Are you watching Feminist Frequency? You should be.
I recently came across an episode of the show discussing the concept of “ironic sexism.” What does that mean? In a nutshell, it’s a way to justify the use of sexist (or racist, classist, etc.) tropes and stereotypes by making them so over-the-top, ridiculous, or obvious that they cross the line twice and become acceptable again. The obvious problem with this technique is that what qualifies as “crossing the line twice” is extremely subjective–one person’s “over-the-top” might be another’s “too close to home”–but I think the bigger problem is that it’s just plain lazy writing and lazy thinking. More often than not, this kind of technique is not an attempt to mock or deconstruct the offensive trope or stereotype, it’s simply an attempt to excuse its use without materially altering the nature of the trope. In other words, there’s a not-so-fine line between a sexist parody and a parody of sexism: in the former, the overall content of the movie/show/ad might be over-the-top and ridiculous, but the actual offending trope is played straight or merely exaggerated. In the latter, the stereotype itself is shown to be unrealistic, damaging, or untrue. If this sounds harder, that’s because it is–taking the time and effort to think our preconceptions and biases through is very hard work, but it’s the only way to live fairly.
What do you think? Is Sarkeesian right? Where else have you seen “irony” used as an excuse for laziness, rather than a tool for critical thinking?