ActivismFeminism

Being the Wet Blanket

Feminists are often accused of having no sense of humor, of having a stick up their asses, or of being curmudgeons. And I’m going to be honest: many times I feel like I am the wet blanket. I can’t enjoy many of the movies and TV shows that I used to because I notice how screwed up they are, I feel uncomfortable around many people because of the ways in which they joke or the words that they throw around, and I often have to tell people that they really aren’t as witty and charming as they thought they were, they are in fact just being oppressive assholes. It’s not fun to have to take on this role. It’s not fun to have to “ruin” people’s fun. I often find myself feeling guilty or wondering if I’m oversensitive or too delicate in my sensibilities. But there are some good reasons to continue being the wet blanket, and perhaps these reasons can keep you going through the times you feel like everyone hates you for speaking up.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember in “wet blanket” situations is that you are not in fact ruining anyone’s fun. Their fun has already been ruined by the fact that it’s come at the expense of someone else. If you were to walk up to a bully punching a smaller child and stop them from hurting that child, you wouldn’t feel guilty for ruining their fun: you would know that their fun was inappropriate to begin with. You are doing the same thing when you call someone out for sexism, racism, or other oppressive behaviors. Those behaviors just as actively hurt people as the bully physically beating someone. They hurt people through the violent norms they enforce, through rape culture, through the wage gap, through hate crimes…these are realities that are linked to the jokes and the casual conversations we have.

Many people also accuse feminists of being incapable of having fun, not just of ruining the fun of others. I’d like to propose a thought experiment to explore this claim. Let’s imagine we live in a society in which brutal torture was normal. It was even considered fun. People publicly tortured others to get kicks, and it was often viewed as a show: going out to the torture. Say you were an individual living in this society and you couldn’t bring yourself to enjoy any of this. You go out to the torture and you look at your friends and say “this is wrong! We’re hurting people!” They respond by asking why you can’t have any fun. Looking at a society like this, we would recognize that the person who is unhappy is actually perceiving the situation more accurately and with more empathy than the other individuals involved, and that most likely they could have fun if it were in a non-harmful way.

Now obviously this is hyperbolic. But as I mentioned before, many of the things that people view as fun, joking, or entertainment do in fact contribute directly to the harm of others. Perceiving this connection and being upset by it is not an indication that one has no sense of fun: rather it’s an indication that one has an active sense of empathy and a clear perception of the situation. I would bet that if you asked most feminists whether there things in life they enjoyed they would say yes. They’re just probably not the things you enjoy. I myself for example deeply enjoy My Little Pony, chocolate, swimming, and taiko drumming just to name a few. But I attempt to find things to like that don’t hurt others. Being upset by bad behavior is not an indication that you’re incapable of enjoying things. It’s an indication that there’s something wrong with the things people are asking you to enjoy.

People who are labelled as “wet blankets” are often those who perceive something that others don’t. As an example, we have some people at my work that want to do and try everything. We need our resident wet blanket to say “stop. Let’s think about what will happen if we do this”. In many cases this is about practicality, however it can also be about ethics and empathy. I want to be the person who asks others to stop and consider the implications of their actions because that person is the one who keeps our world running and functional. That person is necessary and improves things in the long term. They don’t necessarily want to stop what you’re doing, but they do want you to think it out first and make improvements to it. I have no problem with you writing that song, but I think it would be a much better song if it didn’t promote rape culture and I’ll tell you that.

But more than anything, when you feel you’re making a big deal out of nothing, remember that your emotions are valid. If you are upset or hurt by something, that is valid. And it is also valid to ask people to stop doing things that hurt or upset you, even if they don’t understand why. Particularly when you  know that others are hurt by something, you can feel confident that your discomfort is not out of line or irrational: it is necessary.

So yes, I will happily take the label of wet blanket if it means that I am making people more aware of their actions and the implications of their actions, if it means that I’m ending “fun” that is harmful and cruel, if it means that I’m standing up for my own needs and the needs of others. If that’s being a wet blanket and ruining your fun, then you’re doing fun the wrong way.

