Seriously, Feminists Humor is Hilarious
By Suzanne Reisman on April 12, 2009
BlogHer Original Post
I've been thinking a lot about humor lately. Basically, I decided to apply to MFA programs last year with the goal that I could better understand the craft behind writing a book, then I'd write a hilarious account of the horrors and indignities that I suffered through during puberty. My writing sample (or portfolio or whatever they call it) was an uproarious account of my first bra shopping experience and adjusting to having boobs. This culminated in the absurd experience of a breast reduction at the age of 22. I had a whole draft chapter on my first period and then what happened when I stopped getting it at all at age 17. Funny shit.
The problem is that as I've been studying literature, I find myself writing not so funny stories about the Holocaust and my family, the prejudiced community in which I was raised, and how direct and indirect discrimination impacted my decision to pursue a career in social justice. Sure, sometimes I am able to throw in a good joke about my bubbe's tuchus (that's butt in Yiddish), as my grandfather used a wicked sense of humor to deflect the pain of losing his family in the Holocaust (a tactic I also employ when I talk about subjects that are difficult for me, even if I can't compare what he experienced to anything I did), but I'm finding myself scribbling all sorts of serious little stories. It's both cathartic and distressing to explore these topics.
I hope that as I progress and develop my voice, I can strike a balance between the serious and the hilarious. All of which is a very round about way to get to the topic, which is the idea that feminists are sour, humorless wenches. Sure, some feminists truly lack what I recognize as a sense of humor, but it strikes me that labeling us all as dour joke-haters because we don't laugh at "jokes" about domestic violence is a bit disingenuous. In fact, it's not just feminists who are labeled as humorless: Jerry Lewis famously announced that women are not funny. Sorry Mr. Lewis, but just because I think your "humor" is lame doesn't mean that I can't crack a great joke.
Humor really is a serious topic, isn't it? At Wisecrack: Feminism and Comedy Zine (which some fools would say is an oxymoron, but they probably find rape jokes funny), Anna Piontek wrote an analytical piece about how women's humor is excluded from the media:
Discovering why women are not as prominent as men in comedy requires examining the intersections of sociological, psychological and institutional phenomena. But try to untangle the web of causes for why people think women aren’t funny, and why women sometimes don’t find themselves funny, and what you’ve got is a big headache... There is no hard and fast rule for what is funny; there is no universal comedic code. Women have our own language for humor, but it has rarely seen the light of day. The world has been so long exposed to men’s witty one-liners and penis jokes that it’s now time for some good old-fashioned long-winded story telling, à la women in my life.
ArtHermit at Women in Pants has more to say on the topic:
I’ve always loved comedy, one of the many things I wanted to be growing up was a stand-up comic. I was raised on Monty Python and Mel Brooks, it was one of the things my father and I shared and share.
But it is well-known that feminism and humour cannot exist in the same fragile human form. Why is that?
Well, if I had to guess (and for purposes of this blog, I do) I would suggest that a great deal of humour (especially the varieties discussed in the above articles) relies on misogyny and hate, and no, I don’t find those funny. And once you start separating the comedic wheat from the chaff, yeah, I find a lot of stuff a lot less funny than I used to.
Do I wish I could shut off the awareness? Sometimes, when it seems as though nothing I encounter isn’t somehow going to piss me off by treating women or others as subhuman.
I try to think of it as improving my sense of humour, for not letting anyone get away with the “easy” jokes. Because when you can’t rely on rape-is-funny, men-and-women-are-different, oh-those-women-are-wacky-and-wow-they-like-shopping, you have to work a lot harder. And that’s no bad thing.
Right on! Because, as ArtHermit goes on to say, good comedy isn't easy. (Or at least that is what I tell myself when people don't find me funny.)
Finally, I like how Adva Shaviv at Ripple Spark explains intra-feminist humor in response to a sexist comment made by Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi about Carla Bruni:
as for the feminists' sense of humor – it definitely exists (in general. Several feminist people have more of it and others have less, just like in any other population). But it is reserved to the feminists themselves. Otherwise, the joke, that feminists may share and laugh about, becomes a joke on them. And this is much less funny.
But wait: wouldn't feminism be more appealing to the masses were it presented as less hard headed? I think it would, much like Barbie or Playboy, for instance. Oh, right: but we're fed up with being either Barbie or a cover girl, a nun, a slut or a mother. So yes: when one wants to be taken seriously, one ought to suspend one's sense of humor. Especially when the joke is not even funny.
So, to recap: feminists are actually really funny, but one must have a sense of humor that doesn't involve tired stereotypes or degradations to inform to appreciate our fine wit. (In fact, several of Entertainment Weekly's Top 25 Funniest Actresses publicly identify as feminists.) And, of course, she who laughs last, laughs best. I'm chuckling right now...
Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants, where she tries to be funny. Her first book, Off the Beaten (Subway) Track, is a hilarious look at unusual things to see and do in New York City.
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