Every joke is an attack: Freud said this (forgive me, academics, I know he isn’t in good favor, but he had his moments), and before Freud, Lott said this, and, if it isn’t obvious, it should be upon consideration. This is why it is not okay to make racist jokes or Polish jokes or West Virginia jokes or gay jokes in our house, because we don’t want people in our house to believe for even a second that there is room for viewing people of color, foreigners, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the alien, the other, as something less than ourselves. But that’s just in our house, so do what you want to do: it’s none of our business.
That said, I don’t know of too many people I think less highly of than Sarah Palin. She’s embarrassing. Really. We all know the bad things I want to say about her. But, for the sake of brevity, I’ll skip those things and just say this: she’s right. Even though she can’t articulate her way out of a yes-or-no question, it is not a stretch to make the connection between jokes that reinforce negative stereotypes and the ways in which we view people around us. And even if she’s taking this opportunity to get some good facebook, and is, ultimately, more of a problem for young women than a solution, Letterman was deadly wrong to make those jokes.
Even if he thought he was making jokes about Palin’s older daughter, rather than the fourteen-year old, one problem with the jokes is that in our culture it is still okay to laugh at the power structures that exist between men and women. Haha, the baseball playing man knocked up the young woman. ‘Knocked up’ – come on, can we give her some kind of agency? – but, more to the point, while the man in the joke receives zero negative attention in any form for having sex, the woman is the butt of the joke, under attack for having sex. The old sad double standard – stud/slut, man/woman. Highfives for the men, not-allowed-to-walk-at-your-graduation for the women. It’s not funny, and jokes which encourage or reinforce such double standards are deplorable (unless, of course, the joke teller is actively seeking to continue the oppression of half the world’s population, in which case, Good on you, buddy. Highfive).
In the meantime, nobody makes me laugh as often as David Letterman. I saw a photo of him giving a thumbs-up one time and I almost wet myself. By which I mean to suggest that I think he is very very funny. And I don’t expect him to rededicate his life to the pursuit of equality in joke telling – he is going to cross the line sometimes. But, and this is the thing Palin (I believe) doesn’t understand or really care that much about: this joke is indicative of the ways in which we (men and women) view women as somehow lesser than men. This joke and others like it are not responsible for, but are continuing to make it okay that women earn 80 cents on the dollar in equal positions to what men earn one year after college graduation. And 60 cents on the dollar five years down the road. All this despite the fact that women are graduating with higher grades than men at every level in every subject.
So, yes, I think Sarah Palin is dumber than crushed monkey turds, and, yes, I think David Letterman is HI-larious. But no, it’s not okay. It’s not okay. It’s not okay at all to go on in this fashion, and if it takes a regrettable human being such as Sarah Palin to bring this isolated incident [italics added to indicate sarcasm] to light, and if it takes a funny funny comedian such as David Letterman to issue a public, down-on-my-knees-type of apology, in order for us as a culture to start to try to view women as actually equal, rather than nominally equal, to men, if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes. And if the writer who wrote the joke has to lose the job for making an honest mistake, that’s what it takes. And if I get kicked out of the Hip, Liberal, Republicans-Are-So-Unreasonably-Lame Club (the HLRASULC), because I – and this hurts real bad – agree with Sarah Palin, well, that’s what it takes.