From Peek-a-boo to sarcasm: women's humor as a means of both connection and resistance.
There is a growing body of new research and literature on both women's psychological development and women's humor, but theorists in these two fields have not yet fully integrated their findings. Research on women's psychology has introduced new models of the identity-formation process and how women develop their identities in relation. Self-in-relation theorists focus on the early mother-infant relationship and how it serves as a model for development based on emotional and cognitive intersubjectivity Intersubjectivity is something which is shared by two or more subjectivites.
The term is used in three ways.
Determination that an individual identified in one way is numerically identical with or distinct from an individual identified in another way (e.g., Venus, known as “the morning star” in the morning and “the evening star” in the and separation from the mother as the major goal of psychological development, these feminist theorists point out that the early mother-infant bond facilitates identity based on empathy and mutual recognition of the other's subjectivity, as Janet Surrey explains:
They [mother and infant] both will proceed to become further defined as people as they change because of the relationship. Optimally, they both will grow toward more relatedness, not less; toward better relatedness, not separation. And better relatedness means more flexibility, scope, and choice for all individuals and for the relationship itself. (1)
In the instance of conflict, the healthy self-in-relation seeks to resolve the conflict with respect for the other's subjectivity and without rupture in the relationship.
These new theories also shed light on women's use of humor and help explain some of the discrepancies noted by humor theorists between men's and women's use of humor. Through these new models of female psychological development, we can see how women's humor follows the same patterns of communication used by women to address conflict, or in terms of humor theory, incongruity in·con·gru·i·ty
n. pl. in·con·gru·i·ties
1. Lack of congruence.
2. The state or quality of being incongruous.
3. Something incongruous.
Noun 1. , without damaging interpersonal connections. Because earlier models of psychological development have largely overlooked these aspects of women's experience, we can expect weaknesses and inaccuracies in previous theories of women's use of humor.
Women's Lack of a Sense of Humor Noun 1. sense of humor - the trait of appreciating (and being able to express) the humorous; "she didn't appreciate my humor"; "you can't survive in the army without a sense of humor"
sense of humour, humor, humour
Almost every woman who has theorized on women's humor has had to address the stereotypical assertion that women lack a sense of humor (among other things). Kate Sanborn Kate Sanborn (1839-1917) was an American writer. Bibliography
Compiled from the records in Library of Congress:
v. the·o·rized, the·o·riz·ing, the·o·riz·es
To formulate theories or a theory; speculate.
To propose a theory about. as to why women have been accused of lacking wit; rather, she discusses her predicament of having too many excellent writings to include in her collection. Sanborn introduces her collection with references to early joke tellers, including the Grecian woman who, when her host gave her a miserly mi·ser·ly
Of, relating to, or characteristic of a miser; avaricious or penurious.
Adj. 1. amount of very old wine in a tiny glass, responded, "Isn't it very small for its age?" (2) Unfortunately, Sanborn's attempt did little to extinguish the popular conception that women (comparatively) lack a sense of humor. She came back to her subject in 1905 with an article entitled "New England New England, name applied to the region comprising six states of the NE United States—Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. The region is thought to have been so named by Capt. Women Humorists," in which she admits that the stereotype of the humorless woman has persisted. Almost one hundred years later, Robin Lakoff Robin Tolmach Lakoff is a professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley.
