Is this sign funny? The Advertising Standards Bureau doesn’t think so and the business in question has had to take it down. But many people seem to disagree with their decision and seem to think this double entendre is the height of witticism. It’s just a drop in the ocean when it comes to community attitudes around violence against women, but I think the reactions to this are pretty interesting.
The comments around the web are full of complaints about “political correctness” and humour and, to an extent, I understand those aspects. Everyone is quick to voice how offended they are but we must remember that being offended is just a feeling and may not actually cause any harm (other than feeling offended). We don’t have any particular right to remain in a perpetual state of never feeling offended through life. Chances are, you’ll feel offended by many things both great and small and that’s okay. Being offended on its own can be a good thing; it causes discussion and it ultimately it forces people to think about their position. It’s when the subject of our offence contributes to real harm that it becomes something to really fight against.
Some people have labelled it black humour, which I suppose it is, to an extent. It certainly trivialises the victims, so to speak, and I would definitely think murder falls under a certain taboo when it comes to humour.
Black humour is definitely an acquired taste, though. As a person who has sometimes had to deal with some pretty grim scenarios in my working life, black humor is often a coping mechanism and an excellent way break some serious tension. The thing with it, though, is you really have to choose your audience. I only really use it with people who I know will be receptive and appreciative of it. It’s not for everyone. Some people, for many reasons, don’t respond well to it. They find it to be harsh and inappropriate and honestly, they are often correct. This particular sign isn’t being used to cope with anything. It’s not there to deal with a difficult situation using humour. It’s not meant to let someone who is struggling release an inappropriate chuckle. And on public display, they business owner really isn’t picking their audience. This is just a play on words to sell a service. There’s nothing wrong with a good pun and the positive reactions to this sign are full of praise for the “clever” wording. However, it’s not original- this is a really old, tired joke. And it really isn’t what I’d consider humourous. Not in the current climate here in Australia.
In a country where women die every week at the hands of current and former partners, not to mention those living with traumatic brain injuries (that’s the kind that have a serious long term impacts, such as paralysis) due to domestic violence, no- it’s not really what I’d call funny. It’s extremely poor taste at best.
Sexism and Stereotyping.
The joke isn’t the only thing that’s old here. The tired old clichés of the awful mother-in-law and the wife a man is be desperate to be free of. To me, it conjures up those other tired tropes about marriage being something a woman traps a man into, something she uses to imprison him and make him miserable. Boring, inaccurate and ultimately pointless. The Advertising Standards Bureau, however, didn’t find it sexist, despite only using negative stereotypes of women. That in itself is kinda sexist, I’d have thought. Sexism aside, the main problem with this kind of “joke” is when we use it in a society like ours; a society that is experiencing high levels of violence and seemingly doing nothing about it.
Inciting Violence Against Women?
I don’t think a sign like this would directly cause someone to go home and shoot their wife. That doesn’t mean that signs like this are acceptable, though. By joking about murdering wives and mother-in-laws and who ever else, we are contributing to a culture that already accepts and largely ignores violence against women.
We are more aware of this issue than ever before, yet the same problems exist. How many survivors of violence have or would have passed that sign, only to see their very real struggles and fears made into a joke? Joking about violence against women to sell something is nothing but a cheap, careless and insensitive marketing method and the support for such a practice shows that our awareness around this issue really doesn’t run very deep at all.
I really believe that the standard you walk past is the standard you accept. I am not at all surprised that someone reported this sign. I was, however, pleasantly surprised that the Advertising Standards Bureau agreed with the complainant. Especially considering the portrayal of women in advertising in general.
Get Over It.
I have no doubt that people will still argue that this is just a joke, that people like me should lighten up, get a sense of humour, get over it or they’ll use some other phrase designed to simultaneously dismiss valid concerns and imply that there is something fundamentally wrong with anyone who holds such concerns. I’d counter that by asking if their chuckle over a sign is really more important than how a survivor might feel looking at the same words. Or someone else whose life has been impacted by such violence. You might not care about sexism and you might not care about domestic violence. Perhaps neither of those things has ever touched your life in any way. But surely you have enough imagination to realise that making a mockery of murder and violence when such acts are committed each week, and actively defending your right to do so whatever the cost, doesn’t exactly say much about you as a human being.
Having an ounce of sensitivity, if nothing else, will cost you nothing.
#FYBF @ With Some Grace.