Popular Teen Joke Has Broader Sexual Meanings?

Thats What She Said

Juliette is a 15 year old high school student in North Carolina.  She is interested in pursuing a career in writing and in her free time enjoys volleyball, juggling, and photography.

Who is this girl everyone keeps saying I’m quoting?

“Oh my gosh, it’s so hard”

“That’s what she said”

The ‘that’s what she said’ joke entered teen culture a few years ago, entering first into the cliques of teenage boys, strung out on hormones, but gradually spreading into all facets of the average American high school.

As the Urban Dictionary defines ‘that’s what she said:’ “a phrase used to turn a simple comment into a sexual joke” such as the one seen above.

The joke is that an earlier comment, like ‘it’s so hard’ or ‘how did you get it that big’ was something that a girl could have said during, before, or after sex.  It can be used often in ordinary conversation as just an inside joke among teenagers to which the adults around them seem oblivious.  Popular teen t-shirt designer such as Snorgtees and Busted Tees even sell t-shirts with the word ‘that’s what she said’ boldly written on the front.  There are also many facebook bumper stickers such as the one above that feature the ‘that’s what she said’ joke.

While it is unsurprising that this sort of joke would be popular among teenage boys since it implies that they have been with a girl in bed (though I sincerely doubt that everyone who says it has), it is interesting that this joke has also become popular among teenage girls as well.

In fact, I heard the dialogue at the beginning of this article uttered by two girls on my volleyball when only our all girl team and our coach were present.  The coach looked slightly disapprovingly of the sexual nature of the joke, but she still laughed along with the rest of us.  While the variation of the joke ‘that’s what he said’ is sometimes heard, it is either harder to use or girls just would rather say ‘that’s what she said’ even if it does not really make sense for a girl to say it.

While this joke is especially appealing to teens of both genders because it seems to adults to be an innocent phrase, girls use this joke to conform to role that sexuality plays in their culture.  For a girl it is “cool” to be knowledgeable about sex and comfortable joking about it even though girls who are actually having sex are considered to be stupid in many social circles.

The “that’s what she said” joke is only one of the manifestation of this phenominon in their culture.  I have also been with groups of girls, all of whom are certainly virgins and probably will not be sexually active during high school, who play a game every time someone burps.  After hearing the burp everyone present yells out a color and whoever says a color last or repeats a previously named color has to make a sex noise.  Of course, it is always wondered how anyone playing knows what a sex noise would sound like, but to ask such a question is admitting naivety which is of course taboo.

While I still find this joke funny when it is used around me and have even occasionally thought it myself, I have to wonder whether if it is self demeaning for a girl to use it.  When a guy says a ‘that’s what she said’, it says to the guys he’s with ‘oh, look at me, I’m so macho and sexual and a man,’ but what are girls trying  to say when they use it around other girls.

Are they saying that ‘I am comfortable with the role that sexuality plays in my culture’ or other they saying the more worrisome ‘I acknowledge my role as an object for male jokes.’  The second seems to have more ramifications than the first.  If girls are accepting themselves as being fodder for the sexual jokes of men, is it not one step furthur to acknowledge themself as their sex objects?  And is this just one step backward in women’s rights?

Of course, some people would consider it as a step forward since girls being able to use the same jokes as guys is some form of equality.  But I still wonder if this is the best way to do it. (that’s what she said)

Juliette is a 15 year old high school student in North Carolina.  She is interested in pursuing a career in writing and in her free time enjoys volleyball, juggling, and photography.

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4 Responses to “Popular Teen Joke Has Broader Sexual Meanings?”

  1. The_Dude
    July 8, 2008 at 11:53 am #

    My 14 year old neighbor started saying this earlier in the year and thinks it’s hillarious, however I KNOW she does not think of it as demeaning.

  2. Morgan
    July 8, 2008 at 3:29 pm #

    Um, it’s a joke that was made popular by The Office, and a pretty effective way to embarrass the person who said something innocent. There’s not really hidden meaning in it.

  3. Mike
    April 13, 2009 at 7:55 am #

    “That’s what she said” has been radically popularized by The Office, Michael Scott uses it constantly in its most common usage, to imply in a humorous manner that he has sexual prowess, teenage and younger boys use it in exactly the same manner, they just aren’t set up as well by a highly skilled and paid writing staff. On the show several other characters have used it including the receptionist Pam, but that seemed to be an attempt to preempt and deflate Michaels usage. I have heard some young girls use it, occasionally as boys would use it, but sometimes as a retort to someone quoting what another girl has said. In one case a girl used it to demean a boy who had said something by implying he was effeminate or possibly homosexual, I had a chance to ask if that was her intent and she said it was, that this boy was frequently teased with references to being effeminate. I was impressed with this girls quick response with absolute correct usage of “That’s what she said”.

  4. Vanessa Van Petten
    April 18, 2009 at 12:17 pm #


    Thanks so much

    and, of course, thanks for reading!


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