“That’s what she said” (TWSS) jokes are emblematic of our culture’s fascination with female sexuality. TWSS jokes make innocent comments seem sexual by suggesting that any given statement was said by a female while engaged in a sexual activity. When someone responds to a statement with “that’s what she said,” they emphasize even the slightest sexual connotation of the statement. For an example, look no further than the TV show that popularized the phenomenon, The Office. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve heard some very funny TWSS jokes in my day, and many that made me cringe. I don’t think that TWSS jokes are particularly offensive or troublesome. Instead, I see them as a four word summary of four lessons society teaches us about women and sex.
- Be Sexy but Virginal.
It is no accident that we talk about what she said. There is nothing exciting or novel about the notion that to be a male, an adolescent male in particular, is to want to have sex. There is nothing newsworthy about males being sexually active because males are trusted with their bodies and sexuality. Guys who have sex are congratulated. We only talk about half of the equation, the female involved, because, although the resounding majority of messages towards girls tell them to be sexy, they are still expected to be virginal. Girls who choose to have sex are criticized, berated, and scrutinized. Yet everyone hopes they will “strike” again so there is something to talk about. But the idea that there are actual, real, talking females involved in sex, well that’s interesting.
- He’s The Boss.
TWSS jokes don’t express female enjoyment of sexuality. Instead, TWSS jokes focus on “her” surprise, naiveté, and vulnerability. America loves to think girls don’t know anything about sex; just ask Jessica Valenti, the author of The Purity Myth. TWSS jokes aren’t about sex as an expression of love and commitment between two people. Most, if not all, TWSS jokes are about the guy’s sexual expertise and physical…endowment. These jokes reiterate lessons young men are taught: that they must impress their partner with their sheer masculinity, and that size does matter, if you know what I mean. Perhaps the most troublesome message is that TWSS jokes always portray girls as passive and submissive. What she says to him is never an articulation of her love, her pleasure or her desires. As much as our culture obsesses over female sexuality, the actual act of sex is about his experience. His pleasure is paramount and girls are there to please, not to enjoy.
- Guys Who Treat Girls Like Sexual Exploits Are Cool.
When I think about a guy saying “that’s what she said,” I picture jocks high-fiving in the locker room. I know that picture is a cliché, but there is an undeniable locker room quality about TWSS jokes. Remember that god-awful movie, John Tucker Must Die? There is a scene in the boys’ locker room where John tells his friends, “Let’s just say at tonight’s away game, I’ll be scoring more than baskets!” It is considered natural, macho behavior for guys to discuss girls as “exploits.” But, although girls must act and look sexy, girls are never supposed to talk or even think about sex. We don’t hear what he said because we are taught that girls don’t discuss sex. And no one jokes about homosexual sex. Jokes about homosexuality might make people uncomfortable. Instead we joke about what a girl says about her sexual partner’s penis because that’s never awkward.
Some of the best, and the worst, TWSS jokes have one thing in common. They’re gross! As previously stated, TWSS jokes emphasize the gross mechanics of sex and not the relationship between the two people. The pornographic tone of many TWSS jokes serve as a reminder to girls that sex is shameful. I don’t personally believe TWSS jokes need to be removed from our collective toolbox of humor. TWSS jokes are the new Crocs. Currently they’re considered cool, commonplace and humorous; like Crocs, their moment will pass. Until then TWSS jokes are food for thought and help us conceptualize society’s love/hate relationship with female sexuality.
Lilly is a high school senior and guest blogger for RachelSimmons.com. Read more about her here.