How The Oatmeal Turned Me Into A Humourless Feminist

23 Sep

There’s this comic from the Oatmeal that’s been making the rounds on my Facebook feed. It’s called My dog: the paradox, and it’s basically a sequence of short vignettes about how stupid and crazy (but ultimately loveable) this dude’s dog is.

Most of it is funny and cute, but the seventh panel really rubs me the wrong way. The image is of a woman (wearing a tank top, short skirt and heels) being confronted by a furiously barking dog. Said dog is being restrained by his frustrated-looking owner. The text is as follows:

He’s hostile towards people that I’d like to get to know better.

Woman: Aw, what a cute dog. Can I pet hi-


Let’s be clear about a few things here:

1. I know that Matt from the Oatmeal is trying to be funny

2. I know that this is not his opinion on women

3. I don’t think that he was trying to be cruel or malicious

4. I know that most of you will say that I’m overreacting (and maybe I am)

I can’t help it, though. I read stuff like the words written above, and my heart starts to beat a little faster. I start to feel a little nervous, maybe even a little panicky. That kind of language, used against any woman in any context, makes my hands go clammy.

The thing is, even though I get that this is supposed to be a joke, I can’t find it funny. I can’t find it funny, because that line of thinking up there? Isn’t actually that uncommon.

I know, I know, it’s not real life, and the whole damn comic is supposed to be about how stupid the damn dog is, anyway. I mean, right? Only a stupid, crazy dog would think things like that about a woman. Certainly no nice, rational human being would ever say stuff like that.

Except that I’ve known nice, rational human beings who have said stuff like that. Maybe not in those exact words, and maybe not with such vitriol, but certainly the idea behind the words was the same.

She’s wearing too much makeup

She dresses like a slut

If she gets raped, it’s her own fault

All women lie

All women play games

All women are crazy

We live in a culture of casual misogyny, you guys.

We live in a culture of casual misogyny, and when Matt from the Oatmeal writes out words like the ones above, he is contributing to it, even if he doesn’t mean to. Every time someone laughs at what he’s written, and maybe thinks they find a tiny grain of truth in it, they’re contributing to it. Every time someone dismisses another person’s concern and tells them that they’re overreacting, or don’t understand the humour, or just plain need to get over it, they’re contributing to it.

What I want you to remember is this: whenever you use words like this, even as a joke, you are helping to normalize it. You are helping to perpetuate the idea that it is okay, or even funny to talk about women this way.

If you still don’t see why this bothers me, try looking at it this way: imagine that instead of being a woman, the character in the comic is Jewish, or a person of colour. Imagine that instead of saying lying horsebeast slagbucket, the dog is saying, greedy hook-nosed kike, or lazy nappy-haired n-word, or any other type of hateful speech. Would you still be fine with it?

I’m not angry, and I’m not offended. Mostly I’m disappointed, because I thought that The Oatmeal was smarter and better than this. Mostly I’m tired, because my kid was up puking all goddamn night and instead of going to bed, I decided to just start writing this post, and then I couldn’t stop. Mostly I’m sad, because I dunno, everything kind of makes me sad sometimes.

When I was a teenager, I used to get so irritated with my mother, because she would dissect everything I found funny and explain to me why it was offensive and gross. And now I get it. God help me, I get it. I’ve finally turned into the humourless feminist my mother always wanted me to be.

Don’t worry, though – I still think poop jokes are hilarious.

18 Responses to “How The Oatmeal Turned Me Into A Humourless Feminist”

  1. annie September 23, 2012 at 4:33 am #

    interesting. i’m usually very sensitive (hypersensitive, even) to the casual misogyny you speak of – and yet, that particular comic did not provoke me in the slightest. not that i’m saying it shouldn’t have, necessarily, it just… i don’t know, didn’t. maybe the use of “horsebeast” made it far-fetched enough to obscure any serious, real-life undertones. maybe the entire tone of the comic was so satirical it was subversive. you know, in the same way john mulaney does standup about being mistaken for a rapist on the subway and it’s actually funny. it’s funny not because rape is funny – but because he represents a male demographic (and a growing one, one hopes) that’s so baffled that people actually RAPE other people, being mistaken for someone who does this is absurd. i dunno. power in subversion. it is, i think, healthier – in the long run especially – than pretending like certain words and attitudes straight up don’t exist… it makes them less threatening if we ARE able to make fun of them. am i making any sense?