Lakoff's writings have become the basis for much research on the subject of women's language. , in her 1975 study on "women's language" (which she defines as speech deemed appropriate for women in American society), confirms the cultural perception that women lack a sense of humor: "[I]t is axiomatic ax·i·o·mat·ic also ax·i·o·mat·i·cal
Of, relating to, or resembling an axiom; self-evident: "It's axiomatic in politics that voters won't throw out a presidential incumbent unless they think his challenger will in middle-class American society that, first, women can't tell jokes--they are bound to ruin the punchline, they mix up the order of things, and so on. Moreover, they don't 'get' jokes. In short, women have no sense of humor." (3)
Although the stereotype of the humorless female has stubbornly persisted, reinforced by studies concluding that women use humor less often than men, Sanborn's accomplishment remains important. She preserved anecdotes, jokes and humorous stories that contained the themes and ideas that comprise what current scholarship has come to recognize as "women's humor." Today there are several scholars and theorists dedicated to exploring, identifying, documenting and preserving women's humor. Nancy Walker Nancy Walker (May 10, 1922 – March 25, 1992) was an American actress in stage, screen, and television. Career
Born Anna Myrtle Swoyer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, in 1922 (although some sources have cited 1921), she held a life-long feeling of , Regina Barreca, Zita Dresner, Emily Toth, Gloria Kaufman, Linda Morris Linda Morris is an American producer and writer. She is best known for her work on the television show Frasier, for which he received an Emmy in 1996. Linda and husband, Vic Rauseo, are alumni of Kean University. References
1. , and June Sochen, among others, have compiled several anthologies among them and have developed a sophisticated body of theory dedicated to answering the questions: Why have women been accused of lacking a sense of humor? Are women less witty than men? Is there such a thing as "women's humor"? What are women more or less likely to laugh about? How do women use humor? What are the effects of women's humor?
A study of their responses to these questions reveals three primary explanations of the long-held assumption that women lack a sense of humor. The first explanation is related to Lakoff's early observations on women's use of language: women have been discouraged from using humor in public situations in the same manner that their expression in general has been restricted. Lakoff and Regina Barreca note that humor, particularly those forms of humor that disparage dis·par·age
tr.v. dis·par·aged, dis·par·ag·ing, dis·par·ag·es
1. To speak of in a slighting or disrespectful way; belittle. See Synonyms at decry.
2. To reduce in esteem or rank. individuals or groups, is not considered "polite," and women are brought up to avoid any semblance of impoliteness im·po·lite
Not polite; discourteous.
[Latin impol . Additionally, much humor is overtly aggressive, and women are discouraged from expressing aggression in any form. In a frequently cited cross-cultural study, social anthropologist Noun 1. social anthropologist - an anthropologist who studies such cultural phenomena as kinship systems
anthropologist - a social scientist who specializes in anthropology Mahadev Apte tells us that:
The use of humor to compete with or to belittle be·lit·tle
tr.v. be·lit·tled, be·lit·tling, be·lit·tles
1. To represent or speak of as contemptibly small or unimportant; disparage: a person who belittled our efforts to do the job right. others, thereby enhancing a person's own status, or to humiliate others either psychologically or physically, seems generally absent among women. Thus the most commonly institutionalized in·sti·tu·tion·al·ize
tr.v. in·sti·tu·tion·al·ized, in·sti·tu·tion·al·iz·ing, in·sti·tu·tion·al·iz·es
a. To make into, treat as, or give the character of an institution to.
b. ways of engaging in such humor, namely, verbal duels, ritual insults, and practical jokes and pranks, are rarely reported for women. (4)
Many cultures, therefore, discourage women from participating in disparaging dis·par·age
tr.v. dis·par·aged, dis·par·ag·ing, dis·par·ag·es
1. To speak of in a slighting or disrespectful way; belittle. See Synonyms at decry.
2. To reduce in esteem or rank. forms of humor, which accounts for much of the humor in these cultures.
The second reason the stereotype persists is that much of women's humor has been either censored or misinterpreted. In this scenario, women do not lack a sense of humor at all; rather, their humor has been ignored or unrecognized. The anthologies compiled by the scholars mentioned above effectively support the finding that women's humor has a healthy history; but the gatekeepers of our written history and literature have, until recently, omitted it from their collections. They have overlooked such humorists as Fanny Fem, whose weekly newspaper columns were among the most popular of mid-nineteenth century America, and fiction writer Marietta Holley, who at the end of the nineteenth century enjoyed a popularity that rivalled that of Mark Twain. Despite the efforts of women such as Kate Sanborn, those publishers and academics who decide what will be handed down to the next generation to read and study have ignored or neglected some of the greatest wits of the American tradition. This situation is in the process of being rectified as dozens of feminist scholars bring these women back into the study of American literature American literature, literature in English produced in what is now the United States of America. Colonial Literature
American writing began with the work of English adventurers and colonists in the New World chiefly for the benefit of readers in and history. Nevertheless, women have heretofore been largely denied the knowledge of the legacy of humor left by our foremothers.
