The patriarchy is also ruining web comics

Ignorance really is bliss, amirite?

It’s amazing how many things I like (or used to like) that have been ruined for me by the patriarchy. Once your eyes are opened to all the casual misogyny and sexism that’s made its way into everyday life — well, it’s hard to look the other way. (I know — I threw up in my mouth a little reading that, too.)

But seriously. I mean, really, patriarchy? In addition to ensuring I’ll probably never make as much money as a dude with the same job and being all up in my lady biz all the time, you have to go and ruin movies, TV and Internet comics too? IS NOTHING SACRED!?

This column is in response to The Oatmeal and a now-infamous comic strip it ran titled The Delicate Relationship I Have With My Keyboard. The final panel read: ”Every time the Internet does not perform as expected, I rape the shit out of my F5 key,” along with an illustration of a little F5 key running away, crying. GET IT!? HAHAHA.

The offending panel — as well as the defensive (OF COURSE) non-apology that came along with it — has since been removed by site creator Matthew Inman and an incrementally better apology has since been put up in its place. You can read more about it here.

Because it’s probably going to come up — and because Inman broke it out — allow me to briefly address the WAH! CENSORSHIP! thing: I happen to think it’s entirely OK for comedians to tackle the subject of rape so long as the joke makes a broader comment on the world in which we live without making the victim the punch line. As Jezebel columnist Lindy West wrote in a brill piece entitled How To Write a Rape Joke, “the best comics use their art to call bullshit on those terrible parts of life and make them better, not worse.” In other words, COMMENT on rape culture, don’t CONTRIBUTE to it by referring to your F5 KEY as a rape victim. THE END.

Anyway, I used to really enjoy The Oatmeal and now I don’t know how to feel about it. Like so many things. You’re just sitting there, minding your own business, enjoying a sitcom or whatever and things are going great… UNTIL SEXISM. It’s always so disappointing — especially when it’s unnecessary.

Isn’t ALL sexism unnecessary, you ask? (FYI: You asked so I could make a lazy transition.) See, like a well-written rape joke, sexism can serve a purpose by commenting on/opening up a discussion about a patriarchal society as a whole. For example, women are treated horribly on three of my all-time favourite shows: The SopranosBoardwalk Empire and Mad Men. But here’s the thing: I expect to see sexism in shows about gangsters, who operate in a culture in which women are dutiful wives who spend a lot of time looking the other way. I expect to see sexism in a show about the 1950s/’60s because, SPOILER ALERT, I hear the 1950s/’60s were sexist. And yet, these three shows also have powerful, complicated and, I’d argue, feminist female leads — Carmela Soprano (Edie Falco), Margaret Thompson (Kelly MacDonald) and Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), respectively — who make me want to stand up and cheer. These shows offer portraits of smart women who struggled because of the realities they live in — and manage to survive despite them.

And then there are other shows that are just sexist BECAUSE SOCIETY, which is why I have a really complicated viewing relationship with The Newsroom — which is not, in fact, a 1940s period piece about fast-talking old-tymey newsmen. I KNOW! There’s a fundamental difference between portraying sexism and just being sexist.*

I’m a fan of Aaron Sorkin’s. I love Studio 60 and The West Wing; Allison Janney’s C.J. Cregg is another female lead to be proud of. I wanted so very much to enjoy his new show, but I just can’t see past the sexism. The ladies on that show, despite being played by gifted actors, are relegated to weaksauce, hysterical caricatures that, among other annoyances, almost always defer to the male characters. Because, you know, WOMEN CAN’T MAKE DECISIONS BECAUSE HAVING PERIODS MAKES YOU STUPID. Also, it’s newsMEN, stupids. Stop playing reporter and go make a sandwich.

This kind of writing certainly speaks VOLUMES about the terrible parts of society, but it’s not calling bullshit on them. Sort of like that shitty rape joke in The Oatmeal. It’s sad when smart people have so little to say.


Jen Zoratti is a Spectator Tribune columnist and freelance music scribe. Follow her on Twitter @JenZoratti. 

*In the interest of fairness, I will say The Newsroom came oh-so-close to commenting on sexism in a valuable way with a narrative involving Olivia Munn’s character Sloan Sabbith. But then the whole thing was ruined when the character — a whipsmart business reporter who holds a PhD in economics — just cared about what people thought about the size of her ass. Because really, deep down, that’s all us ladiez care about.