Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How to Know When a Joke Is Sexist

Today DCist has an interview with Top Chef contestant and Zaytinya chef Mike Isabella. He was a contestant that came under fire after the first episode where he made a remark about losing to "a girl," another talented Top Chef contestant Jen Carrol, who managed to shuck clams at a faster clip than Isabella. In the interview, Isabella expressed regret for making the remark:

You personally drew fire for being perceived as obnoxious and even sexist at the start of the show, then went on to become one of the more likable and vibrant personalities. When you said the “lose to a girl” stuff at the beginning of the competition, did you ever imagine the words would come back the way they did? Have people finally learned to take a joke?

I never thought it would come out like that. You don’t know what’s gonna be aired or how it’s gonna be perceived. When I saw it the first night I thought it was pretty funny and some of my old cooks and friends, I got some e-mails like “typical Isabella being a wiseass.” But to me it was a joke, they knew it was a joke, but a lot of people who didn’t know me didn’t realize that and I didn’t realize that I upset a lot of people and I kind of felt really bad and I was just really nervous after that episode went on. I was like, “how else was I gonna come across?”

If I could have done it again I would have never said it. It wasn’t to mean any harm. I grew up with my mother and my sister and that was it in a broken family. So for me respect for women is one of the biggest things in the world. Jen thought she was better than me obviously because she worked at Le Bernardin, which is the number one seafood restaurant in the world. She thought she was faster. I was just joking with her when we were talking a little smack. That’s really it. It was a little upsetting in the beginning, but I knew once people got to know me throughout the season that they would really start to like me. They knew that I wasn't malicious or anything like that.

It just goes to show that the kinds of jokes you might make with your friends might seem in jest -- the whole, it's all okay to make a sexist joke because I have a lot of respect for women mentality -- shows that a sexist joke will be interpreted as such out of context. And fundamentally it isn't the context that matters. Isabella learned the hard way that if you're making a remark you'd be embarrassed to have your mom or sister hear it, you probably shouldn't say it.

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