Welcome To The Bitchery

Yes, I know. Another one. But I'm really digging this dick-joke-as-vehicle-for-feminist-discussion thing, and I think I have something to contribute. While I know that the analogy I'm about to present is imperfect, I think by stripping out a little of the nuance we can get into some of what's dividing people on this issue.

Distilling the last few days of conversation, we seem to fall into two camps: 1) it's okay to "play dirty" with dick jokes to protect your mental/physical well-being in the moment (credit to Kirov for that framing); 2) it's not okay to do this, because ultimately you're just hurting yourself more by playing into a patriarchal structure in the long term (if I understand correctly, I think this was the main angle of Kyosuke's argument)*. In other words, nobody is arguing that small-dick jokes are "good" per se; we just disagree about to what extent we should or can sanction their use in the context of harassment.

What this comes down to, I believe, is a tension between short-term versus long-term good.


So here's another way of thinking about this — again, imperfect, but go with me. Most of us would agree that supporting Wal-Mart by shopping there is not ideal. Yet we all have different levels of resource availability that complicate the application of this opinion to our personal consumption habits. I don’t make much money right now, so it’s better for me, personally, to buy brand name food items from Wal-Mart. I do this even though I understand that spending money at Wal-Mart is, in a larger sense, reinforcing the very system that keeps people underpaid. Some people make as little as I do and still choose to spend more of their paycheck not to buy there; this is a valid ethical choice too. When I make more money, I will be more able to buy food elsewhere, but right now I’ve chosen to compromise so that I can eat affordably.

The Wal-Mart dilemma is about trying to reconcile what’s personally good in the short term (getting food with limited resources) with what’s both personally and socially bad in the long term (supporting a system that keeps people in situations where they have limited resources). Unfortunately, when you’re working with less than a full deck, you’re looking at a lose-lose choice either way you slice it – you’re always sacrificing something.

The problem, in other words, is the very fact that a choice must be made between protecting long-term good and protecting short-term good. This dilemma is the product of an oppressive system, rather than a product of those working within it.

We are all navigating a lose-lose choice when we argue about how and whether to respond to harassers. In some circumstances, saying something that doesn’t jibe with your socio-political outlook may be the only way to get someone to shut up and leave you alone, or to get the attention of others around you – several commenters have told stories to this effect. Yet when we resort to those measures, we’re playing right into the language of patriarchy and (if you’ll permit me a four-dollar word) phallocentrism; the same language that belittles men for not being “masculine” for not having “enough” of the right genitals also belittles women for having too much of the wrong ones.


So what do we do? Well, it depends on your view of economics, probably. How much do you value the short term over the long term, and what are you willing to tolerate or withstand to benefit yourself and others beyond the moment in which you’re being harassed? I don’t think there’s a right answer to this.

The problem isn’t any of our individual answers to the dilemma; it’s the dilemma itself.


As for me, I plan to be conscious about the way I made dick jokes in the future. I don’t want to contribute to a culture that damages me and all other women, and men too. I want to make a world where this dilemma doesn't exist. But, you know, sometimes you don’t have any choice but to make a shopping trip to Wal-Mart. One day, I hope we're all in a position where that isn't the truth.

As an aside, I like that GT is basically operating like a “forum” issue of an academic journal right now. A dick-joke themed forum issue.


*I want to emphasize that I'm not "pitting" these pieces against each other — they just stand out as good articulations of the different approaches to this issue.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter