The real meaning of disrespectful jokes about one’s spouse

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.


The problem is, it’s not a joke for everyone. It’s one of those insidious things that hits some people as “ha ha, yeah, I kid about him being a manchild, but really we talk stuff out,” and hits others as “so I see, husbands are supposed to be irresponsible and you’re supposed to berate them for it.” Even though Rowdy’s brother-in-law wasn’t really coercing his wife into a major responsibility she didn’t want, he was cheerfully playing into a story created by, and validating for, men who really would.

Credit where credit’s due, this is Rowdy’s theory: One of the major steps toward creating a consent culture is making consent look different from coercion. It’s making a man who respects his wife’s right to participate in decisions sound so different in casual conversation from a man who doesn’t, that no one could confuse them.

Because our values aren’t that screwed up, really. If you ask people, point-blank and not-joking, if a man should listen to his wife when making a decision that affects her life, people are going to say yes. Most people–even most not-at-all-feminist people–are going to say, yeah, of course that’s basic respect.

So imagine a world where it was really, really obvious who respected their wife (husband, partner) and who didn’t. If people who respected their partners never told these maybe-jokes, people who didn’t wouldn’t have that maybe-joke plausible-deniability to hide behind. They’d either have to tell outright lies (which some would, but it would require them to be consciously aware that they had something to lie about) or their “she didn’t want it, but I did it anyway” story wouldn’t be jokey, it would be a straight-up confession of evil.

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