It’s Never “Just” a Joke | Vol. 3 / No. 41.5

 Someone who is probably not joking. Photo: Gage Skidmore CC BY 2.0

I’ve had a pretty bad headache for three out of the last four days, so today’s post is going to be a bit shorter, and way more of a rant, than usual. Today’s topic? How Trump is terrible (again) and how anyone who is willing to handwave his behavior seriously doesn’t understand the world that an average woman lives in.

In case you missed it (in which case, how? What is your secret?) on Tuesday, Donald Trump advocated for the assassination of Hillary Clinton. In his exact words,

“Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment—by the way, and if she gets to pick [the crowd boos] if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I dunno.”

For those of us playing at home, that pretty clearly sounds like Trump is saying that people with guns are the only ones who can stop Hillary. Get it? Get it? Because they can shoot her with their guns. Or have an armed revolution? Something with guns. Of course, Trump has since denied that he meant anything violent by his comments. A very sympathetic Sean Hannity said that it was “obvious” that Trump was discussing the political power that Second Amendment advocates have and the way they can be mobilized against Hillary. Yeah. Obviously.

Paul Ryan sold off another small part of his soul by insisting that Trump had told ‘”a joke gone bad.'” This particular interpretation had a brilliant takedown by Jason P. Steed, who points out that him joking about this doesn’t actually make it better.

But all of this avoids addressing the violent elephant in the room: Hillary Clinton does not have the luxury of thinking that Trump was joking. Hillary Clinton doesn’t have the privilege of believing that Trump’s followers will interpret his comments to mean their “political power.” Not just because Hillary Clinton is a public figure with a low “likeability” score. But because Hillary Clinton is a woman. And when you’re a woman, you never have the privilege of assuming that a man who is threatening violence against you is “just joking.” Because frequently, they’re not.

In the same way that women can’t assume that men threatening violence on the internet don’t actually mean it, women can’t assume that men threatening violence in the real world don’t mean it, either. It’s entirely possible that the reason women are assumed to be less funny than men is not just sexism (which it definitely is) but also the sheer fact that we don’t have the luxury of finding as many things funny as men do. Worldwide, 1 in 3 women “have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.” That’s not counting non-partner, non-sexual violence as far as I can tell. Like the kind that happens when you make fun of a man, or say no to a man, or basically do or say anything the man doesn’t want. The stakes are too high, and the statistics too real, for any woman to give a violent comment the benefit of the doubt.

Whether or not Trump was joking about killing Hillary, whether or not he was talking about the political power of gun advocates (note: he probably wasn’t, and he definitely wasn’t) it doesn’t matter. Hillary Clinton has to see these words as a threat. Any woman in her position would.

God only knows what Trump will “joke” about once Clinton beats him in the first debate.


Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not pointing out that women don’t have the luxury of assuming people are being funny, she studies gender in popular culture.


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