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Some Men Didn't Find Michelle Obama's Joke Funny, Which Is Hilarious

Laughter is the best medicine, especially when it’s a guffaw redirected right in the face of sexists.
 
 
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When I saw that Michelle Obama joked at the US-Africa Leaders Summit this week that “women are smarter than men”, I prepared myself for backlash. And – what do you know? – Politico wrote that the First Lady had “engaged in a battle of the sexes”, anti-feminist author and Fox News contributor Suzanne Venker called it a “sexist and elitist display”, and the headline at Business Standard read “Michelle Obama claims women are smarter than men”. As if it were a serious assertion rather than a joking aside!

This isn’t the very first time Michelle Obama has taken flak for, well, just about anything. Her tenure in the White House has been marked by nasty racist and sexist attacks (in fact, they started before President Obama took office) on her body, her feminismeven her love of Beyoncé.

But when the First Lady made the quip – at an event with former first lady Laura Bush, while addressing the spouses of African leaders – it wasn’t a humorless dig at men. It was a light-hearted moment of girl-power on the outskirts of a conference for heads of state that is incredibly male-dominated.

Actually, I wish she’d said it with the intention of mocking men – with all that political, economic and social power they’ve cornered by marginalizing women, I think they can take a light ribbing. (I’d prefer a total overthrow of the patriarchy, but I’ve always had champagne tastes.)

Besides, laughter is the best medicine, especially when it’s a guffaw redirected right in the face of sexists.

Of course, women don’t have to smile if they don’t want to or hide when they’re angry. But there’s little that sexists fear more than being mocked by women – and that makes laughing at them all the more satisfying.

(It’s interesting, too, how the same misogynists who say feminists have no sense of humor are so quick to pout when they’re on the receiving end of it.)

There’s some of that same reasoning behind the recent Twitter campaign in protest of a Turkish politician’s sexist comments: after deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc said that women “should have chastity ... she should not laugh in front of everyone and not be inviting in her behavior”, Turkish women posted pictures of themselves laughing online. Even Harry Potter star and UN goodwill ambassador for women Emma Watson got in on the campaign. The protest turned Arnic’s own words against him, and the women he thought needed more control didn’t have to lose their sense of joy while doing it.

In all fairness, joking about men’s (supposed) inferiority doesn’t change the systemic power system through which they benefit. But so long as it irritates the misogynists in our midst – and gives women some much-needed moments of levity – I’ll keep encouraging women to laugh at ridiculous men who just want them to stop already. Signaling that women will do whatever they damn please regardless of what men think is a winning strategy.

 

Jessica Valenti is a daily columnist for the Guardian US. She is the author of four books on feminism, politics and culture, and founder of Feministing.com

 
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