Ethics Reflections On A Souvenir Wall Hanging

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Welcome to my world…

“Can’t you ever stop thinking about ethics?” my wife said to me a few minutes ago. We were walking around historic Williamsburg, Virginia—I have seminar to teach in a couple hours—and I saw a ceramic wall hanging for sale at the charming Christmas store in the town square. It read…


Maybe it’s an old joke, but I hadn’t encountered it before. I thought it was kind of funny in a “this is a parody of over-the-top, ‘a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’ seventies feminism” way, but I find myself wondering…

-Would progressives consider this “eliminationist rhetoric?” Hate speech?

-If not, why not?

-Would a gender-reversed version of the joke be funny? Would feminists consider it offensive? Would such feminists defend the wall-hanging?

-Obviously a racist version of the wall-hanging would be considered vile. What is the critical difference? An entire group is being pronounced dispensable, and not only that, so worthy of elimination that the joke assumes that the justification is obvious. It’s still bigotry, isn’t it? When is bigotry funny?

-Boston College is apparently going to keep its new professor who pronounced white males a blight on college campuses. Would she find the wall hanging funny? Or would she agree with it?

-The format for the comment…a ceramic wall hanging…pretty much signals that the legend it contains is meant to be taken as tongue-in-cheek. Is a bigoted joke funny if it is self-acknowledging? Could you make an anti-black joke without fear of reprisals, as long as you did so that acknowledged up front that 1) you didn’t really mean it and 2) the humor was based on its outrageousness?

-To those who say the humor on the wall-hanging is harmless…and I tend to agree…what do they say to the argument that permitting this opens the door for similar “jokes’ denigrating other, more vulnerable groups?

This is the downside of constantly tinkering with your ethics alarms. Eventually the damn things won’t stop ringing.

23 thoughts on “Ethics Reflections On A Souvenir Wall Hanging

  1. 1. No and no, because men, especially white men, are not considered a vulnerable or oppressed group.

    2. No, a gender-reversed version of this would be considered sexist.

    3. Bigotry is not considered bigotry when directed against groups that are not considered vulnerable or oppressed. It is then considered humor or justified, and the targets are expected to just grin and bear it.

    4. Probably agree with it.

    5. No, any kind of black joke is considered racist and to be avoided.

    6. They would probably say that everyone is supposed to know where the lines are drawn, but, in case you didn’t, all groups are protected except for white Christian heterosexual males. It is all right to poke fun at variations of any of that, so Russian jokes, Irish jokes, etc., are all permissible. Exception: Spanish jokes, since that is too close to Latino, which is considered a protected/oppressed group.

    Catholic jokes are encouraged, since that church stands for everything non-progressive. Protestant jokes are ok, but not very funny unless the target is a strait-laced denomination like the Baptists or a weird AND strait-laced one like the Mormons (which is encouraged since they produced Romney).
    Eastern Orthodox jokes are ok, but no one is going to understand them.

    Jokes about men are also encouraged, even if they are self-contradicting like painting men as incompetent in one breath and dangerous in the next. Exception: jokes specifically about non-white men should be limited to being made by women of the same stripe, to avoid the appearance of racism or classism. It’s ok for any woman to say men generally are idiots, but to target black men as criminal or Hispanic men as lazy would appear racist if a white woman did so. Note that a white woman who stumbles in this regard is only to be chastised, not ruined, whereas a white man who does so is absolutely guilty of racism and must be ruined.

    Generally speaking, white, Christian, heterosexual men should keep their humor very limited, but it’s better if they just keep quiet and keep working. They have 2,000 years of oppression each against women, people of color, and gays to work off and should be glad they are being allowed to do so with the sentences running concurrently rather than consecutively.

  2. On the other hand, why not just send all the political correctness advocates to the Moon instead? I’m sure there are enough natural caves and lava tubes there that can be pressurized and made livable. A drab existence, perhaps, but they’re already used to that. Just provide them with a steady supply of condoms and they’ll be happy enough. After all, Sandra Fluke and Dan Savage will be there!

  3. Who would hang a ceramic (therefore, not like a little paper note thumbtacked to a corkboard) on the wall with a statement like that on it? Where in one’s house or workplace would it be appropriate? When the owner saw it for the 100th time, would it still be “clever”? All bigotry aside, it’s just plain tacky. But I do appreciate it, Jack, that you have raised my consciousness about these kinds of remarks. As a woman who grew up in 60s and 70s feminism (I am still a feminist), exposed to the sitcoms where Dad is the Buffoon (often funny), I have to own that I have thought remarks like this about men were just funny, because of the proverbial men vs. women thing. It never occurred to me that it’s just another example of how we denigrate each other in the pursuit of humor. Oh well.

  4. Progressivism generally, but feminism especially, adhere to victim math, where Discrimination =/= Bigotry, but Power + Discrimination = Bigotry. This is how people like Beth sleep at night, they realize discrimination has occurred, but they don’t care, because the group being discriminated against collectively, if not individually, has the power and privilege necessary to ‘man up’ and deal with it.

