Most in the audience laughed, but one man stood up and booed. What's wrong? asked a woman at his table. The man said, "Just substitute woman, black or Jew for 'man' in that joke, and tell me how it sounds."
At about the same time, American Greeting Cards launched an ad campaign in Newsweek, Life and other magazines. One ad featured a "Thelma and Louise" greeting card, pasted into the magazines, that said on the front: "Men are always whining about how we are suffocating them." The punch line inside the card was this: "Personally, I think if you can hear them whining, you're not pressing hard enough on the pillow."
The newswoman, who is a friend, seemed shocked when I phoned and raised questions about her joke. "The poor, sensitive white male," she said. A spokesman for the greeting card company saw nothing wrong with a humorous card about a woman killing a man. He faxed a statement saying the card had been pretested successfully, and besides, "We've heard no protests from consumers who are buying and using this card." But would American Greetings print a card with the sexes reversed, so the humor came from men joking about suffocating a woman? No, said the spokesman, because 85 percent to 90 percent of cards are bought by women. There is no market for a reverse card.
In truth, no man could get up at a fancy banquet and tell a joke about how stupid women are. And a greeting card joking about a woman's murder would be very unlikely, even if surveys showed that millions of males were eager to exchange lighthearted gender-killing greetings. The obvious is true: A sturdy double standard has emerged in the gender wars.
"There used to be a certain level of good-natured teasing between the sexes," says Christina Sommers, author of "Who Stole Feminism?" "Now even the most innocent remark about women will get you in trouble, but there's no limit at all to what you can say about men."