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Sexism is Not Actually “Edgy”

by Anya Josephs

Seth McFarlane has been repeatedly called an “edgy” choice for an Oscars host. The Onion brands itself as a daring, controversial form of satire, steadfastly refusing ‘to knuckle under to pressure from the community.’ Unfortunately, there is nothing edgy, nothing daring, and nothing unique about an hours-long fest of sexist, racist, and objectifying “jokes,” comments, songs, and tweets.

As charming and incredibly talented 9-year-old actress Quvenzhané Wallis was at the Oscars celebrating being the youngest person ever nominated for Best Actress (and only the tenth black actress ever nominated), the Onion, a satirical newspaper, put out the following tweet:

Reducing the incredible achievements of a young girl of color down to a highly gendered insult isn’t edgy or daring. It’s reinforcing sexism, and that’s the opposite of risky humor. The entire culture of valuing men and devaluing women (especially women and girls of color) is behind a statement like this, and that’s not much of a risk. This is not intended as an attack on the Onion, who later put out a thorough and honest apology. In some way, their apology is even further proof—this isn’t comedy that we should stand behind. This is subconscious racism and sexism being expressed in the form of “humor.”

Just looking at the rest of the Oscars proves how prevalent the sexualization and devaluing of women is. Seth McFarlane opened up his act with “We Saw Your Boobs,” a song that I would call childish, although it’s hard to imagine any child being so crude.

He sang for several minutes, listing various past Oscar-nominated actresses, the films they won for, and the phrase “We saw your boobs.” That’s it. That was the whole song. That was the whole joke. You gave an amazing, award-winning performance, but who cares because you have breasts.

For an added level of horribleness, the nudity in four of the film performances mentioned—Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball, Jodie Foster in The Accused, Charlize Theron in Monster, and Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry–happened during a rape scene. Especially striking to me was the last example. In this movie, Hilary Swank plays Brandon Teena, a transgender man, who was raped and murdered in a brutal hate crime. Swank’s breasts are exposed for a second as multiple attackers cut through Teena’s clothing and violently assault him, and then again later as Teena is examined by a doctor, severely bruised and clearly in great pain.

The real horror here is that Boys Don’t Cry was based on a true story. Brandon Teena was a real person, who was really brutally raped and killed. The scene that McFarlane is making a sexualized joke out of really happened to a real human being who really died. Because according to McFarlane, breasts exist for men’s amusement, and the total violation and murder of people with breasts is just a big joke because the bodies of women and FAAB people are just hilarious.

When McFarlane reduces Swank’s amazingly powerful performance down to a punchline about her body, he’s doing more than making light of her talent. He’s literally inviting people to laugh at rape and murder. He’s construing breasts as existing for men’s pleasure, whether sexual pleasure or just to make fun of, all the time—even when they belong to people, like Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry, who identify as men. Even when they are exposed as part of a badly injured body, like Charlize Theron in Monster—another film based on a true story. Even when they symbolize the racist sexualization of black women by white men, like Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball. Even when they’re visible during a violent gang rape, as passerby cheer the attackers on, like Jodie Foster in The Accused, once again based on a real-life attack. Even when, like Scarlet Johansson, another target of the boob song, personal nude photographs of them were leaked without consent.

This is pure sexism masquerading as humor. It doesn’t matter whether the comment is intended to elicit laughs or not. The message is clear: even when we are rape victims, or Oscar-winning actresses, or 9-year-old girls, the most important thing about us is how our bodies can be sexualized by men.

And as you can see, just by looking through SPARK’s archives, that idea is the opposite of edgy. That idea is pervasive, is dominant, is almost universal. Fighting it, standing up against it, finding ways to make jokes that never have women’s bodies as the punch line—now that’s new and different. That’s edgy.

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9 Responses to “Sexism is Not Actually “Edgy””

  1. Ben says:

    i wonder if Seth KNEW that some of the “we saw your boobs” movie scenes were relating to rape, or if someone else saw the movies and wrote the song for him.

  2. Mary says:

    @Ben Irrelevant. Ignorance of some examples being rape scenes doesn’t negate the fact that the entire thing was misogynistic trash. “Someone else wrote it,” doesn’t excuse anything.

  3. Alexis says:

    While I agree with the main point of this post and the song is obviously childish, maybe the Oscars should try to have better control over the performances. It’s there show, they can say no to a performance and if that host decides not to host I’m sure they can find a quick replacement. Also, I kind of agree with Ben, I don’t think Seth wrote the song(although he could have) and I have a strong doubt he’s even seen all the movies he quoted. I’ve never seen Boys Don’t Cry or the Accused and only like 20 minutes of Monster’s Ball and Monster. Of course that still doesn’t justify the song or any rude actions.

  4. lizzie says:

    Excellent piece, Anya! Thank you for illustrating the misogyny laden in Seth MacFarlane’s “humor” at the Oscars. Your point about the nudity of four of the scenes mentioned by MacFarlane is well taken – especially in lieu of his Rihanna and Chris Brown “date night” comment. He wasn’t just implying rape as something to be laughed at – he downright trivialized domestic abuse for the sake of a cheap punchline. Keep fighting the good fight!

  5. […] Originally posted on SPARK […]

  6. zolt says:

    late reply i know, but feels good to see others think same as i about seth and his ‘edginess’. so sad that we let it continue, without making people like him accountable…..
    in brasil with my wife of 40 yrs., at this time, and, sadly, here, poor young girls have a different set of problems…
    in my opinion, if we do nothing—about seth, and ‘the onion’ post, etc…. our so called civilization will arrive ‘back at the cave’, much quicker than anyone has predicted….

  7. […] the loss of her breasts. This is just another manifestation of the phenomenon I talked about in the ridiculously sexist Oscars boob song: women, no matter the context, are reduced to their most sexualized body […]

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