Included in this censoring and misinterpretation of women's humor are faulty research methods that favor male forms of humor, making women appear to lack a well-developed sense of humor. Closer examinations of the studies often reveal serious methodological flaws. Mary Crawford points out that many such experiments use humorous stimuli that reflect masculinist and androcentric an·dro·cen·tric
Centered or focused on men, often to the neglect or exclusion of women: an androcentric view of history; an androcentric health-care system. values with the results being used to "prove" that men are funnier than women. (5) For example, in one such study, researchers surveyed approximately 250 undergraduate business students from a major university to determine their response to the hypothetical situation of a colleague whose briefcase flies open, spilling papers all over the hallway. (6) The choices given were in terms of three response categories: (1) ignoring ("I would avoid looking at him and keep on walking"); (2) helpfulness ("I would stop and help him pick up his papers"); or (3) use of humor ("I would tease him about being a master paper shuffler"). As can be predict ed, men had a higher "humor" response and women had a higher "helping" response (men and women rated about equally on the ignoring response). Remarkably, the creators of the survey (all male) asked the students to pick one of the three types of responses, which reveals the surveyors' view that one cannot be helpful and humorous at the same time. If given a choice between being helpful and being humorous, it is not surprising that women more often choose to be helpful. That does not account for the possibility that many women might integrate humor into their helping activities in such a situation. Another problem with the study is that it posits "humor" as a one-line quip quip
1. A clever, witty remark often prompted by the occasion.
2. A clever, often sarcastic remark; a gibe. See Synonyms at joke.
3. A petty distinction or objection; a quibble.
4. in a slapstick slapstick
Comedy characterized by broad humour, absurd situations, and vigorous, often violent action. It took its name from a paddlelike device, probably introduced by 16th-century commedia dell'arte troupes, that produced a resounding whack when one comic actor used it to situation, which is not women's preferred form of humor.
The third reason women have been found unfunny is that men have long decided what officially comprises funniness. Women often find humor from sources that fail to move men to laughter, while at the same time women fail to see humor in some of what men find laughable. Several studies, in addition to that of Mahadev Apte, find that men's humor is more often characterized by jokes that express aggression and hostility while women prefer word jokes, puns, and anecdotal stories. (7) Women tend to avoid the derision characteristic of much male humor in favor of understatement, irony, and self-deprecation. (An important disclaimer needs to be emphasized here. These studies are citing generalities only; there are significant numbers of individuals who do not fall into their gender category.)
One of the common findings of all the gender and humor studies is that there does in fact exist something that can be identified as women's humor. It is a distinct form of humor characteristic of and arising from women's experience that serves distinct communicative functions associated with that experience. As a form of communication, women's humor can be expected to closely parallel women's use of language (our primary means of communication). I intend to argue that women use humor for many of the same reasons that we use language -- as a means of both establishing and maintaining relationship and expressing our personal and collective identities within our social situation. In particular, I contend that among the various functions of women's humor, one of the most unique is how it serves as a nonalienating, nonviolent, strategic means of expressing anger and frustration over societal injustice and oppression. It also serves as a means of maintaining connection to the people, including the men, in our lives . This proviso is critical because humor as a means of responding to and battling domination has long been recognized as a tool of the oppressed op·press
tr.v. op·pressed, op·press·ing, op·press·es
1. To keep down by severe and unjust use of force or authority: a people who were oppressed by tyranny.
2. . Woman's struggle against this oppression, however, takes on unique form in that it is most often characterized by both a desire to shake off domination and a desire to avoid alienation and atomization Atomization
The process whereby a bulk liquid is transformed into a multiplicity of small drops. This transformation, often called primary atomization, proceeds through the formation of disturbances on the surface of the bulk liquid, followed by their . Women's humor seeks to maintain relationship even while it attempts to destroy the cultural status quo [Latin, The existing state of things at any given date.] Status quo ante bellum means the state of things before the war. The status quo to be preserved by a preliminary injunction is the last actual, peaceable, uncontested status which preceded the pending controversy. . Thus it seems at times ambiguous, ambivalent or inconsistent.
