I have heard my fair share of women-belong-in-the-kitchen jokes and seen more ugly “GO MAKE ME A SANDWICH” shirts than I am comfortable with, and here is my verdict: they are not funny.
Men, even some who claim to side with feminism, are experts at brushing off blatant displays of sexism as jokes. “It’s just a joke,” they’ll say, “stop overreacting!” Let me tell you what this simple yet effectively dismissive phrase does: it proves that it was not just a joke, it reinforces subscription to (at least) ignorant sexism, and it further enables an environment where these kinds of jokes are acceptable.
It is never just a joke. It is important to remember that the reason it is okay to objectify women and reduce them to creatures that belong in the kitchen or sandwich-making machines is because these “jokes” are embedded in a sexist and misogynist environment. Feminism is not just a physical movement. It is about reclaiming your body and your feelings.
By labeling your disdain as oversensitivity, the person in question tries to control how you should feel about the subject; exhibiting the same sexism he claimed was “just a joke.” You could catch yourself wondering if you really are overreacting, if it really is just a dumb joke.
If you no longer trust your own instincts, you have to rely on someone else to dictate them for you. This delegitimizes your authority over your own life and empowers the patriarchy. By narrowing your feelings down to an overreaction, he is deliberately taking away your right to feel offended, only to further enforce his right to make a tasteless joke.
Next time a “man” jokingly tells you that a kitchen is your rightful place, let him know exactly where his ignorant and primitive existence belongs: the trash.