    • bellejarblog September 25, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

      I totally agree – jokes that touch on the topic of women are not inherently misogynistic. And I don’t think that Matt from the Oatmeal was intending to be anything but funny. But I do worry about putting out that type of language and humour into the world at large. I mean, it’s kind of like with violent video games or rape jokes. I don’t think that playing a violent video game makes you violent, or that hearing a rape joke turns you into a rapist – but I do believe that it helps normalize that stuff. I worry that comics like this help normalize using this kind of language against women, in a culture where women are already subject to a lot of bullshit.

      At the end of the day, there just seemed to be no point to this joke other than writing a bunch of funny words that could be used against a woman. As my friend Jennie said, there was really no need for him to have the dog say that kind of stuff, if his point was really about the dog’s stranger fear. He could have had the dog say something like, “I’LL KILL YOU! STRANGE PERSON! I HATE YOUR CLOTHES. I HATE YOUR SHOES. I HATE AND FEAR YOUR HANDBAG. I HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR HERE ON MY SIDEWALK.” (thank you Jennie for putting this so awesomely)

      To me, for a joke like this to be funny, it needs to challenge the status quo and make us think about how we talk about women. Same with jokes about rape – for instance, I think this Louis CK bit is brilliant:

      This comic did neither of those things. It just seemed to be playing to the lowest common denominator. If he was trying to be subversive, then I’m not sure that it worked. But, again, maybe I’m just overreacting? I dunno!

      • Fiona B May 19, 2014 at 9:35 pm #

        What?? It’s one slide in a comic what on earth are you going on about…. it’s not the dog’s ‘stranger fear’ – its the dog’s ‘you are a threat to my relationship with my friendbeast’ fear that he is depicting in this if you want to get all serious about it….

    • Huge McLargebuff December 27, 2012 at 7:19 am #

      “Let’s be clear about a few things here:

      1. I know that Matt from the Oatmeal is trying to be funny

      2. I know that this is not his opinion on women

      3. I don’t think that he was trying to be cruel or malicious

      4. I know that most of you will say that I’m overreacting (and maybe I am)”
      >When I was a teenager, I used to get so irritated with my mother, because she would dissect everything I found funny and explain to me why it was offensive and gross. And now I get it.


      >I’ve finally turned into the humourless feminist
      >still think poop jokes are hilarious.

      Are you retarded? Not trolling, serious question, you contridict yourself at every fucking point you make in this article.

      • bellejarblog December 27, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

        Well, I’m smart enough to know how fucking inappropriate it is to use the word retarded, so I’m clearly one up on you in the brains department.

        Sorry I dared to insult that one thing that every white man on the internet holds holy, The Oatmeal.

  2. Me December 8, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    Put down the crazy juice please. It was parody. You must have serious issues if you can’t see that. All this deep-seeded hatred can’t be good for you or your family. You weren’t discriminated against because you read a comic you didn’t find funny.

  3. Paden Hamill December 18, 2012 at 6:03 am #

    Tl;dr version: I’m a Horsebeast Slagbucket and I know it, so I scrutinize everything ever that presents women as objects, in even the most vague and unimportant way, and tear it apart.

    • bellejarblog December 18, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

      Aw, you’re sweet. I can only aspire to being a horsebeast slagbucket, but I know I’m not there yet! Probably because I’m just not pretty enough.