General Theories of Humor
To understand how and why women's humor works the way it does, it is necessary to look at predominating theories of humor to understand what makes us laugh and why. There are three primary theories of humor under which most theorists' views can be categorized: superiority theories, repression/release theories, and incongruity theories.
The first articulation of superiority theory is usually credited to Thomas Hobbes (with a nod to Plato), who claimed that laughter was associated with glorification glo·ri·fy
tr.v. glo·ri·fied, glo·ri·fy·ing, glo·ri·fies
1. To give glory, honor, or high praise to; exalt.
2. of the self, usually at the expense of someone else. Hobbes, in Leviathan leviathan (lēvī`əthən), in the Bible, aquatic monster, presumably the crocodile, the whale, or a dragon. It was a symbol of evil to be ultimately defeated by the power of good. (1651), wrote that we laugh when we suddenly recognize our superiority by its own virtue or by virtue of others' shortcomings A shortcoming is a character flaw.
Shortcomings may also be:
Sudden Glory, is the passion which maketh those Grimaces called LAUGHTER: and is caused either by some sudden act of their own, that pleaseth them; or by the apprehension of some deformed thing in another, by comparison whereof where·of
1. Of what: I know whereof I speak.
a. Of which: ancient pottery whereof many examples are lost.
b. Of whom. they suddenly applaud themselves. (8)
Along with this notion that we laugh at others' limitations because it makes us feel superior, Hobbes believed that those people with more limitations will laugh more often. In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently , the joker is Joker Is is a defunct Norwegian manufacturer of ice cream that was bought by Drammens Is in 1991. For many years the company was owned by Nidar Bergene and eventually Nora Industrier. Drammens Is discarded the brand after they purchased the company. not a positive character within Hobbes's paradigm. Lawrence La Fave fave Informal
One that is preferred above others or likely to win; a favorite.
[Short for favorite.] concludes that by this "egocentric egocentric /ego·cen·tric/ (-sen´trik) self-centered; preoccupied with one's own interests and needs; lacking concern for others.
adj. , competitive interpretation of superiority humour theory, the individual is amused only when he feels triumphant and/or another person looks bad in comparison with himself." (9) Hobbes's theory seems to work well with much deprecatory dep·re·ca·to·ry also dep·re·ca·tive
1. Expressing disapproval or criticism.
2. Mildly disparaging or uncomplimentary, especially of oneself. humor, but it certainly cannot account for all that people find laughable. Additionally, even disparaging humor does not always work in the way that Hobbes's theory would suggest: La Fave cites studies that have found that not everyone finds humor directed against others funny. While one would expect that people who are members of a social group would find humor directed against other groups funny, this is not always the case. Members of a group that has suffered from some type of social discrimination find humor directed against other victimized groups less funny than people who have not experienced discrimination based upon their social identity. Moreover, not all individuals who share an ethnic identity find jokes directed against them as "unfunny." Nevertheless, the psychological nature of Hobbes's assertion that laughter is rooted in a "glorification" of the self, or perhaps more appropriately, a preservation of the self, suggests that humor plays a part in establishing identity and warding off perceived threats to that identity. With this understanding, superiority theory (in a toned-down form) can be read in terms of those psychological theories of humor that claim that we engage in humor that affirms our personal and collective identities. (10) Because domination or the threat of domination plays a primary role in the protection of our identities, humor will necessarily have a lot to do with power and control. Humor can be used as a means of establishing and maintaining powe r and control over others in the service of the protection of the ego.
