There’s a post going around about a Christmas Card that a family sent. Its a family photo where the woman & two daughters have tape over their mouths and the man and one son, without taped mouths, hold a sign that says “Peace on Earth.”
Not surprisingly it upset a lot of people. The debate is why should a picture of consenting people making what they consider to be a funny joke, be considered so bad?
Politically correct is thrown out as the standard response to people who have a viscerally bad reaction to this photograph. While I find the derogatory response of “politically correct” to be a bad defense to any position, there are two sides to this issue.
Its about context. When you have a family where perhaps the female members are outgoing and do a great deal of talking and the male members are introverts, they might have an internal family joke about the situation. About the need for introverts to take cover to find a bit of peace and quiet. Perhaps the joke includes references to taping mouths shut.
The thing is – inside jokes like that have a whole context and framework of shared meanings and experiences that do not exist for anyone else.
Now the family thinks – wouldn’t it be funny to put our little family joke into a picture and send it out. Its funny – it sort epitomizes our little family dynamic.
But you see that picture doesn’t come to rest of us with all of the family’s context and history. We see it and we build our own context to it. And for women, that context is not a happy one. That context is built on thousands of years of being silenced in legal, cultural and social ways. So when we see this picture we don’t see an ongoing family joke. We see misogyny. We feel the misogyny.
Its a thing most women still experience in a multitude of mostly small inconspicuous ways. Over a lifetime its 10,000 tiny cuts. Each one insignificant but slowly building and draining you.
I don’t suppose it was EVER the intention of the family to communicate a message about silencing women. They had a family joke, which was probably centered more on personality but got gendered as many things do. But they didn’t consider the context in which it would be seen. They didn’t realize that none of us participated in their family and couldn’t see the context of their small joke but could only contextualize on the larger picture of how women have always been treated in society.
We are not considering the family’s context of an inside joke. We are projecting our context onto this picture. And raising a pitchfork army for an innocent joke is absurd.
But pretending that the feelings the pitchfork army has gathered around are imaginary is inane. They are real and so are their overall causes.