The XX Factor

Funny and Sexy Feminists Piss People Off Plenty

Tina Fey puts Jimmy Fallon through the paces

Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Listen up, you smart alecks with your silly GIFs and late-night charge card purchases at Sephora: You and your jokes and your lipstick are destroying feminism. So says Ellie Mae O’Hagan of the Guardian, who is very concerned that feminists have given up the sacred duty to scowl patriarchy to death. She is afraid that modern feminists are too busy being sexy and funny and fabulous to actually confront and dismantle sexism:

In my mind, if being sexy and funny are the two cornerstones of a new feminist movement, we may as well all pack up and go home now. At its core, feminism should be angry. It should be angry because women are still being taken for a ride. Like the women in The Feminine Mystique, we are being sold a lie of equality in a society where the odds are politically, socially and economically stacked against us.

Feminism’s most basic function should be to emphasise that sexism is not an accident, but an inevitable consequence of a society structured to favour men. Jokes about vaginas and reassurances that we won’t have to give up lipstick are not enough. To put it bluntly, a new feminism should not be afraid to piss people off.

But the notion that being sexy or funny means not pissing people off is a hoary myth. It’s a shame to see a feminist pick it up and argue that being dour is, in and of itself, a virtue. 

In my experience, if you really want to piss people off, be sexy and funny while you’re being angry. Nothing reduces a sexist nitwit to a spittle-flecked ball of rage faster than a woman who dares to be sexy and funny while also opposing sexism. (If you doubt this, I recommend spending a day reading anti-feminist forums on Reddit and seeing exactly which famous feminists have driven the posters to obsess themselves into madness.) It’s particularly strange to posit that humor is the antithesis of anger. The best kind of humor is aggressive and even combative. Sexists don’t like being laughed at, not even slightly. Just because joking about vaginas is fun doesn’t mean that it’s not an effective way to, say, destroy the Senate aspirations of a notorious misogynist

Fun and humor are important, too, for keeping spirits up among the ranks. Being a proper feminist, my desk is drowning in the sort of ephemera you find in a women’s bookstore. At the top of the pile is this card with a quote from Audre Lorde, a feminist from the era that O’Hagan incorrectly portrays as a time of all shouting and little messing around: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” Humor, fun, and yes, sexiness are ways to make yourself feel valued and happy in a sexist society that frequently tells women they deserve neither. No wonder they has the power to piss so many people off.