Sneaky Sexism: Why Sandwiches Ain't No Joke.
Caroline Dormor interrogates the ingredients which have come to form the infamous and terribly unoriginal joke: 'make me a sandwich' to finally answer is it really sexist?
Why does the chicken cross the road?
To get to the other side.
(Queue canned laughter).
How does the joke work? The joke follows a question-answer format. We expect the answer to be a pun, instead it is an obvious statement of fact. It is amusing because there is a violation of our expectation of the joke, but this violation is not serious and does no harm. We can accept it, and laugh at the transgression.
“Get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich, woman!”
(Queue awkward chirping crickets)
This is not a joke. There is no format, there is no pun, there is no misguided expectation, there is no word play. There is just the stereotype that women work in the kitchen and that men don’t. The ‘joke’ plays on the knowledge of this concept of segregation. Women have one place, men have another. The ‘humour’ apparently comes from the fact that this stereotype is false. However, the problem is that is that these jokes pre-empt a reality of an equality which, in many cases, we are still aspiring to. For example, we see this in the joke's popularity within meme culture and the dubbing over of well-loved figures of equality and empowerment such as Obama, J. Howard Miller's wartime poster 'We Can Do It' and superheroes.
I am lucky. I have never been, never considered, and never will be or consider myself as defined by the domestic; a house wife confined to the kitchen; a culinary goddess with a hoover for a phantom-limb. To suggest that I have transgressed a role I have never identified with is simply bizarre, not funny. The joke asks me to identify with a reality I have never truly known; a history of segregation which I am aware of, but have not experienced. “Get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich!”My response is. – “eh? What kitchen? What sandwich?” Comments like these touch a nerve because I am asked to identify with a stereotype which I deem to be regressive; a step backwards. I have nothing against kitchens in general, but I’ll go there when I please, and I certainly won’t be making anybody any sandwiches, because, don’t you know? I’m gluten-free and it’s all about quinoa pots these days.
The question is, do these comments, light-hearted as they may be, help or hinder gender equality? I believe that to answer this question we must first take another: who is it who is laughing? A man may make this comment because he knows that it is not true, and indeed, perhaps it is not a direct insult or command because it plays on a dated stereotype. However, as a woman, how do I laugh at the joke? I find it difficult, and in the face of such comments, I usually find myself confused and unsure how to respond, except perhaps by giving an aptly chosen finger (or two), and that leaves me wanting a witty, intellectual comeback to prove that I have a brain and talents which merit more than the arrangement of cheese and pickle on a slice of Hovis.
The problem is, that it is the man who tells the joke; who mocks the female position of domestic subordination and this parallels the dynamics of superiority we find in laughter. The joker or the laugher, places themselves above another individual; they make fun of, they poke fun, they laugh at. With comments like these, the man, as the person laughing, is superior to the woman, because the woman cannot laugh. The man may not be laughing at the woman, but the woman is not laughing.
The joke is not inclusive. It may intend to mock the concept of the dated stereotype, but it only ends in exclusive laughter which only re-affirms a separation between the sexes.