Wednesday, August 17, 2011

If that's what women are, then what am I?

Back in 2007 Christopher Hitchens wrote an article for Vanity Fair titled Why Women Aren't Funny: What makes the female so much deadlier than the male? With assists from Fran Lebowitz, Nora Ephron, and a recent Stanford-medical-school study, the author investigates the reasons for the humor gap. I picked up the link from Twitter today where it was referred to as good science writing. Good thing I wasn't expecting it to be humor.

I read about two paragraphs and sent the link to my step-sister because I was so confused. What's he talking about? She wasn't online right then to help me figure it out so I kept reading. By Page 3 of 5 I wanted to shoot myself. What is he TALKING about?! I asked a friend who was online and he said it's just Christopher Hitchens being an absolute asshole. Well, ok then, but now I'm just mad that he gets paid to barf up nonsense for Vanity Fair and I don't. It's still an astounding display of asshattery and it wants exposition.

He starts out explaining how women brag that their boyfriends make them laugh but men never say that. (That extra comma is really in the Vanity Fair article. If they give me a gig writing articles I promise to proofread carefully and not let that happen.)
Now, why is this? Why is it the case?, I mean. Why are women, who have the whole male world at their mercy, not funny? Please do not pretend not to know what I am talking about.

OK, really, I have no idea what you're talking about. My dad thinks he's the funniest man in the town. Repeating jokes you heard on satellite radio does not make you funny. But my step-mother slays me. When my dad was trying to get out of helping me load my moving truck he said he hurt his knee. "I haven't been right since Spring, isn't that right, wife o' mine."

She retorted, "What YEAR?"

Hitchens goes on to explain that men HAVE to make women laugh because they have no other redeeming qualities. He claims it has been "one of the crucial preoccupations of my life." Maybe he should have turned off the satellite radio and gone to the gym to impress her with his ability to load bags of concrete in the car. When it comes to the evolutionary differences in the sexes I'm still preoccupied with the ox-like usefulness of a man. When I want to laugh until I cry I watch Top Gear. (It's the techno-humanist in me.)

He claims that, "Women have no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way. They already appeal to men, if you catch my drift." What? But I don't have big boobs. This article is just confusing me. I don't know what the hell he's talking about.

The science part is just a quote from Biotech Week that basically says women find humor in language. Men don't? How do you explain P.G. Wodehouse? The study also found that women are better at identifying things that are unfunny. That's a fair cop. I sort of wish this weren't though. "Men will laugh at almost anything, often precisely because it is—or they are—extremely stupid." Now that is not exclusive to men. While it's true that I don't go for scatological material, my step-sister has made a speciality of fart jokes. Is she some kind of statistical anomaly?

Apparently so. According to Hitchens, "Most of them {female comedians}, when you come to review the situation, are hefty or dykey or Jewish, or some combo of the three." Ouch. There's no explanation for that sentence but "Man this guy is an asshole." That might be me finding the unfunny right there.

This is the part where I wanted to shoot myself.
Precisely because humor is a sign of intelligence (and many women believe, or were taught by their mothers, that they become threatening to men if they appear too bright), it could be that in some way men do not want women to be funny. They want them as an audience, not as rivals.
Is that right? Well doesn't that explain a lot! I KNEW my wasted life was all my mama's fault! How dare she not teach me to not appear too bright! Here I am middle aged and single and it can all be traced back to a lack of sex-role stereotyping. (That's sarcasm right there. I'm being funny. I'm also ironic. Deep, huh?) Of course on her side of my family this is normal behavior -- being single and funny. We'd rather amuse ourselves alone than have to edit our personality to coddle the ego of an easily threatened man. What the hell is the point of THAT, Christopher Hitchens? I don't understand why in hell a woman would do that.

For women, reproduction is, if not the only thing, certainly the main thing. Apart from giving them a very different attitude to filth and embarrassment, it also imbues them with the kind of seriousness and solemnity at which men can only goggle.

Oh. I mean. WHAT?! Sooooo my aunt and I get to be be funny because we don't have kids? And in fact abhor the whole idea of them? Does that mean she and I are the only two people in the world that laugh at the mental image of her antique Volvo parked at the school where she taught first grade with the imaginary bumper sticker "NEUTER YOUR CHILDREN"?

As every father knows, the placenta is made up of brain cells, which migrate southward during pregnancy and take the sense of humor along with them. And when the bundle is finally delivered, the funny side is not always immediately back in view.

Oh. I mean. Wait just a fucking minute. Now I don't know a lot about pregnant women but HUH?! He's saying pregnancy makes you... what? A bitch? My step-sister was HILARIOUS when she was pregnant. I might have to search up some emails from her when she was pregnant. What is he TALKING about? Maybe to the father it's not funny. I'm guessing that's his punk-ass ego again then, getting shown up by the sex with the uterus. Just pitiful.

And because fear is the mother of superstition, and because they are partly ruled in any case by the moon and the tides, women also fall more heavily for dreams, for supposedly significant dates like birthdays and anniversaries, for romantic love, crystals and stones, lockets and relics, and other things that men know are fit mainly for mockery and limericks. Good grief! Is there anything less funny than hearing a woman relate a dream she's just had?

OK, for real, is that what men think women are like? IS that what women are like? Because if that's women, then what the fuck am I?! I think Christopher Hitchens has known some pretty weak specimens of women in his time, poor thing. I thought he was supposed to have consulted with women comics on this article? I kind of feel bad for him if this is how his life with women played out.

He's right about the limericks though. I know some good ones. My dad taught them to me when I was a girl. I wonder if Hitchens knew the Lady from Nizes, with her appeal best viewed in profile.

There once was a lady from Nizes
Who had boobs of two different sizes.
One was so small
it was nothing at all
But the other was large and won prizes.

And here's an original limerick, since he challenged me and all.

There once was a lady who was funny.
She sold tickets and made lots of money.
Some men were appalled
And covered their balls,
But better men would gladly be her honey.


  1. My comment will not do justice to your fine exposition. I mean that in all truthfulness. But I do have a couple of things to say about all of this. The first thing is that the piece by Hitchens is crap. It is more than that. He is sooooo immensely full of shit in that piece that I would have thought it was something from The Onion. It's the kind of thing I read and then don't know where to start on a critique of it, because all of it is wrong for any number of reasons.

    Now, for my confession part of this. I may have mentioned this in a Defiant Marshmallow post somewhere, but I have lots of women who top my list of personal hero-types. In fact, when I took the trouble to write my list down fifteen years ago, it was 70% women as a whole! And the top five were.....wait for it....

    Two things have always attracted me to people in general, and women in particular. Their smarts, and their senses of humor. Back in the Dark Ages, when I was still dating (or trying like hell to get just one damn date), I was frequently disappointed with my dates. I discovered, over time, that it was usually because I had a significantly strong attraction to really, really smart girls, and really funny girls. It was not a conscious thing. I didn't know it. I just figured it out after a few years.

    So, where does Hitchens come up with his drivel? For shit sake, he's supposed to be a critical thinker! The vomitus he spewed in that piece is at the opposite end of critical thinking. It's at the "let's just use stupid generalizations and unfounded stereotypes" end of the spectrum.

    Glad you found it and posted it, Barbara. Although, right now, my BP is rising and I need to yell at something.

  2. Hitchens doesn't think women are funny because he is the butt of their jokes.

    His perception of women seems to be an awkward mix of awe, terror, and lust.

    And to be fair, you are an outlier. When someone makes broad, sweeping generalizations based on stereotypes, it simply won't apply to you. Probably won't apply to most of your friends, either...