  5. Jack,
    I don’t see any problem if the joke were labeled any other way. I might find it less cute if a racial adjective were added or the term were modified to another group altogether, but no less valid.

    This is the danger in trying to label some jokes more ethical than others, it just doesn’t work. Humor, by it’s very nature, is fictional. This is the reason dead baby jokes can (theoretically) be amusing, because no children were harmed in the making of the joke. I fail to see how anything stated as a hypothetical or pure flight of fancy can have any morality assigned to it as it isn’t ultimately real.

    Also, even if you accept the argument that the scales are tipped against white males as far as political correctness, so what? As a whole, they’re not
    a beleaguered group, they’re not politically disenfranchised, nor do they have a history of being institutionally or socially marginalized. When did we as a group get to the point where we can’t take a joke?


      This is EXACTLY what I was talking about!

      Very rarely does someone demonstrate my point the comment after I make it! Prejudice =/= sexism. Prejudice + POWER = sexism. White men = powerful, therefore jokes about white men =/= sexism.

      “Also, even if you accept the argument that the scales are tipped against white males as far as political correctness, so what? As a whole, they’re not
      a beleaguered group, they’re not politically disenfranchised, nor do they have a history of being institutionally or socially marginalized.”

      “I don’t care if what’s going on is discriminatory, it hurts them less than other groups.”

      • Ugh! What a nauseating compendium of butthurt on that link! There are entire buildings on my campus, and no doubt many others, dedicated to churning out legions of sniveling butthurt. We’re going to need a police state, just to make sure nobody’s feelings are hurt.

  6. I find it funny, but then again there aren’t very many sacred cows with me. I one came home with a t-shirt that read “Jesus saves!”, depicting Jesus diving for a volleyball. My very religious parents even thought it was funny. I believe humor was one of God’s greatest achievements, right up there with love. He must spend every waking minute laughing his ass off at our absurdity. I despise the double-standard, though. Out of curiosity, allow me to hang out some bait:

  7. The plaque here is not materially different from the old male adage, “Women, can’t live with’em, can’t live without’em”.

    Down south, they sell kitschy wall plaques with all sorts of similar gender-based ones (though no racial ones in the tourist traps!).

      • You know, sometimes I get encouraged. There’s a lot of dopey noise out there but there is a fair amount of levelheadedness as well. It doesn’t always carry the day, but it’s out there. The idiots make the most noise but they’re idiots and it’s just noise.

  8. Humble Talent,
    That’s not at all what I said. I’m not suggesting it isn’t wrong, I’m suggesting you should learn that we’re not all entitled to a hurt free inner-child. If someone calls you a name, deal with it like an adult instead of complaining that you’re being treated unfairly.

    Also, your math equation doesn’t make sense — the symbols are used incorrectly.

    • Neil A. Dorr,

      I quoted directly what you said, and then paraphrased it. What I think you said was that you realized discrimination was occurring, but felt it wasn’t as big a deal as when it happened to a minority group. This has direct correlation with the prejudice plus power argument. I would love for you to clarify your point if I’m wrong.

      And then, if I’m not wrong, if your argument closely follows the prejudice plus power math (which by the way did have the right math symbols, or as close to them as a keyboard will allow, I’ll explain it below) I would love for you to explain how rationalization #22 “It’s not the worst thing” Doesn’t apply.

      Victim Math:
      Prejudice =/= sexism. Prejudice + POWER = sexism. White men = powerful, therefore jokes about white men =/= sexism.

      Prejudice does not equal sexism, but prejudice plus power does equal sexism. White men are powerful, therefore jokes about white men are not sexist.

      From (highlights added, and no, this isn’t satire)

      “The concept of prejudice plus power frames forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, and other positions of societal disfavor as perpetrated by those in power against those that are not in power. Just disliking someone or not favoring someone because of their race, gender, or other trait is not enough to oppress them; some form of power has to back the opinion that reflects it into multiple aspects of an environment rather than just a relational conflict. ”

      “A common assertion is that this definition of oppression disqualifies those with less social privilege from criticism, eg. only white people can be racist, only men can be sexist, only cisgender people can be transphobic, only able people can be ableist. However, this is a very simplistic understanding and focuses on distasteful concepts i.e. the “right” of those with more privilege to call reverse racism or misandry or protest being called cis.


      “But are white people really the only ones allowed to be called racist?

      No. Because oppression is institutional, it is often internalized by people who must use those institutions to survive. However, it’s not the place of people in more privileged positions to police them. So no, (in the USA, at least) even if that black person does seem to be acting in a racist way against other black people, it’s not a white person’s job to call them out.

      Thank you, as always, squiggly red lines, for backing my assertion that these people routinely make up words as it suits them.

      What this amounts to is an argumentum ad dictionarium, I don’t care how you choose to define sexism personally, the fact of the matter is that acting on prejudice is still discriminatory whether you choose to acknowledge the label or not. And you seem to be (I’m coaching words again) trying to defend sexism against men that you wouldn’t defend against women on an ETHICS SITE. You boob. (I tried)

      For more reading, and criticisms of prejudice plus power:

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