At first glance, I was immediately offended by Jamie Lose’s article, “Why It’s OK To Be That Girl,” which appeared in last week’s issue of The Breeze. The article asks that all JMU women take a look inside themselves at their own tendencies to categorize other women into “That Girl,” stereotypes, and here they are:
- The Just-a-little-bit-of-a-Slut
- The Drunk Slut
- The PDA Couple (see also The Happy Couple)
- The Crier
- The Workaholic (see also The Nerd)
- The Virgin
- The Happy Couple
- The Heroine
- The Feminist
- The Nerd
I will only go so far as to explain the details of Lose’s first description, “The Just-a-little-bit-of-a-Slut,” as it is probably the only one necessary. Lose asserts that “this girl” can be understood by all women. She light-heartedly claims that each of us can identify with this girls inevitable urge to “show everyone her boobs,” steal another girl’s boyfriend, and instigate a sexual encounter with her roommate’s barely pubescent little brother. “She’s only human,” writes Lose. Well, it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyways: This is absolutely NOT what all women want.
After my original reaction, the reality set in that this was probably an attempt at satire. There was no way, at least I truly hoped there was no way, that this woman was truly claiming all women are like this (or like any of the other stereotypes listed above.) But relief did not follow this realization—my terror continued because, to be blunt, if the article was intended as a satire, it was an absolute failure.
Satire, or the use of humor, irony, and exaggeration to point out people’s stupidity, especially in the political sphere, can be an entertaining way to get a meaningful message across to an audience. By making a journalistic piece humorous, relatable, and fun to read by poking fun at our shared vices—the piece can reach and appeal to a larger audience. To put it simply, satire is relatable because it calls out the many recognizable forms of corruption in society.
The problem here is that Lose is not mocking the institution of misogyny. She is mocking women themselves. By categorizing women into these distinct degrading stereotypes and by labeling them “humorous,” she celebrates and promotes the stereotypes rather than debunks them. If Lose had chosen a writing strategy that described the stereotypes of women but also made fun of the ways in which they are perpetuated (Sports Illustrated, the Girls of Madison Calendar, sexist music videos, etc.) she could have written a truely humorous satire. Instead, Lose’s article has fallen into the same category as the examples listed above—media forms that misrepresent women as sluts, emotional wrecks, and beings that run on sexual attention.
Poking fun at stereotypes is a dangerous game. Stereotypes are so easily recognized and often celebrated, that more often than not these jokes about them will be so relatable to a portion of the readership that they will be distracted from the larger message. When this portion of the audience takes Lose’s message literally, at face value—a list of the types of women at JMU in all of their promiscuous, weepy, attention-seeking glory, the intended message fails to reach its destination and a sexist message is sent in its place. In light of the way in which the article was written, my personal fear is that many people (if not most) read this article, laughed at the categories, internalized them, and justified their own misogyny because, “The Breeze is even laughing at them for goodness sake!”
I am not bashing satire. When carefully constructed, satire can be a great way of delivering a powerful message in a witty package—but talent and precision are required to develop that message so that it will reach the audience in the way it was intended. My problem is not with Lose’s intentions, but it is with her delivery and her (and The Breeze’s) apparent disregard for the danger that her article may be a step backward for the representation of women on this campus.
Interested in reading Lose’s article? Visit http://breezejmu.org/2010/03/29/why-it’s-ok-to-be-that-girl/ and decide for yourself whether or not Lose’s article was an empowering humor piece or a dangerously failed satire. Check out the commentary that has already been started below the article on The Breeze website and add your own thoughts. We would love to hear your feedback on our blog site as well!