Re: Re: Bad Jokes

by Michael Potemra


Kathryn, I suspect your questions were rhetorical, a way to make clear that many people who oppose contraception do not have “an anti-sex, demeaning-to-women ideology.” As I’m sure you know, I am aware of this; it is, in any case, good to remind a broader audience of it. But, as I’m also sure you know, some people do have such an ideology (though we can be thankful that there are a lot fewer of them than there used to be), so here are my answers.

First, as to “demeaning to women”: The premise of the joke is a society in which the onus of pregnancy prevention is 100 percent on women — a society, furthermore, that plays a game in which men try to get sex and women try to stop them from getting it. Notice that there is no male moral agent within the joke: All that’s needed to prevent sex is a woman who keeps the aspirin in a strategic place. The world of this joke is not one of moral sexual responsibility, undertaken by adult equals; it’s a world of antiquated game-playing. This is not to deny that today’s culture has its own pernicious games in the area of gender relations; but the joke simply doesn’t ring true in today’s cultural environment. (One result of this is that it makes chastity itself sound outdated by association.)

Second, as to “anti-sex”: One of the most important points — I have heard it countless times — made nowadays by advocates of traditional Christian sexual morality is that chastity is not primarily about saying “no” to sex: It’s about saying “yes” — to life, to God, to the future, and so on (I have heard many variations). That’s a very different and more positive message than the one in the joke. The joke was basically reductionist: reducing chastity to mere sex prevention.

These are among the reasons the joke was (properly, in my view) understood as offensive by many people. I am heartened that Friess recognizes this. His apology is, as I mentioned, one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen; it reads like the sincere statement of a decent guy. 

PS. On looking again at the paragraph about the demeaning nature of the social world described in that joke, it occurs to me that that social world is actually — or almost — as demeaning to men as it is to women. But that should not be surprising, because something similar often happens when acts of demeaning take place. (I.e., the person doing the demeaning is lowered, not elevated, when he demeans someone else.)