I am teaching my language and gender class this semester. And I am a linguist, which means that I'm always thinking about the ways in which the use of language serves to (re)create social structures, especially structures of power. And I have a fantastic student doing an independent study this semester on toxic masculinity and ways of changing the production of masculinity to avoid toxicity.
All of this is to say that, when a dear friend said this weekend, as someone who believed he is doing a favor for us in watching over our younger daughter while she's at college, that he'd get a pitchfork to fend off the droves of people who would want her, it arrested my attention. When I pointed out that she's more than capable of making informed and intelligent choices about her body, relationships, and sexuality, he said he was just kidding, with a bit of a wink and a nudge.
I didn't point out all the ways that it wasn't a joke. I didn't point out that, for that statement to be a joke, it must rely on our shared understanding and acceptance of a set of social structures that have been labelled patriarchy, the oppression of women, toxic masculinity, and rape culture. I should have. But I did that social smoothing over thing, and copped out. I should have, though, because when we put "jokes" like that out in the world, we repeat, believe, and create the structures that those jokes rely on. In other words, they aren't jokes - they not only reflect but also make the world we live in.
Basically, that joke assumes that: men are sexually aggressive; women should be sexually pure; the sexual purity of women is of consequence to the men to whom women "belong" in some way (older brothers, fathers, etc); those men become upset when other men advance on those women and thus have to fight those other men off.
Those assumptions are at the heart of the structures I mentioned above. They subordinate women to the will of men (either men's will to have sex with them, or their will that women not have sex). They license aggression on the part of men by presuming that it is natural and innate (the evidence is strongly in that it is not). Those two things coupled make rape culture seem natural (rape is what happens when females are available to male sexual aggression, which is why women are often blamed for their rapes - they shouldn't have been available, which is something they control; while men are not blamed, because their aggression and their sexuality are assumed to not be under their control). All of these are hallmarks of patriarchy - a world which centers male stories and perspectives.
For this reason, I absolutely loathe the jokes about fathers waiting in the bushes with loaded guns to scare their daughters' dates. They depend on the same idea that daughters are their fathers' possessions, and that fathers don't want them to be taken away by boys/men. I also hate the "don't hit women" trope - it assumes the male violence is normal and that it must be restrained to protect weak women. Why don't we say, don't hit people? Honestly - why don't we say that?
Don't hit people, y'all. And please don't make jokes that aren't.