Don’t Mention Ovaries

Yesterday I inadvertently offended the Sb Overlords in an interesting way. Since I came on board 2½ years ago we’ve had a series of handlers or “community managers” who have all been competent, charming women. Punning a little, I have fondly called them my Ovarylords. To my knowledge this has not raised any hackles before. But yesterday I used the pun while criticising one of our overlords for a traffic-boosting effort that was in my opinion misguided and a little naive. Wrote I, “my Ovarylord suddenly turns into a cheerleader”. This didn’t go over well at all. But to my surprise it seemingly wasn’t the cheerleader part that offended this woman, but my referring to ovaries.

I realise now that this was seen as a case of a WASP male, me, joking about an oppressed group. I can’t tell jokes about Jews or black people or gays. It wouldn’t be funny: it would just be seen as hostile. But I don’t see the Sb Overlords as a oppressed group in relation to myself, regardless of the fact that they’re women and have ovaries. On the contrary, I perceive the Sb Overlords as my bosses.

I live in one of the most gender-equal countries in the world. This may paradoxically make me look like a misogynist to people in other countries since I am not conditioned to treat women as an oppressed group. Women still have a worse average salary here than men. But in Sweden, when a man jokes about women, it is not like a German joking about Jews or a white Texan joking about black people. An ovary is not necessarily an emblem of the oppressed.


17 thoughts on “Don’t Mention Ovaries

  1. Why offend when there is no need? It isn’t funny (to me…) and you are clearly hurting someone. Back down. You don’t have a grudge and you may well be insensitive.


  2. Ridger, true, the Anglo-Saxons were of course a bunch of puny guys who got chucked out of Scandinavia because they didn’t measure up. I hear they ended up on some island in the North Sea or something.

    Ryan, I didn’t say what I said with any malice, and I won’t be using that pun anymore.


  3. Lacking an explanation of what was just so offensive about using the o word, I can’t really see what could have caused the offense: I see it as a nice little pun.

    And of course you can tell jokes about Jews or black people or gays or any other social group or class of people. It’s not telling the type of joke that is not funny because you’re a white bloke: it’s the joke itself. Many such jokes are crude and have as their point the belittling of the group the person that is the subject of the joke, but not all such jokes are belittling. Those that are belittling are offensive and ought not be told, but one that does not conform to that type can be funny.

    Ought I be offended, as a person with ancestry (at least in part) from that island in the North Sea you have some vague inkling of where the inferior-to-Scandinavians Anglo-Saxons ended up because you’ve been oh-so dismissive in your comment? It is, after all, an ethnic joke. I couldn’t care less if I ought to be offended; the dismissive nature of the comment is what makes it funny. It’s gentle ribbing. I get the joke.

    Sometimes being sensitive and respectful can become too sensitive and respectful.


  4. L.W. Fox, punning of course presupposes a similarity of the words involved. If the Overlords had been white males then perhaps I would have called them Overlouds? We’ll never know.

    Stephen, my thinking is that treating someone with kid gloves can be pretty condescending unless that person is weaker than you in some obvious fashion. Thus I do not treat most women with kid gloves.


  5. I resent the moniker “overlords”, with its overt references to exclusive male power and the feudal injustice of a ruling nobility, not to mention its connotations of colonial conquest and oppression.


  6. 28 days out of 30 I would find it amusing. The other 2 days, I may or may not.

    It’s not kid gloves that I object to. It’s when men assume I’m stupid, can’t read a map (that’s a very common one, and really annoys me as I can read maps better than most men), that power tool/timber post/etc is too heavy for me but I can be left to lift 20 kg boiling pots, lug the basket of wet washing, and so on, because that, after all, is women’s work. (And no, I’m not having a go at my husband, but my father’s attitude.)


  7. I think women are generally only as weak as they’re taught to believe they are. For instance, unarmed rapists would find it very hard to have their way with women if all girls were taught some simple self-defence techniques focusing on eyes and testicles.


  8. Calling attention to someone’s gender in a professional context is generally dicey, I think. “Ovarylord” is a clever way of saying “oh, you’re a woman!” – in a perfect world, that would be just a neutral application of wit, but in the actual world, you’re at minimum invoking stereotype threat. IME men who feel compelled to remark on my gender are often creepy/sexist in other ways, too, so it sort of generally sets me on edge.


  9. “But in Sweden, when a man jokes about women, it is not like a German joking about Jews or a white Texan joking about black people. An ovary is not necessarily an emblem of the oppressed.”

    Don’t forget, half of white Texans are women………


  10. Americans currently tend to reflexively, if inconsistently, feel that they should avoid using descriptions based on a person’s physical appearance or ‘ethnic’ characteristics. The inconsistently applied sentiment is very much related to power dynamics, but it seems to now by more about ‘what polite people say and don’t say’ than it is about power per se.

    Being aware that your various ‘bosses’ were women was fine, as – apparently – was making the joke about ‘overylords’ in private.

    But saying the joke in public was a faux pas because ‘polite people’ do not unnecessarily distinguish people by physical characteristics. (The power dynamics are a large part of _why_ this is currently so, but those dynamics are not the point of the taboo. The point of the taboo is ‘being polite’ and being able to identify who the socially acceptable ‘polite people’ are.)


  11. One of the strangest things I witnessed was in the U.S. Navy. I worked in the lab and the Chief Petty Officers(CPO), Leading Petty Officers(LPO) and most Assistant Leading Petty Officers were Filipino. Most junior staff were native born Americans of a variety of ethnicities. The Filipinos were generally well educated(at least a bachelors, frequently a masters), spoke several dialects of Tagolog, English, usually Spanish and had years of experience in the lab. They were pretty blatant in giving benefits to other Filipinos. The black staff used to say it wasn’t the white guys you had to worry about…they weren’t in charge. The issue was, they couldn’t become officers so they tended to stay in the lab. Native born Americans were more likely to get out of the Navy or become medical officers of some sort. Despite this imbalance of power Filipino’s could engage in this sort of descrepancy and claim anyone who didn’t like it was racist. Therefore no one was going to complain. The pressure wasn’t so much from the command as a counter claim would be quickly made and work life would be made even more miserable. Logically, those in power shouldn’t be able to claim harm from a supervised person. On the other hand, failing to simply accept it would lead to more hassles than most folks wanted to deal with. Bad work schedule, shattered evals, lost opportunities because of being labeled either a racist, a trouble maker or both. Personally, I was impressed by all of the Filipino’s I knew. I even understand they were in a foreign country and felt the need to stick together. But, the Filipinos I got to know, always came to a point where they would look sheepish and apologize for the blatant outrages. They seemed to feel worse than those of us who had to deal with it.


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