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A Response to Our Readers: On Gender Dynamics and Satire

 

Editor’s Note: On February 4, 2014, The Observer published Mark Gianfalla’s reactions to Emma Terhaar’s January 28th satirical article on gender relations at Notre Dame.

Dear Mark,

You do not know how much this pains me, but I’m going to have to do something I hate to do: explain one of my jokes. When a joke needs to be explained, it ceases to be funny. Your viewpoint suggested that you are pretty upset though, so I’ll make a special exception and explain this joke to you.  I will first give you a few terms that I am going to work with in my explanation. They are as follows.

Irony: the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.

Satire: a way of using humor to show that someone or something is foolish, weak, bad, etc.: humor that shows the weaknesses or bad qualities of a person, government, society, etc

I’m going to make this as simple as possible so I don’t confuse you again. I set out to write an article that poked fun at people who complain about their dismal ND sex life. If someone is complaining about not having sex because they go to Notre Dame, and pointing to the chastity of our female population as the root cause of their sexual frustration, then I pity that person for multiple reasons.

Firstly, if someone really wants to have sex, and they cannot find a single willing partner amongst roughly 8000 undergraduates, that is incredibly sad. Secondly, I find these kinds of complaints sad because they suggest that the people making them have no larger concerns in their lives than their dismal sex life. There are actual issues on campus (homophobia, our move towards becoming a trade school were just some that I thought to list), and issues in the world that are worth thinking about and discussing. People are talking about how they never have sex, or how we have a hook up culture, or how they feel pressure to be in relationships or marry prematurely. I believe that if you want to have sex, have sex (if god forbid you cannot find a willing partner, then keep your complaints to yourself). If you don’t want to take part in our hook up culture, do not take part. If you do not want to get married by the spring of your year of graduation, then simply say no if anyone asks you to get married.

Now that I have summarized my opinion, I will explain how it was that I came to construct the joke that made up my Her Campus article. I used irony, to construct a satire (see above definitions). Because I believe that people who complain about their sex lives need to get a life, I said that I think that a “high rate of male virginity” plagues our campus. This is ironic because it is clearly the opposite of our problem. We are plagued with a ridiculously high rate of petty concern over our sex lives. Because it was such an ironic statement, it was therefore humorous.

I then took this ironic statement (virginity is a burden), and stretched it to construct a satire. I suggested that virginity is a “huge problem,” and made ridiculous statements about people being scarred by the “cold hands of a clumsy virgin.” I made a bunch of other clearly ridiculous suggestions about installing fat mirrors and space heaters around campus to lessen rates of virginity. These were also ironic. I trusted my readers would pick up on this because neither fat mirrors nor space heaters would actually be effective means to reduce virginity now would they? Then I got to what I would call the punch line of the article, if I may be so bold as to say it had a punch line, and suggested that one student masquerade as a female Robin Hood and have sex with as many virgins as she can. I took my joke to this extreme to show the weakness in a person that believes their crappy sex life is actually a socially relevant issue that needs to be dealt with or even voiced aloud.

The concept of a female Robin Hood/virgin slayer is satirical. The complaints of men on campus who say they never have sex because women here are too chaste deserve a response as disgusting and ridiculous as the idea of a virgin slayer. Satire usually works by pretending to take seriously that which it aims to poke fun at. I pretended to take these men’s complaints seriously, and then showed just how sad, gross, and ridiculous they are by suggesting an equally sad, gross, and ridiculous response.

Now, I am not very good at writing satire yet, and I am even worse at explaining satire. I see that you struggle to understand satire, irony, and perhaps humor in general. I direct you towards hallmarks in our literary past such as Jonathon Swift’s A Modest Proposal. This might help you in your journey towards understanding. (Spoiler: Swift does not really think cannibalism is a relevant answer to the Ireland Question).

 

Now that I’ve finished explaining my article, I’m going to address a couple concerning comments made in your viewpoint.

