The rise of feminist memes and how it finally became OK to laugh at ourselves
Even my mum shares them now
Traditionally the internet is the ground-zero of men’s shit jokes, the epicentre of mansplaining, the eye of the storm that is mouth-breathing, Wotsit-fingered humour. It used to be that memes were kind of the heart of that, when they were like, the old type of memes. The ugly impact font, the neckbeards, the smiling toddlers in front of burning houses. They weren’t the coolest things in the world. But in 2016 – potentially the only good thing to come out of 2016 – there was a meme renaissance. Memes hit normies and became basically the way we communicated with each other, and they made internet feminism, which was, unfairly but often not inaccurately, thought of as something very serious and important and occasionally negative, into something funny. Cheers to the ok meme.
For anyone who’d never really engaged with feminist ideas on anything more than a surface level, feminist memes became a sort of gateway, a way to talk about it in a casual, non-academic way, in the same way that memes have normalised and widened the discussion on mental health in the past year. Traditionally they were things that just weren’t supposed to be talked about – getting your period, misogyny, being rejected – things that seem much less threatening when you can just laugh about them.
But feminist memes hitting the mainstream mean more than just having a lot of fire pics in your camera roll for the WhatsApp group. They signal the end of the sexist assumption that women are somehow less funny, that they get the internet less, that they’re fundamentally more morose, serious, petty than men, which is why they find sexist jokes unfunny, and why they need a “well, actually” to explain it.
It signals a new wave of girls who aren’t afraid not to take themselves seriously, girls who know that in the face of ignorance and internet trolls and the minutiae disappointments and annoyances of everyday life, sometimes the most powerful thing is not to argue or to wear yourself out explaining things – it’s to laugh.
Women’s laughter is powerful when it exposes how ridiculous stuff is on the internet. It sounds cringe to say it’s the best medicine, but it’s often the best response. It’s also the perfect foil to the handwringing, tearful absolute refusal to engage with idiots online that’s the technique of Lindy West and her followers.
Lindy quit Twitter this week, equating everyone who uses the app to vile Nazi fatists who send her rape threats, and it’s hard not to roll your eyes at the you’re-too-old-for-this-social-media-stroppiness cry for attention. Of course there are some absolute shits on Twitter. There are absolute shits in real life. But throwing your toys out of the pram, crying to everyone about how upset you are about them, showing that you just can’t cope with it, is giving into bullshit rather than engaging with it, laughing at it, rising above it.
When feminists, when any woman online behaves like Lindy West, petty and moany, all you do is let those shitheads win. Nobody wants to be the person at the pub who stalks out when someone says something offensive and makes it painfully obvious that they’re upset. Not when you can be the person who says something funny right back at them and make them feel tiny instead.
The ability to laugh at ourselves and have other people relate to it is a cathartic one. There are plenty of “you are not alone” inspirational pics online, but they’re on the same cheesy level of “if you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best” and “live, laugh, love”. Why share those when you could use these instead: