If I had invented the word “banter”, I would be incredibly cross with the way it’s being used; namely, as an attempt to justify offensive and discriminatory behaviour. If you complain about such behaviour, you “can’t take a joke” (i.e. victim-blaming). Most of these “jokes” don’t make sense without sexist undertones: take this one from Facebook, “It’s Funny How “Woman” Spelt Backwards Is “Kitchen””. Yes, really.
Clearly, I’m not very good at understanding jokes. Can someone please explain to me why “tits or gtfo” is funny? Why is “that’s nice love, now get back to the kitchen” funny? And why is questioning a woman’s ability to do her job because she is a woman still seen as “banter”? That’s exactly what Andy Gray and Richard Keys did to an assistant referee back in 2011, and when the former was sacked, my Facebook was full of people joining the group “Andy Gray Getting The Sack Is Proof Women Can’t Take Banter”. (Women being blamed for a decision taken by a group of men and women, but I digress.) I can’t find that page now – presumably it’s been deleted, but I did find “Bring Back Andy Gray – Keep the Banter in Football”. That. Wasn’t. Banter.
However, if you say it’s a joke, then to most people it seems to become a joke. The butt of the joke doesn’t get listened to because, apparently, she’s just a silly uptight woman who belongs in the kitchen. Jokes, banter, I’ve even read the phrase “casual bit of sexism” today. This is somebody actually admitting to being sexist and people still finding it funny.
The problem with this “casual sexism” is that it adds up; it’s everywhere (I kept a diary of sexism for a week last month. It’s rather long.) and if people hear enough of it, for long enough, they start to believe it. It also puts some women off voicing any opinions whatsover. For an example of this, have a look at the #SilentNoMore Twitter hashtag (set up by @TheWomensRoomUK following this article on online misogynistic abuse) from earlier today. Or at least try to, because (this afternoon at least) it was filled with misogynistic abuse by people who don’t understand the concept of irony.
This isn’t calling shotgun on the front seat of a car; you can’t just shout “banter” and expect your targets to accept your abuse and be silenced. The entire point of banter, the entire point of a joke, is that it’s funny. For everyone.