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Opinion Letters When does humor become personal?

Recently the National Science Foundation (NSF) granted Professor Thomas Ford (WCU) and Associate Professor Julie Woodzicka (Washington and Lee University) $300,000 to research how sexist humor contributes to imbalanced relations between men and women. Naturally it’s assumed that men have the sexist attitudes and women are the victims of it. The participants in this project will perform such tasks necessary to help the researchers determine how exposure to sexist humor affects perceptions of women and discrimination against them. According to Professor Ford, “ultimately this research addresses issues of critical social relevance.” Really? I have my doubts.

The NSF was established by Congress by the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 with an initial allocation of $225,000 and a “strict budget cap” of $15,000,000. It’s an independent government agency responsible for supporting basic research and education in the sciences, math and engineering and grants funding for such activities. Like all government agencies, it’s grown over these 60 years and its bloated budget is now in the billions, $6.78B in 2010, to be exact. Yes, these are our tax dollars.

We in America live under an overpowering double standard in respect to sexism. I’m fond of the abstract analogy that if a man stands naked in a window and woman sees him, he’ll be arrested for indecent exposure. If a woman stands naked in a window and a man sees her, he’ll be arrested for being a “Peeping Tom.”

Do you read the Sunday comics? Consider Garfield, Beetle Bailey, Peanuts, Shoe, Blondie, Snuffy Smith, Sherman’s Lagoon, or even Pluggers. In all of these comic strips the male characters (human or otherwise) are continually portrayed as addle-brained, clueless, boneheaded, lazy buffoons. Contrary to a common belief, I think most men and women consider this form of sexist humor as benign amusement.

When does accepted “humor” become personal? I was shopping at Ingles just before Christmas and in the produce department a lady I had never seen before approached me and asked, “Is that your list, or your wife’s?” Because I’m a male, my presence in a super market (alone) seemed foreign to her and she felt obliged (and comfortable) pointing out to me that I was out of my element.

Discrimination, prejudice, bigotry, racism, sexism, narrow-mindedness, all exist in our society. It’s unfortunate but none-the-less, they’re part of the human condition. So instead of going out of our way in search of creating “social relevance” out of trivia, maybe we all need to just lighten up a bit and come to grips with what really matters in the scheme of things and what doesn’t.

David L. Snell — Dillsboro, N.C.


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