Firstly, you assert, “Our uniqueness and strong convictions about the sanctity of one’s sexuality, however, is what leads me to believe Notre Dame could become a campus where sexual violence is eradicated.” At no point in my article did I discuss sexual assault. I too share your dream of a campus, culture, and world free from sexual assault. You seem to suggest here that we can either eradicate sexual assault, or we can hope for a campus with less awkward sexual interactions. At no point in my article was I genuinely suggesting that awkward sexual encounters are something we need to fix. However, if someone did want to eradicate awkward sexual encounters on campus, I do not think that desire would be mutually exclusive from the desire to eradicate sexual assault on campus, as you suggested it would be.

Secondly, you make some comments about politically liberal minded students and students who hold minority opinions: “(all 20 of you outspoken liberals just rolled over in your lofts)… The scarier part is that it is representative of a minority attitude running through campus like a rat in a New York City subway tunnel: unnatural and unsettling. I have often written that dissenters of Our Lady’s University’s conservative, Catholic culture should simply leave or accept it, and I continue to feel this way, along with a large, underrepresented majority of students here.”

I do not think that we should be happy about having a homogenous student population. I do not think that we should belittle people for their political beliefs and equate them to rats. Our university strives to be diverse, and to be accepting of people from all background, and affiliations. I think Our Lady’s University seeks to provide a place of intellectual community and freedom to explore, engage, and educate ourselves. If there are only 20 politically different people left on our campus, that is really sad. And I think that we should not tell them to leave because they are a minority. Suggesting people leave because they belong to a minority group is a really horrible idea.

Thirdly, you argue, “Terhaar takes stabs at the University’s high graduate employment rate and accuses the student body of being homophobic. The University of Notre Dame is seen as one of the premier undergraduate universities in the world and prepares its students for real careers.” When I referred to Notre Dame’s growing reputation as a trade school, I was not talking about our high employment on graduation rate. I was talking about how we seem to be more concerned with producing doctors, lawyers, engineers, business men and women, and not concerned citizens of the world informed on a variety of topics. I fear that we are becoming overly concerned with producing the best doctors, the best lawyers, the best engineers, the best business men and women, and during this push we are producing mediocre human beings.

I went to an open discussion on Food Ethics last Friday lead by a leading Notre Dame Theology professor. It was an advertised event open to the public. I was the only undergraduate who showed up. There were more South Bend residents, non-affiliates of the university, present than Notre Dame students. I think if you asked any random student in the huddle two questions: what’s the current political situation in Syria? And who won MVP in the NFL this past season they would struggle with one question and not the other. If you asked a random student what the term “the big four” refers to, or what countries do we currently have the most troops deployed in, they would be able to answer one question, and not the other. 

Finally, you write, “I have never seen anyone run away from a homosexual student while screaming, therefore, the student body could not be considered scared of homosexuals. I personally oppose gay marriage but have never been afraid of homosexual students.” Homophobia is in fact the irrational fear of homosexuals. This does not mean that homophobics treat gays as a small child might treat darkness. Homophobics are frightened by homosexuals, and this fear is manifest in hatred. This hatred is expressed in a lack of acceptance.

More than once I have overheard ND students making comments that smear or mock the entire homosexual contingent of our society. When someone says they won’t room with someone because they are gay, this is an example of homophobia. When someone says they don’t want a gay person sharing their bathroom, this is homophobia. When someone suggests that gay people should not be allowed the same rights as a straight person (think of those students opposed to our university’s revision of its non-discrimination clause), as if homosexuals are inferior members of society, they are making a homophobic comment, or a comment that reveals their irrational hatred for homosexuals.

 

So thank you, Mark, for taking the time to bring up some issues I did not get to discuss deeply in my original article. I normally avoid standing on soapboxes like I did here, but you left me such an opening, I simply could not resist. I am very glad that you’re a Her Campus Notre Dame reader, and I welcome further responses either in The Observer’s Viewpoint Section, or here on Her Campus.  

Thanks again, and by all means, strive to achieve some of the class you mentioned in your sign off. 

 

 

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Emma Terhaar

Notre Dame

I'm a Junior English and Spanish Major. I love to cook, eat, and read. I someday want to be writer of novels, poems, and all things literary.
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