  4. sarahjaneb March 28, 2013 at 12:14 am #

    One of my Facebook friends posted the link to that comic, so I clicked over to the Oatmeal to read it. I loved most of what he was saying about dogs, but when I got to that part about the woman it was really jarring and awful. I wanted to say something about how gross it was and why it was gross but I’m too tired to explain, so I went googling to see if anyone else had done the work for me already. Thank you! I appreciate what you did here, and I’m truly disappointed in the other responses you got for it.

    • bellejarblog March 28, 2013 at 1:36 am #

      Thank you! You make me feel slightly less crazy for thinking this way 🙂

  5. Sensible May 25, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

    I can’t believe people can be so fucking stupid.
    I’m talking about you.
    Please kill yourself, or try thinking yourself out of the stupid abyss.
    You are stupid, and waste of oxygen.

    • Sadness May 25, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

      The terrible irony of this comment and the name of the commentator is shocking.

  6. Restore The Day August 7, 2013 at 12:44 am #

    Wow, way to take it over the top, trolls. I assume without any proof that you are male and oatmeal fans. Hey, so am I! But whoever you are, the way you’re talking to a stranger on the internet tells me way enough about you.

    As for Belle (? BelleJar?), I do think you’re overreacting too. My first reaction was ‘seriously?!’, and I get where you’re coming from in one small aspect, but again, your analogies are blown way out of proportion IMO.
    The one word that I can take an issue with is ‘lying’. No reason for a dog to think of a woman as a liar. I’m not proficient enough in (old slang?) english to validate horsebeast slagbucket in one way or another, but it’s quaint, it’s completely explosive in its satire, so that makes it pretty funny even if it did carry some unsavory tones from yay back.

    It is definitely not, however, the word ‘nigger’ or ‘kike’ or ‘it’s her fault for getting raped’. That is all in your head, and it sure didn’t show up in mine. I get why it would show up, but that just shows sad things about the world, and women’s percieved place in it, than the comic.

    BTW i’m sure there are good funny rape jokes in the world. Obviously ‘haha he/she got raped’ is not one of them.

  7. Winters October 1, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    Hi, the only thing I use this blog post for is for finding the link to the comic strip when I cannot remember the address. That is about the only use for your nihilistic literature that I can find 🙂

  8. Martymo February 14, 2014 at 9:59 pm #

    Isn’t the intent of that panel of the comic trying to demonstrate the ignorance and hatred that is contained in a cute little dog’s bark? Dissecting humor will always lead you to one person laughing at another person’s misery. That leads you into your own misery. If you choose to, anyone can become a humorless mechanical drudge. Friends will stay away in droves.

  9. LR May 15, 2014 at 4:16 am #

    I do believe you’re being too sensitive to that one particular slide in the comic, but I can see your point. If you had in the past had some negative experience where you or a friend or just another woman were denigrated by some slur or otherwise rude comment that insulted her femininity, you could certainly associate that experience with the comic, but that isn’t the writers intent, not at all. Actually, the oatmeal is one of the more progressive internet publications out there. I don’t see it as being like colloquial use of the word ‘rape’ to describe something unpleasant, because that’s just ignorant. It’s more like a mental trigger of a flash back to something that left a negative feeling. I just believe as an adult, people should be able to tell the difference and keep their emotions in check. It’s like someone who plays GTA or COD and then isn’t a serial killer in real life or doesn’t blame the artist for depicting something fictional that they don’t like for whatever reason. You have the right not to read if you chose, but you can’t get through life without something accidentally or unintentionally offending you at some point.

  10. Fiona B May 19, 2014 at 9:26 pm #

    Ummm… yes, you’re overreacting. I am female and just find it amusing. I cannot see how you could possibly be so upset about it – clearly you have some issues to deal with as I think LR talked about above. And anyway, some women do slather themselves in makeup, wear stilletos blah blah…. so what?? It’s not demeaning of women – its just one slide in a comic depicting one daft dog and that’s about it!


  1. The Oatmeal Is Actually Pretty Gross, You Guys | The Belle Jar - September 26, 2012

    […] few days ago I wrote a post about The Oatmeal’s recent comic, My dog the paradox. I had some concerns regarding the […]

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