Olivia

Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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12 Comments

  1. Re: torture for entertainment.

    This metaphor takes on a special meaning if you’ve actually been in that situation. Literally. Where everyone is having a great time physically and mentally abusing someone and you want to do something about it.*

    The problem arises when even the victim insists it’s fine. And I think that ties back into your original point. A lot of the entertainment you’re talking about will usually have lots of the people at whom the joke is directed defending it. That’s where things get complex

    1. Right. Asterisk.
      *
      When I was nineteen a friend of mine moved in with some other friends of mine. Long story short they wound up treating him like a dog. Like, they made him wear a collar, eat out of bowls on the floor, beat him with magazines, and towards the end a car antenna. They also poured boiling water on him while he was sleeping. There was some other stuff too but this post is already pretty dark.

        1. All three participants were my friends and had been for quite some time. It’s not like I just barged into a situation I knew nothing about and ran with my first impression (actually, my first impression was exactly that, BDSM). I talked with my friend and found out that he in fact did not enjoy how he was being treated and that my other friends were in fact just plain old abusing someone with mental and addiction problems who didn’t really have a way out.

          I actually kind of wish it had been a sex thing, as the abusers were also my friends and while I’d always known they were shitty people* I didn’t think they were bad people.

          *We all kind of were, if any of us could have found better friends we wouldn’t have been hanging out with each other.

          1. ” I talked with my friend and found out that he in fact did not enjoy how he was being treated” Fair enough, I would have lead with that.

          2. To elaborate, the thing that set me off about your initial comment was the combination of the anecdote about your friend with the statement “The problem arises when even the victim insists it’s fine.” in the second para. That reminded me of the many situations I’ve seen where a happy kinky relationship gets trashed by outsiders because “no one healthy would let themselves be treated like that”. While it’s certainly true that victims of abuse can rationalize it and make excuses for their abuser, there are also a lot of people who assume any sex that leaves a mark is abuse.

          3. Yeah, reading that again I could have been more clear. This was about him insisting that the way he was treated was fair compensation for a floor to sleep on and some beer. Even after I convinced him to leave he still refused to go to the cops (I thought it was stupid of him at the time but I’ve since read some things [some of them here] that made me reconsider that opinion).

            I am however well aware of, totally cool with, and have in the past participated in, some of the fun and creative ways people have devised to optimize sex. This just wasn’t it.

  2. Sounds like you are making excuses for enjoying putting your bad trip on everyone around you. You must be great fun at parties. After reading this I can only imagine a dour faced person waiting for someone to screw up and say the wrong thing in your eyes so you can jump all over him/her with your particular obsessive viewpoint.
    Of course I realize that nothing changes in this world without the zealots pushing against the status quo, and I am no fan of male chauvinism and privilege, but also believe that one must pick their battles carefully in order to win the war.

    1. Yes, I’m sure you can tell all about my personal behavior based on one blog post. Also really great argumentation there: “You’re just not fun! Pooy!”
      I’ll tell all my friends they should stop enjoying my company because I “put a bad trip” on people around me.

      1. Sorry, Olivia. Didn’t mean to be a wet blanket myself. I suppose it is a question of scale. That is, what is considered over the top behavior that needs to be corrected. I wouldn’t consider calling someone on their making a rape joke being a wet blanket. I have done that myself.
        Having reread to your post, I believe I was out of line and rude.

    2. “but also believe that one must pick their battles carefully in order to win the war.”
      Clearly the only blog posts worth having are the ones that Irving Ganbard believes are worth having… And the only comment worth making on this post is one that mocks the author on a personal level and makes little effort to comment on the actual post.

  3. For me, I think you are on the mark when you speak of the humor being at the expense of others.

    Humor is complex and a shared context is needed. (There used to be a great ad for American Express with Gerry Seinfeld trying to tell jokes in London and failing miserably). Regardless of context, however, it has been my observation that the most honest humor comes at one’s own expense. Taking the weight of the joke on oneself leaves everyone else in the room unburdened.

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