,” i.e., feminism as a perverse and sadistic desire to humiliate males. There is a sort of gender narcissism at work — a self-flattery in which feminists praise themselves merely for being women — as well as an exaggerated version of the typical insecure person’s attempt to build themselves up by tearing down others: “I’m awesome because I’m a woman and, hey, all men are stupid sexists. Praise me!”
Somehow, to the Jessica Valentis of the world, this is actually supposed to be funny. And if you don’t laugh at such “quips,” that just proves what a stupid sexist you are. Q.E.D. But the humor-impaired Valenti, having failed to make an argument or to say anything funny herself, continues onward to a conclusion of ideological rigidity:
In all fairness, joking about men’s (supposed) inferiority doesn’t change the systemic power system through which they benefit. But so long as it irritates the misogynists in our midst – and gives women some much-needed moments of levity – I’ll keep encouraging women to laugh at ridiculous men who just want them to stop already. Signaling that women will do whatever they damn please regardless of what men think is a winning strategy.
Notice how she repeats dogmatic assertions. Men have monopolized “political, economic and social power . . . by marginalizing women” through a “systemic power system.” (Do you think Valenti could explain what a non-systemic power system looks like?) The repetition of ideological dogma is not funny. People are not laughing with you, Jessica Valenti. They’re laughing at you.