Saturday, July 14, 2012

Gender All the Things! (In Which the Good Typist Goes all Feminist on Your Ass)

Gender All the Things! (In Which the Good Typist Goes all Feminist on Your Ass)

I really don’t want to address this, but I’m in a crap mood today and it’s been ticking me off all week, culminating in an annoying errand involving pointlessly gendered swim goggles. I’ll explain the goggles in good time. The “it” I’m talking about at the moment is the recent re-hashing of that tedious old cliché that women aren’t funny. The reason I’m so in touch with this tempest in a teapot is because I have a raging podcast addiction, and most of the, oh, say, 180 podcasts I listen to with any regularity are comedy podcasts, as I have a deep affinity for comics. And as most comedy podcasts are just one big incestuous round of comics interviewing each other, albeit in very entertaining ways, I’m usually at least halfway informed about the comedy-world goings-on. 

Recently, one of my fave funny men, Adam Carolla, was called out for supposedly telling The New York Post in an interview that women aren’t funny. Here’s what happened: The New York Post published Adam’s interview with, in Adam’s opinion, the misleading header of “Macho laughman Adam Carolla says Tom Cruise is from outer space and women just aren’t funny.” And yes, that was a technically a misquote. Here is what Adam actually said:

The lesson you learned from a sexual harassment seminar was “Don’t hire chicks.” Do you hate working with women?

No. But they make you hire a certain number of chicks, and they’re always the least funny on the writing staff. The reason why you know more funny dudes than funny chicks is that dudes are funnier than chicks. If my daughter has a mediocre sense of humor, I’m just gonna tell her, “Be a staff writer for a sitcom. Because they’ll have to hire you, they can’t really fire you, and you don’t have to produce that much. It’ll be awesome.”

The “are women funny” debate has grown very contentious. You’re not worried about reactions to this?

I don’t care. When you’re picking a basketball team, you’ll take the brother over the guy with the yarmulke. Why? Because you’re playing the odds. When it comes to comedy, of course there’s Sarah Silverman, Tina Fey, Kathy Griffin — super-funny chicks. But if you’re playing the odds? No. If Joy Behar or Sherri Shepherd was a dude, they’d be off TV. They’re not funny enough for dudes. What if Roseanne Barr was a dude? Think we’d know who she was? Honestly.

Now, Adam’s wife, Lynette Carolla, has a podcast, too, and she and her co-host Stephanie Wilder-Taylor, recently interviewed comedian Craig Shoemaker. When the discussion turned to Adam’s recent remarks, Craig and Stephanie got into a heated debate when Craig, a very bright comedian who I respect, used this controversy as an opportunity to deliver a condescending, shallow lecture about masculine and feminine “energies” as a way to explain why women are inherently unfit for comedy--a stunt which I found totally transparent and absurd. I studied and practiced energetic healing for years under a master who really understood this stuff, and didn’t just cobble it together from some half-assed New Age books. The use of “male” and “female” to describe specific energies has nothing to do with one’s personal gender, and although Craig purported to acknowledge this, he still tried to used it as a way to mansplain why women by and large just aren’t “attracted” to comedy. (Oh, and Craig? That fact that your wife works in male-dominated field does not let you off the hook for this.) 

Let’s just break this “funny” thing down for a moment. Why are there more male comedians than female? Why do men feel more free to publicly express their sense of humor than women do? I don’t know—maybe it’s because humor is inherently aggressive, and aggression is coded as masculine in this culture, and as such, viewed as the rightful arena of men.  Maybe it’s because females are socialized from early on to be the audience for men, to be the professional appreciators and listeners, to shut up, hang back, and let the men have center stage. Maybe it’s because it was only fairly recently that women were realistically able to compete in the comedy game on a level playing field with men.  Maybe it’s because females are forcibly socialized from the time we come out of the womb to be nice and polite, and the burden of fighting that socialization is a handicap that men don’t have to struggle against nearly as hard, and don’t face as severe consequences for ignoring. Maybe it’s because attractive funny women still have zero credibility. 

But certain male comics, and male non-comics, just keep periodically soothing themselves with the idea that, sure, there are some funny women out there—outliers, exceptions—but comedy is a realm in which men will always have the upper hand. Sorry, ladies--it’s just biology!

The real issue is that this sort of trope places women in a situation where we can never win: If we call comedians out on rape jokes, we’re humorless bitches who don’t have the stomach to be in a comedy club. If we write fed-up blog posts about how humor is gender-neutral and how we’re sick of hearing about how one half of the entire population somehow inherently lacks teh funny (biology!) then we’re sour bitches who refuse to acknowledge the Great Truth. If we get saddened to the point of depression by certain male comics non-stop, incessant, condescending, snide yammering about the stupidity and inferiority of women, we either need to toughen up and go along with it, or lose all credibility as a genuine artist or comedian or funny person because we obviously can’t help but “personalize” things. 

If I’m being honest, I will say: I’m disappointed in Adam Carolla’s remarks, and I’m disappointed is his smart and funny wife Lynette’s defense of them, and I’m disappointed that Craig Shoemaker, a comedian I respect, tried to used a powerful and sacred concept as a way to put women back in their place as the “less funny” sex. 

And now, the goggles: Since my knee went to hell, all I can really to do right now for exercise is swim at the sprog-urine infested city pool. The last time I went swimming I had the wrong-sized goggles so I ended up with giant angry red circlets all over my eyes and forehead, making me resemble an elderly raccoon with a blood disorder. So I zipped off to my local sporting goods store to get a pair that actually fit. As I’m listening to Craig Shoemaker go and on and on about male and female energy through my ear buds, I’m puzzling over the goggle selection, which was divided up by three kinds, “Competition”, “Race” and, inexplicably, “Female”.  Both the “Competition” and “Race” goggles featured a muscly stern-jawed male powering through the water. The limply titled “Female” goggles were lavender and featured a woman lolling at the end of the pool, goggles on her head, with a matching swim cap.  I didn’t see any goggles categorized as “Flailing Around Wildly Trying to Fake You Can Swim”, so I finally settled on the uber-macho “Competition” goggles, figuring it couldn’t hurt. But I mean really. “Competition”, “Race” and “Female”? Yep, sexism is over. There’s no more subtle or overt messages telling women their rightful place is sitting passively at the edge of the action in lady-colored goggles.  

I’ve had my swim, my quiet little neighborhood is crawling with strangers here for the annual “Salmon Fest” and I’m bone-tired. I think I will just go back to back bed with a glass of Pinot Noir and dream of a day when women aren’t cast as the inferior sex by comedians whose intelligence I normally respect, and goggles aren't pointlessly gendered. 

Kristen McHenry


Steven Cain said...

Gay guys are funny. Doesn't that count for something?

Dick said...

I've got post to this on my blog.