top of page

"I was just joking ..."

April Fool’s Day has come and gone.  But I wonder how many people used the traditional day to abuse a partner.

Just like “brutal honesty” is an excuse to be brutal under the guise of “I’m only being honest,” “I was only joking” is a deliberate way to insult while implying the person who is the brunt of the joke should not be hurt or angry.

There is so much wrong with the “joking” insult. When men do this to a partner in private, it’s usually a pointed comment about something she feels insecure or embarrassed about. “You don’t look fat in those jeans, you look huge… Oh, come on, I’m only joking.” The latter comment adds there’s something wrong if she doesn’t have a sense of humor. About being fat or the fact that you find her not good enough, i.e. fat, an unforgiveable characteristic for many women.

The effect of the insulting joke is amplified in a public setting.  He doesn’t have to laugh at her himself. He exposes her insecurities or secrets and encourages others to express the abusive laugh.

“Tiffany’s not paranoid – she just thinks everyone is waiting for her to get plastered and take her top off again.”

“Brenda doesn’t like to dance in public ... because we didn't bring enough singles.”

He also uses their peers and conventional social norms to tacitly encourage others to see her as someone ruining the jovial mood of the gathering for everyone if she were to protest.  She’s not just whatever the insult was, she’s also humorless, a second insult. 

There are two typical reactions when the couple retreats home at the end of the evening if she has the temerity to share how the joke has affected her. First, it may be an opportunity to chastise her for being too sensitive about whatever the joke pointed out or to censure her for not being able to take a joke. 
Or, he may acknowledge he went too far.  He admits he owes her an apology.  He apologizes.  Profusely. Privately. No one else ever hears the acknowledgement of abuse or the apology.  

What is labeled humor is funny only if no one is hurt, and everyone agrees it’s funny.  Otherwise, it’s abuse. Apologies are not adequate recompense for abuse.  And private apologies for public humiliation or other abuse is an additional affront.


bottom of page