Misogyny, deep-seated in history for thousands of years, is related to anger, mistrust, jealousy, and hatred against women’s bodily capacities and overlaps with the desire to enslave, exploit, and control women’s bodily potentialities. No matter in which form it disguises itself, we are sure of one thing: misogyny is the illusion that the others have the right to “speak” about women’s bodies and lives. Retaining the right and legitimacy to speak is possible to the extent that it becomes institutionalized in the permanent clashes of power – that is, as long as it can create structures which utilize tools of coercion, pressure, threat, harassment, and persuasion. Otherwise, what is actually at issue mostly boils down to discursive attempts that are highly contradictory, unfruitful compared to the diversity of life, and besieged by vulgarity and presumptuousness. Misogyny is a long standing concept stretching from the polis administered by Aristotle’s “free citizen”–one that excludes slaves and women, free or not– to ISIS’s slave markets, from Medieval witch hunts to femicides which, today, amounts to gendercide[1], from guardianship of virginity or skirt length to female circumcision.[2] I think that some forms of humor which are identified as sexist are rather misogynist, and in terms of the historical narrative that backs them up they cross paths with misogyny to a much greater extent.

Humor, as a form of literary discourse, encompasses every aspect of the everyday and meanders in book lines, newspaper columns and on theatre stages. For us, it is on our curriculum as a means of resisting the burden of overwhelming social circumstances. Unfortunately, it is, in a sense, a must, and nothing is more pathetic than mandatory humor. It seems as if an entire society laughs and makes others laugh compulsorily. And it does so with a remarkably rich and witty language. As the homogenizing state despotism escalates, so does the humorous wit. Thanks to considerably advanced audio-visual document creation and editing tools, dozens of contents on the subject go into circulation on the same day. This is one side of the coin. The other side is a saddening bore: a language of humor that is effortlessly produced by exploiting overused stereotypes and reiterating the notorious codes that are mostly predicated upon humiliating a minority, belittling an existence – one that is quite boring and ridden with clichés. Regardless of their political position, all women should object to this kind of “rote humor”. This kind of “rote humor” is not at all free from despotic and homogenizing language of power. It constitutes itself through habitual instruments such as sexism, misogyny, racism, homophobia, and the imposition of a uniform body type and produces and reinforces a discourse that is antithetical to struggle for emancipation.

Postmodern humor vs. rote humor

Humor means taking risks. Because, while one side of humor exposes one’s own mental map, the other side exposes the social codes. Just like each kind of chili pepper is different and is felt differently –pepper has black, flake, cayenne, fresh types– so is sarcasm. Every type has a different taste. In addition to the type of tedious humor which relies on long lasting prejudices and sexism, there are also other types of humor that have the power to make everyone laugh. This latter type boomed with the Gezi Resistance. It was followed by many other types that were unleashed thereafter. Now, each traumatic or dramatic development in the country leads to the production of a boatload of jokes. When AKP, after disregarding the elections held on 7 June 2015, accelerated its adventure of othering the other half of the society by using the cunning of snap elections (1 November 2015 general elections), there was a single line comment on the election results on ekşisözlük: “Brother Tolga, I press the phone key over and over again, but Hugo is not going anywhere.” This sentence is funny for everyone who had crossed paths at least once with the TV show of the 1990s when even the primitive phone key technology was mesmerizing. A joke that puts a smile on the face of everyone who has shared this experience regardless of one’s gender, race, sexual orientation… But do all of us really laugh at cliché humor?

I believe that there is a thick line between lynching and justification, censorship and freedom of expression: criticism. If we work further for a more critical attitude by weighing on that thick line, we will not necessarily have to cling to rote humor and defend it as freedom of expression. The Gezi Park Resistance proves fruitful to discuss the difference between rote humor and witty, creative and effective humor that is produced from within that very moment. Throughout the resistance roads, walls, shutters, everywhere were full of jokes.[3] The most distinct characteristic of this humor is that it requires a certain cultural accumulation as well as the effort of selecting and interpreting from within that accumulation. These jokes, which refer to historical moments and productions and relate to other forms, have a special way of application which summons to streets the cultural production ranging from favorite video games and movies of the 2000s to local accents and vernaculars, from football players to poems and songs. It, naturally, is an encompassing and piquant humor that can make women laugh as much as men, gay people as much as straight people, young people as much as middle-aged people. There were also contents, rote “jokes” which swear at Tayyip Erdoğan’s mother as well as various forms of womanhood. It should suffice to look at a few of them. The discourse “Tayyip Erdoğan, S.o.B.” was responded by sex worker women who, after resisting in the barricades, took their places in the park: “We the prostitutes are pretty sure that Tayyip Erdoğan is not our son.” Another example is that feminists carrying paint cans wiped off swear words which equal sexuality with a form of rapist mentality and degrade female bodies. Again, in those days, this issue was discussed under the heading of humor and freedom of expression and some people tried to legitimize and defend their position with reference to censorship. But, while we have a humorous discourse that can make women as well as men laugh, do we really have to accept an exclusionary, humiliating, discriminatory type of humor and see it as a form of freedom? It is possible to abstract this form of humor as homogenizing state and cliché humor. Do we really “have to” put up with this familiar accomplicity? On top of that, while the experiences of recent years and the radical transformation in the communication technologies offer us a chance to create a language of humor that is much more fruitful, intertextual, and well-thought, why keep insisting on this dry, flat, and effortless type, which obviously relies on the misogyny as old as time?

