How the Academy Awards Are Sexist (But Seth MacFarlane Isn

I have a theory about Seth MacFarlane’s performance at the Oscars, which I think explains why I found the whole ordeal largely inoffensive. As a woman and a feminist and a humanist, that may shock you, but let me explain.

My theory requires that you be at least slightly familiar with MacFarlane’s biggest claim to fame, the TV show Family Guy. Just in case you’ve never seen the show, or simply need a refresher, check this out. Or this one. For the non-clickers amongst you, the first link leads to a series of super racist moments from the show, and the second link is an upbeat little jingle making fun of a character for being mentally disabled. That’s the kind of humor Seth MacFarlane has used to create this insanely popular TV show.

Now, first of all, there are plenty of people who don’t watch Family Guy because they find that brand of humor to be, well, lacking in humor. I’m not a huge fan of the show myself. But I also think it’s important to note that I don’t think Seth MacFarlane is a racist, a bigot, a misogynist, or a person who hates mentally disabled peopled. In both of the above clips, I think MacFarlane’s goal is less to present racism and bigotry as funny and more to show that the prejudiced ideas that people have about races, sexes, genders, and cultures different from their own are absurd and unreasonable. Regardless, when the world found out MacFarlane would be this year’s Oscar host, anyone who had ever seen Family Guy (or American Dad, or Ted) should have had some idea of what to expect.

So here’s my theory. The thing about MacFarlane’s Oscar performance was that it seemed pretty blatantly sexist. There was the insinuation that women had given themselves the flu in order to “get there” weight-wise for the event, the joke that Zero Dark Thirty is a movie about how typical it is for a woman to “never be able to let anything go,” and the particularly unsettling quip about Quvenzhané Wallis, the nine year old star of Beasts of the Southern Wild, “hooking up” with George Clooney before she got too old for his taste. There were a few racist quips – the crack that we can’t understand Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz or Javier Bardem but it’s okay because they’re hot – and a couple fairly awkward digs like the fact that Ben Affleck was snubbed for a Best Director nomination. But those jokes were rarer than the sexist remarks we heard that night. And so the theory is this: Seth MacFarlane isn’t sexist, but the Academy is.

One reason that Family Guy is allowed to be as raunchy as it is, and still hold on to an audience, is because it spreads the offensive jokes around. No one feels singled out because everyone is a target. It’s as sexist as it is racist as it is ageist as it is perverted and bigoted and crude. So I imagine Seth MacFarlane came in with an armload of material that was much more evenly distributed in terms of uncouthness, and the Academy was like, hold your horses, MacFarlane, we must cut 90% of these jokes, they are way out of line. Oh, but that’s a good one about Quvenzhané Wallis and Clooney!

My bet is that the Academy, which, by the way, consists mainly of older white men, was uncomfortable with plenty of MacFarlane’s jokes, so they cut them. They just didn’t find the sexist ones as offensive and let them slide, thereby skewing the whole show toward pointed sexism. It’s not as if MacFarlane wrote his jokes, typed them into the teleprompter, and went for it. Presumably, these jokes were read, edited and vetted by several people, so it doesn’t seem right to crucify just MacFarlane. There’s obviously sexism in Hollywood, with 77% of Oscar voters, and 80% of Oscar nominees being men, and though it’s easier to blame one guy than to wrap your head around the pervasive sexism of a beloved organization, the real issue is with the Academy itself.

Sadie Rothman is the field coordinator for the American Humanist Association.