Archive for January, 2012

Funny Girls

January 24, 2012

I imagine every single one of you has, at some point, heard a man express the opinion that women aren’t funny.  Some of you may even have suffered through the late Christopher Hitchens’ essay "Why Women Aren’t Funny", in which he essentially claims that humour only exists so men can use it to get laid, and that women, who get laid mainly by having breasts, don’t need it and are therefore no good at it.


Hitchens seems to believe that men actually deserve to be funnier than women because they have fewer obvious charms than we do, saying that "women have no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way.  They already appeal to men, if you catch my drift."  This is an only slightly less offensive way of saying "we want to sleep with you based entirely on your appearance and couldn’t care less about your personality."  He does (rather grudgingly) concede that there are a small amount of funny women, but follows up by saying that these rare examples are mostly ‘hefty, dykey or Jewish."  Sorry ladies – unless you’re fat, gay or kosher, the men aren’t being seduced by your wit.  Although if you’re gay, I don’t imagine it’s a major concern.

You don’t have to look very far to see funny women.  We’re everywhere!  Just look at your television, take a glance at Twitter or, I don’t know, the rest of the internet.  Tina Fey, Ruth Jones, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Sarah Millican, Caitlin Moran, Lucy Porter, Sarah Silverman, Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler, Victoria Wood, Shappi Khorsandi, Joan Rivers, Miranda Hart.  Apparently some of their jokes are even about things other than tampons. 

Let’s not forget that because all the people saying women aren’t funny are, funnily enough, men, we’re being judged to a male standard of humour.  So guys, I’m sorry if I can’t fart as loudly as you can, ok?  Really, I’m very sorry that I don’t make jokes about disabled children, or sexual abuse.  It’s just that women are a little more emotionally intelligent (oh, I’m sorry – do you not like being told we’re better at something than you are?) and so we’re not the biggest fans of making jokes that make people cry.  We’re generally of the opinion that jokes are meant to make people, you know… laugh.  Just in case it wasn’t obvious enough, my two examples were digs at one Mr Frankie Boyle, who might not be a miserable enough person to name his autobiography "My Shit Life So Far" if he didn’t spend most of his time saying horrible things about people who don’t deserve it and trying to pass it off as comedy. 

Possibly the most fascinating part of Hitchens’ ridiculous foray into idiocy (sorry, I meant to say ‘essay’) is the quote "it could be that in some way men do not want women to be funny."  To say that this hits the nail on the head is an understatement.  Every preceding paragraph is full of reasons why men feel they NEED to be funnier than women, and none of these reasons actually preclude a woman being funny. 

He then goes into a very long-winded explanation of his ultimate theory: that women aren’t funny because they’re too preoccupied with the serious and dangerous business of having babies.  He ‘proves’ this with excerpts from Kipling’s poem "The Female of the Species" and then goes on to waffle for a couple of paragraphs about men being ‘terrified’ of women’s ability to produce children, and about how women don’t have time or patience for a sense of humour because they’re constantly too worried about their babies dying, before ending on the note that "for men, it is a tragedy that the two things they prize the most – women and humour – should be so antithetical."  Which seems a bit rich when just a few hundred words ago he was pointing out that men don’t really want women to be funny because they’re threatened by it. 

If there are less women than men out there who prize humour over other aspects of their personality – and I haven’t counted, so I’m not saying there aren’t – then surely it has something to do with the fact that men like Hitchens make it perfectly obvious that no, they don’t want women to be funny.  They are often threatened by a woman who can work a room better than them, and for the record, yes, a lot of men are definitely threatened by a woman who is obviously more intelligent than them.  So with men apparently not wanting funny women, and women wanting men (men in general, any man will do, OH GOD WHY IS THERE NOT A RING ON MY FINGER YET) despite the fact that a lot of the time we can do perfectly well without them, what are we supposed to do but suppress the urge to be funny and work on our cleavages instead?  Clearly I am being sarcastic, but the point remains.  Women are constantly told that A: they need a man and B: being smart and funny doesn’t have the same husband-catching power as having a nice rack and not minding doing all the washing up.  Maybe some women are sacrificing their own sense of humour because they don’t think it’ll get them anywhere, which is really sad, but if Hitchens’ article was a call for women to be funnier – which it seems to become, if a little awkwardly, in the last two paragraphs – he clearly didn’t understand that it was men like him, spouting opinions about women ‘just not getting it’ and taking everything too seriously who are the cause of the problem in the first place.

Another problem is that Hitchens totally misses the point of being funny.  Perhaps it was his own experience that being able to make a woman laugh was the only way he could get her into bed (and perhaps this isn’t surprising, and if you don’t know what I mean by that then you should go type "Christopher Hitchens" into Google Images) but that’s not what it’s really for.  I’m pretty sure cavemen weren’t telling caveladies witty jokes to lure them back to their caves… and yet the human race evidently survived past the stone age.  Humour isn’t an evolutionary tool.  The reason people get laid is because people want to get laid and it takes two (at least) to tango.  People laugh, on the other hand, just because they want to.  It’s enjoyable.  Comedians work their way up through the comedy club ranks for little immediate reward because they want to make people laugh.  Being funny makes you feel good about yourself because it makes other people feel good – and women enjoy this just as much as men do. 

As someone recently noted on Twitter, the phrase "women aren’t funny" is often used as a stand-in for the less macho phrase, "I can never impress funny women", and I think this is the truth at the heart of the matter.  I know plenty of wonderful men who love funny women.  Ask any of my male friends what they like about me and I bet at least half of them would mention my sense of humour before my boobs (no offense to the other 50%, obviously.  I do have pretty nice boobs.)  Every time I’ve heard the words "women aren’t funny", they’ve been coming out of the mouth of a man who would have a hard time making me laugh if he fell face first into a bag full of whoopee cushions. 

So to those men, I say: just because I have tits and you don’t, you get to hog all the laughs?  I don’t think so.  Maybe if you want to have some appeal other than your razor-sharp wit (i.e. dick jokes) you could cut back on the beers and spend some time at the gym instead of just trying to cut me down to your level by denying that I can make a decent joke.  In the words of just one of the many funny women I know: please do one.

(Note: I am aware that Christopher Hitchens is dead.  Unfortunately, this point of view isn’t.)