Almost daily I find myself thinking, “I sure wish men would stop being such sensitive crybabies!” That might seem odd, considering the “stop being so sensitive” line is often levied at women, people of color, LGBT folks, or other oppressed groups – it’s not typically hurled at mostly-privileged white dudes. After all, they aren’t the sensitive ones! It’s those awful women, complaining about sexist jokes and the misogynist assholes they have to put up with.
Perhaps it is the men who need to stop being so goddamn sensitive. To make my case, we need look no further than two of our movement’s most prominent people: American Atheist’s Dave Muscato and The Apprentice‘s Penn Jillette. When Dave recently posted on Facebook about a woman’s tactics to responding to sexist jokes, Penn Jillette had this to say:
Who fucking made you the god of jokes? Who gives a fuck if you think a joke is sexist? Does anyone care? Or care if you pretend not to get it.. I mean, does anyone care you think they’re misogynist? And why do you have to have strategies for social situations? How about just dealing with your friends? You really think you’re protecting someone by “getting in someone’s face” about a fucking joke? Is that noble? And what do you know about comedy? I didn’t think you were a pro, or any sort of expert on that. Why would you be better at articulating how a joke works socially than the person telling the joke? Understanding the exact POV of a joke on a sexual, or racial, or religious subject — is something that a team of pros would have to think about a lot. And then have different opinions on. If you can do this, off the top of your head, in a social situation — you should be making a metric shitton of money doing this professionally. Just an amazing post. Insane.
Wow, Penn. I feel like you need to stop being so sensitive! Your language is really harsh, and I think you probably need to be a bit more civil. Maybe take it down a notch – you’re never going to bring people to your side with that tone! Chill out, man!
I was extremely surprised to see Dave Muscato, a proponent of civility, fail to call him out on what was clearly a very hostile comment. It’s obvious that Penn was being hysterical, and needed to be talked off his emotional ledge. In an attempt at humor, I tried telling Penn (in his own words) that he should take his own sage advice:
Apparently this crossed Dave’s civility line, as he stated:
I’m about to start a live podcast so I have to go, but Courtney Alexandra Caldwell I don’t allow people to tell others on my wall to shut up—I’ve deleted your comment. There are appropriate ways to disagree and inappropriate ways and that’s the latter
Jillette posted a rambling, nearly incoherent post about how nobody should tell him what kind of jokes are inappropriate or not. He calls people who think jokes can be sexist (be it by lived experience, or because what the person said was sexist, or anything else), “insane.” According to Dave Muscato, that’s an appropriate, civil way to disagree with someone. That’s frank discussion. Sending them a gif of their own words? That’s crossing the line.
To quote my friend Aaron Underwood, “It’s like Dave can say basically anything if he extrapolates a horrible idea just so far and delivers it in such superfluous and neutral language that it is seemingly inoffensive.” At the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to: Perpetuate whatever horrible idea you want, just please, for the love of all that is good, don’t upset the status quo. This is why civility politics are horse shit – they are used to police the justified anger of women, people of color, disabled people, trans individuals, and other oppressed groups. It’s rare to see someone shout, “Be Civil!” at the privileged majority (and certainly not at atheist heroes that major organizations like American Atheists want to cozy up to). Civility is nothing more than a word that gets tossed around by pontificating assholes with zero actual experience in the oppression being discussed. Perhaps it isn’t the oppressed groups that the word “sensitive” should be leveled at. Maybe it’s the ones who can’t bear to be told to shut up every once in a while.
EDIT 6/19 7:30pm: It appears Dave Muscato has removed the original post from his Facebook page; however, you can still view screencaps of some of the conversation here.