It was day 15 of the ride and at this point we were are all pretty exhausted. So you can only imagine the excitement that came with a shorter mileage day (30 miles) followed by a rest day at a lovely host home in Port Orford, Oregon. Upon our arrival we were greeted by warm smiles and a table full of snacks (I’m telling you these people are insanely generous!).
Later that evening, our host John gave a tour through the town and took us out to dinner at a local pizza pub. The pizza was delicious and, to my surprise, accompanied by some comedy.
I have grown to understand that local stand up comedy typically falls on the raunchier side of things, and anticipated just that. The first few guys were actually quite funny; their occasional cyclist jokes would elicit a loud roar from our table. I was having a pretty good time until the last guy (the headliner) preformed.
This man had been introduced as “the funniest man in Portland” and later on described by one of my teammates as “not passing the Bechdel test”. Early on in his routine he began cracking jokes about pornography, a topic my team and I had been reading up on. The jokes (which I won’t repeat here) held a derogatory tone in which women were consistently insulted at the end of each punchline.
Another topic of repeated attention was the idea of young girls or, “high school chicks” as he said, entering relationships with those who mistreated them (kidnappers, creepy old men). A concept all to familiar to a table of 11 girls who were biking the coast for the anti-trafficking movement.
The room was divided by a few men releasing deep belly laughs and the rest of the room squirming in their seats looking quite uncomfortable. I identified with the latter. While these jokes may seem small, this crude humor reinforces our society’s patriarchal values by reflecting a misunderstanding of women’s worth.
The routine went on for about half an hour, each joke held together by a common theme: the objectification of the female body for male gratification. It felt incredibly contradictory to sit and hear jokes about the very thing I was riding a bike for- a world where people aren’t for sale.
Sex trafficking disproportionately affects vulnerable young women, however the anti-trafficking movement is not solely a woman’s fight. While not a universal truth, something I have come to notice is the discrepancy in interest across genders.
There is space for everyone in the fight against sex trafficking. Although PTP is made up of all women, the conversations go beyond us; a man came up to our van one morning and flat out said : “men need to step up and join you.” I agree.
Stepping up doesn’t look like cracking jokes. And when we realize that, we can move beyond crude humor to change our language and advocate for survivors. And while each fight may look different, cracking jokes about the very real injustices is inappropriate.