The XX Factor

Pax Dickinson and the “Satire” Defense of Misogyny

Pax Dickinson

Photo via @paxdickinson/Twitter

Pax Dickinson, the ousted CTO of Business Insider who gave us years of racist, sexist, and homophobic tweets, has thrown back the curtain on his online commentary. He’s not a bigot. He’s just hilarious! “I’m glad to be able to tell you I’m not racist or misogynistic or any of these labels that are being put on me,” Dickinson explained on Medium yesterday. Dickinson’s tweets were “sarcastic” and “satirical,” he says. He’s guilty only of “making jokes while having disallowed politics.”

Dickinson’s defense isn’t just offensive to the targets of his one-liners—like the women he claims are taking away his freedoms by having the right to vote. (Funny, funny stuff). Pax Dickinson is offensive to the very concept of satire. At the risk of stating the obvious, the point of satire is to wield humor to make an incisive political point. It targets certain political and societal beliefs to expose the weaknesses of their arguments. Dickinson’s satire, for example, is pointed at women, gays, and minorities who believe they should be treated equally to guys like him. It’s the type of satire that racist, sexist, homophobic people might find hilarious. But the minute you suggest that this humor is predicated on bigotry, dudes like Dickinson want to turn around and pretend as if there’s no underlying point to their jokes at all. Suddenly, “satire” is a magic wand that absolves them of all social responsibility.

Watch what happens when Dickinson tries to offer some non-misogynist explanation for his comedy. When Dickinson quipped last year that “tech managers spend as much time worrying about how to hire talented female developers as they do worrying about how to hire a unicorn,” the joke relied on the shared cultural understanding that tech managers spend zero time considering hiring unicorns, because they don’t exist. The same goes for talented women—get it? But on Medium, Dickinson writes that he “meant that unicorns are mythically rare but also highly valued and impossible to catch!” Huh? Doesn’t make sense/is not funny? Must be satire!

Dickinson comes from a long line of bros who are working to devalue satire in order to further their own bigotry. “Fratire” pioneers like Tucker Max and Maddox gained cult followings by crafting outrageously misogynistic jokes written off as “satire” and “parody.” On the one hand, these bros wave off the PC police by emphasizing that they don’t seriously hate women. As Maddox told Rebecca Traister in 2006, “my jabs at women” are “not serious, which is why it’s okay. … I also write about lesbian robots, boners, Cyclopses, and pirates, so people know I’m not serious, which is why I can get away with it.” But on the other hand, their humor is grounded in a serious distaste for people who take women’s rights seriously. Maddox’s humor comes out of his belief that “the feminist movement went a little too far,” he said. To Maddox, “it just seems the civil rights movement for blacks in this country was against a much stronger evil. Teasing women about not being able to vote is different than teasing a black person about the history of slavery.”

In the version of “satire” propagated by Pax Dickinson and bros like him, exaggerated misogynist comments are used to show women that in the real world, they really have nothing left to complain about. As a blogger at Popehat put it in his defense of Dickinson, “Pax is an opinionated, semi- neo-reactionary, frequently hilarious, performance-artist who tweets with a faux-brogrammer alter ego.” Guys like Dickinson want to believe there is a large—even hilarious!—gulf between their real-life personalities and their misogynist “alter egos.” But the joke is based on a false premise: That women are treated so thoroughly equally to men that to suggest otherwise is patently absurd. As Nitasha Tiku explains at Valleywag, Dickinson is tweeting away in the context of an industry that is demonstrably hostile to women. “Nobody believes the myth that Silicon Valley is a meritocracy, except maybe its gatekeepers,” Tiku writes. “There are persistent and undeniable race and gender gaps in funding and hiring in the tech sector. But the priesthood has until very recently insisted their boy’s club was open to any innovative hustler.”

Realistically, there’s not much of a distinction between guys who “hate women” and guys who “hate women who think that any men actually hate women,” but guys like Pax Dickinson will keep mining that imaginary divide to justify their hate speech. Pax Dickinson is the kind of guy who wears a straw cowboy hat, aviator sunglasses, and a flower-encrusted button-down shirt for his official portrait, but then thinks he’s lampooning brogrammer culture when he pops his collar and takes a selfie. (That’s not a costume, bro—that’s just Thursday.) Imagine Jonathan Swift writing A Modest Proposal while frying up toddler for dinner, and you’ve got the modern American fratirist. “Sure, I eat kids,” Swift would have explained in his Medium post. “But never babies!”