The second and most important aspect of humor, which has been cultivated by referencing multiple sources and which I call postmodern, is its position that allows for political potentialities. It places the power, the powerful, and those who claim to be the norm at the sharp edge of its sarcasm. This humor has a centrifugal effect. It can keep on galvanizing and mobilizing even when its force of humor is interrupted. Besides riddling power with holes, it captures the richness of life experiences and the absurdity of life and cultural processes. It occupies a position that does not reinforce any historical prejudice and does not speak to rote narratives. I can give two examples of this form of humor from Turkey; one is in Turkish and the other is in Turkish-Kurdish: Zaytung and Tolaz.[4]

The difference between “Sexism is Universal” and Evrensel[5] is sexist

I would like to reflect on the subject of humor and sexism which came to the forefront once again after the publication of a caricature by Sefer Selvi on Evrensel. We need this in order to understand convergences and divergences between the universal forms of transnational misogyny and a progressive newspaper which ended up in a position of reproducing sexism (because they did not see it problematic to publish that caricature).

Sefer Selvi could not take criticism against his caricature which drew Iustitia (female figure symbolizing justice) pregnant and thus evoking that the “justice was raped”. Instead of admitting what his style of humor simply meant, he said that he actually wanted to point at the corrupted and defiled justice system and that he was misunderstood – arguing that he was such a big promoter of women’s rights. So, he can also enjoy himself as he sings along to Ali Rıza Binboğa’s song “I am the feminist number one!”[6] In that period, some women interpreted this criticism as a direct assault to Evrensel. Some of them, in response to these criticisms, built their arguments on the basis of censorship. When some critical voices overcooked their criticisms, they were seen as bounty hunters. However, the caricature which simply says AKP’s judiciary and legislative practices “knocked Iustitia statute up” reminds me of assaults against women, rape, child abuse as much as that it is once again the female body that has been “raped” and female fertility that has been degraded. And, dear Selvi, the majority of women won’t and cannot laugh at your joke that says the “justice is raped” by representing Iustitia pregnant. Is that really what we mean by freedom, humor? Is it too hard to give up on that caricature which appalls the majority of (if not all) women who make up half of the society? Evrensel published and – despite the reactions– did not remove for hours this unamusing and unintelligent caricature which has a straightforward meaning that everyone can understand without even pondering a bit. As a result, Evrensel got its fair share of universality of sexism. Not seeing the sexism embedded in this caricature at first glance (and at many other glances) is because of the veil of universal sexism. A media outlet which has been laboring to unveil so many things should have done its share. Instead, they preferred to bypass the criticism and maybe not suppress it, but sweep it under the rug.

Especially Sefer Selvi who drew the caricature but also those who use the argument of censorship to try to straitjacket the critical voices which says that rape is no joke; those who strangle critical voices by dogmatically arguing that it is freedom of expression; and those who leave out the causal link while attempting to criticize should think twice about what they are defending in the war between the nuanced and encompassing humor and cliché and rote humor. While a humor that makes us all laugh is possible, let’s not tolerate this degrading and humiliating type. Counter to Sefer Selvi’s humor, let me finish with a succinct and short anonymous joke that has been so elegantly attached on the wood railing on the deck of a ferry and puts a miserable smile on our faces: “I wish we weren’t left like this”. We will continue to criticize and expose the rottenness of the humor which reproduces hostility towards certain groups and multiply those examples that put sarcastic smiles on our face as we enjoy our tea on the ferry.

Translator: İpek Tabur

Proof-reader: Müge Karahan

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için

[1] The number of women killed between July 2016, the declaration of the state of emergency, and December 2016 is 147. If January, February, March, April 2017 are included, more than 250 women were killed under state of emergency conditions. https://www.evrensel.net/haber/299930/ohal-doneminde-147-kadin-katledildi, Last accessed on 17.05.2017.  Bianet, “Bianet Şiddet, Taciz, Tecavüz Çetelesi Tutuyor”, http://bianet.org/kadin/bianet/133354-bianet-siddet-taciz-tecavuz-cetelesi-tutuyor, Last accessed on: 17.04.2017.

[2] Female circumcision is a surgical operation that is performed by partial or total removal of the clitoris or both the clitoris and the inner lips, and is common especially in Africa, and is seen in some parts of the Middle East and some Asian countries. Female circumcision is referred to as female genital mutilation by the United Nations, World Health Organization and some countries. For more information and data on the subject, see https://onedio.com/haber/bir-orta-cag-iskencesi-olan-kadin-sunneti-hakkinda-bilmeniz-gereken-her-sey-527010

[3] Listelist, “Gezi Parkı Direnişini Anlatan 110 Duvar Yazısı”, June 2013, http://listelist.com/gezi-parki-direnisini-anlatan-83-duvar-yazisi/, Last accessed on 17.05.2017.

[4] http://www.zaytung.com/ , https://twitter.com/tolazorg

[5] Evrensel is the name of a leftist, progressive newspaper in Turkish and it means “Universal”. (T.N.)

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdnhYb-vCa0


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