There’s a very British Christmas cracker joke that goes: “What do you call a train full of professors?” The answer is tube of Smarties. Having a laugh with friends and family is all part of the festive fun, but when academics think its funny to label men as idiots, the joke has gone too far says Glen Poole.
It’s official. Men are idiots. If you don’t believe me check out the following headlines:
- Men really are more stupid than women, research shows (UK)
- Proof that men are bigger idiots than women (Australia)
- Science says men are idiots (USA)
The news has been generated by a “joke” research paper published in the British Medical Journal which has a tradition of publishing humorous research in the run up to Christmas. Previous subjects have included:
- Calculating how much booze James Bond drinks
- Researching why Rudolph’s nose is red
- Studying why teaspoons go missing
Applying serious academic language and research methodology to trivial topics and publishing the results in an esteemed journal is wonderfully eccentric—like an upmarket Christmas cracker joke. But proving that “men are idiots” in the name of humour to mark the season of good will to all men! Seriously?
Women are from Venus, men are idiots
The joke paper, which references the real book “women are from Venus, men are idiots”, uses the Darwin Awards as the basis for its research.
If you don’t know the Darwin Awards, they are an extreme version of “You’ve Been Framed” that highlight examples of people dying of their own stupidity.
The running “joke” that the Darwin Awards sells the public is that these people are doing us all a favour by removing themselves from the gene pool.
These are real people, with real friends and families, whose tragic deaths are presented for our collective entertainment and amusement—people like Scott McKimmie who was crushed to death by his own camper van in Corby, earlier this year. He was nominated for a Darwin Award because he was under the bonnet trying to start his van when the van lurched forward (as a result of modifications he’d made) and crushed him to death.
Those close to Scott will be approaching their first Christmas without him and the British Medical Journal has seen fit to publish research labeling men like Scott “idiots”—as a jolly Christmas joke.
The basis of this conclusion is that researchers at Newcastle University “discovered” that nine out of ten people named in the Darwin Awards are male. “This finding,” they quip, “is entirely consistent with male idiot theory (MIT) and supports the hypothesis that men are idiots and idiots do stupid things”
Let me pause a moment to take in those three supposedly hilarious words:
“MEN ARE IDIOTS”.
Yes the joke’s on us—us men—all of us, because we’re all too stupid to have feelings. Why is that? Because “real men” are tough and manly and any man who doesn’t think this “joke” is funny needs to “man up”, get a sense of humour and “take it like a man”.
But can you imagine the outcry if such “humour” was applied to any other group in society? Would it be acceptable for scientists to “prove” that:
- Women are idiots?
- Blacks are idiots?
- Gays are idiots?
- People with disabilities are idiots?
- Working class people are idiots?
Of course not, so why is labelling half the population “idiots” for a “joke” ok? For one reason and one reason only—because the joke’s on men.
In writing this article I’ve had to ask myself whether I’m suffering from a sense of humour bypass? This is an important question because I do love to laugh and I’m not a fan of finger-wagging censorship. But when we make jokes about men that would cause outrage if they were directed at women—I feel I have duty to speak out.
More men die of avoidable deaths
It’s true that men account for a high proportion of avoidable deaths and consistently make up the majority of workplace fatalities; accidental deaths and suicides.
There may be many factors that account for this that are psychological, biological and social—and it is the cultural causes that interest me in this case. Why? Because it is clear to me that we are collectively more tolerant of harm that happens to men and boys and that this tolerance could be contributing to both the high rate of avoidable deaths amongst men and our greater tolerance of sexist humour targeted at men.
In writing their “men are idiots” research paper for comic effect, the Newcastle University team are both reflecting and perpetuating a culture of misandry that at best tolerates and at worst contributes to hatred of men and boys as a group.
Sadly the “joke” has been created by three adult men (in partnership with a young male student) who are highly intelligent academically, but apparently lacking in the ability to empathise with their fellow man.
The men listed in the Darwin Awards that they have deemed to be idiots include:
- A mentally ill Indian teenager who climbed into a zoo cage with a tiger and was mauled to death. Oh how they must have sniggered at the death of that “stupid” mentally ill young man, proof, if ever we needed it, that all men are idiots.
- A man who died at work while installing reinforcement bars to a communication tower in Texas. Two colleagues watched in horror as he fell 225 feet to his death after mistakenly loosening the bolts on the bar he was attached to. “Oh my, that’s so funny,” the researchers must have squealed. “Over a hundred men a year in the UK alone die in workplace fatalities, oh my, men are such stupid idiots, men dying tragically is soooooooooooo funny!”
- And most disturbingly of all, the list of men the Newcastle University researchers drew upon to conclude that “men are stupid” included a young man who died in tragic circumstances in their own city.
Last year, 26-year-old film-maker, Lee Halpin, set out to sleep rough on the streets of his native Newcastle for a week to investigate the rise of homelessness in the city. Three days later he was found dead. An inquest found he had died of sudden adult death syndrome.
Lee Halpin was temporarily homeless through choice. He died trying to highlight a serious social issue that predominantly affects men. He may well have been foolhardy, but to label him “stupid” and cite him as evidence that “men are idiots” is heartless.
The fact that intelligent, educated men working in the same city where Halpin lived and died have made this “joke” is deeply saddening to me.
The most insightful sentence in the “joke” research paper is this:
“There may be some kind of reporting bias. Idiotic male candidates may be more newsworthy than idiotic female Darwin Award candidates”,
This certainly rings true and the flipside of this statement is that the higher proportion of avoidable deaths that impact men and boys—the accidents, the suicides, the murders, the war deaths and the workplace fatalities—are also less newsworthy.
As men we have a choice—we can ignore this issue, we can challenge the status quo or we can make a joke about it and dismiss all men as idiots. I’ve made my choice, what’s yours?
You can post a response to the BMJ article at their website.
—Photo Credit: flickr/JDHancock
Article by Glen Poole author of the book Equality For Men