Imagine a novel or film that satirizes sexism by pushing it to extremes in order to make it seem ridiculous. Assuming there aren't any explicit criticisms of sexism within the work (i.e. the only criticism is the satirical extremes to which the sexism goes), is the work actually a sexist work, despite its satire? If we ignore what the author(s) might say about their work, how can we distinguish satirical sexism (or sexism, or xenophobia, or anything else) from the real thing?

Provided that there is some cue to the fact that the work in question is a satire of sexism--even if the cue is only a matter of conversational implicature (a notion introduced by the philosopher Paul Grice to capture aspects of meaning that may be communicated without being made explicit in the communication)--as the question seems to assume, then it would clearly seem not to be the case that the work is itself sexist. (Similarly, it seems to me that Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" is clearly not an invitation to cannibalism or infanticide.)

But how, exactly, can one tell that a piece of writing is satirical: that's a nice and subtle question. (A parallel question: how can one tell one a speaker is being sarcastic? Some people have difficulty in doing so, at least with some speakers.) I don't know that any necessary or sufficient conditions could be enumerated that would allow one to determine when something counts as satire and when it doesn't; to my mind, in order to be able to identify writing as satire, one needs to have a good grasp on what it is for writing to be sincere (just as, in order to be able to identify speech as sarcasm, one needs to have a firm grasp on what it is to speak in one's own voice). But what is sincerity in writing? What is sincerity? I would think that one might start there and work one's way towards a better understanding of what's distinctive about satire as a particular mode of discourse.

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