So. This joke list is going around Facebook at the moment, and it’s called, “37 Slogans for College Majors if They Were Actually Honest.” Definite potential for humor there, and since I teach college, I had to click on the link and read them. After all, what would they say about creative writing?
But it took me a while to get to creative writing, because the first slogan stopped me in my tracks. I believe it wasn’t intended to be deliberately offensive; it was the kind of humor people hear all the time. It was in line with most of our popular culture. Here it is: “Computer Engineering: Tons of chicks, just not very many.”
Oh, how much I want to be able to implode comments like this with a witty retort—like Gabourey Sidibe did (“To people making mean comments about my GG pics, I mos def cried about it on that private jet on my way to my dream job last night. #JK”)—but I’m too earnest. I’m from the Midwest, after all, and not the sarcasm-fluent cities of Chicago or Detroit. No, I’m from downstate Illinois, corn and soybean fields, take your time saying what you really mean. So you get this response instead.
I’m not angry. I don’t hate men. I’m not oversensitive. I’m not militant (whatever that means). I am a feminist. And I am a teacher. I like people, in general. I think the best of them. I don’t want to make anyone who laughed at the “tons of chicks” line feel like a bad person, and I definitely don’t want to make them defensive. I just want to explain. I want to take apart this bit of language and show why it made me sigh to come across it. To let regular people, those who don’t live in my heightened-awareness-of-language world, in on why words matter—even jokes.
Yeah. So this line (“Tons of chicks, just not very many”) reinforces two worldviews that I believe hurt people a great deal, and are untrue: 1) That the primary value of a woman is her appearance and 2) That fat equals ugly. (For a good discussion of this second one, read The Militant Baker ).
Those two ideas alone are insidious. But if we unpack the line a bit more, we come to some other underlying and corollary beliefs: people are fat because they are lazy, weak, and inconsiderate, and therefore they are fair game for mockery because it’s their own fault; women in particular are responsible for keeping/making themselves attractive; men care about access to a lot of traditionally attractive women rather than real connections with women. Whoa. These are some heavy-duty assumptions, and they hurt men as well as women. Guys, do you ever feel the pressure of living up to stereotypes about men and what they want? Ever had that pressure mess up a relationship or potential relationship?
I could go on. Here’s another slogan from the list that made me sigh: “Dental Hygienist: Something to do until you get knocked up.” But I’ll leave the unpacking to you, the reader, at this point. I’ve got my own creative work to get back to.
p.s. At first I thought the slogan for Creative Writing was sort of true, sort of funny, sort of bad-ass, “Because job security is for pussies.” But then I smacked my own head because here it is again, the equation of something female with weakness. Sigh.