Mention of the ego introduces the Freudian realm and provides a segue to repression/release theories of humor. Sigmund Freud contended that aggressive and sexual drives, necessary for survival, are repressed re·pressed
Being subjected to or characterized by repression. in their socially unacceptable form by the ego. Humor thus provides a socially acceptable and pleasurable form of release of this repressed psychic energy psychic energy,
n the subjective force responsible for causing change and motion in the noumenal world. Also called
mental energy. . (11) Within this model, as within superiority theory, humor serves the ego in the form of a defense mechanism rather than an offensive tool. Freudian humor theorists, therefore, tend to analyze humor in terms of what it reveals about the psyche of the joker or his appreciative audience rather than how it might be used as a means of power or control. Sexual jokes reveal an individual's repressed sexual drives and disparaging jokes reveal aggression toward or fear of certain individuals or groups. Such analyses often do not take into account the strategic use of such humor as a means of taking or maintaining control over others.
While repression/release theories attempt to explain what happens during the laughter process, they do not account for exactly what we find funny and why there are such discrepancies in what different people find humorous. An example comes from some classroom humor based upon my own experience. In teaching women's literature courses for primarily first-and second-year college students, I have found it necessary to provide a short overview of Freud's theories of human sexual development. I begin by citing the etymology etymology (ĕtĭmŏl`əjē), branch of linguistics that investigates the history, development, and origin of words. It was this study that chiefly revealed the regular relations of sounds in the Indo-European languages (as described of the word "uterus." I explain how it is related to the word "hysteria," that omnipresent om·ni·pres·ent
Present everywhere simultaneously.
[Medieval Latin omnipres malady malady /mal·a·dy/ (-ah-de) disease.
A disease, disorder, or ailment.
a disease or illness. of Victorian females that baffled the best doctors, and how it was once believed that the uterus travelled throughout the female body causing mysterious and unaccountable illnesses in women. This discussion usually generates a good laugh from my students; and, aware of the importance of good timing, I take the opportunity to move on to "penis envy penis envy Psychiatry The unconscious desire by ♀ to have a penis which, per psychoanalysts, corresponds to an unresolved castration complex. Cf Oedipus complex. ," using Freud's own words:
The first step in the phallic phase phallic phase
In psychoanalytic theory, the stage in psychosexual development, usually occurring between the ages of 3 and 7, when a child's interest and curiosity are centered around the genital organs and masturbation is the primary source of ...[is] a momentous discovery which little girls are destined des·tine
tr.v. des·tined, des·tin·ing, des·tines
1. To determine beforehand; preordain: a foolish scheme destined to fail; a film destined to become a classic.
2. to make. They notice the penis of a brother or playmate, strikingly visible and of large proportions [here I get a few smiles from my female students], at once recognize it as the superior counterpart of their own small and inconspicuous in·con·spic·u·ous
Not readily noticeable.
incon·spic organ [a few more smiles, lots of puzzled faces, and an audible laugh or two], and from that time forward fall a victim to envy for the penis.
Freud then contrasts this process with the boys' discovery of the female's lack of a penis, leading eventually to castration anxiety castration anxiety (kastrā´shn),
n 1. the fantasized fear of injury to or loss of the genital organs.
2. (which usually generates some amused looks, particularly from the male members of the classroom). Freud continues:
A little girl develops differently. She makes her judgment and her decision in a flash. She has seen it and knows that she is without it and wants to have it...[audible laughter from several of the women]. From this point there branches off what has been named the masculinity complex of women....The hope of some day obtaining a penis [I am interrupted with laughter from both my female and male students] in spite of everything and so of becoming like a man may persist to an incredibly late age and may become a motive for the strangest and otherwise unaccountable actions...[hearty laughter from all]. Thus a girl may refuse to accept the fact of being castrated cas·trate
tr.v. cas·trat·ed, cas·trat·ing, cas·trates
1. To remove the testicles of (a male); geld or emasculate.
2. To remove the ovaries of (a female); spay.
3. ...and may subsequently be compelled to behave as though she were a man.
At this point, I confess that I find it hard to keep a straight face, and the final paragraph ends up being read in fits and starts to accommodate our outbursts of laughter:
The psychical consequences of penis-envy...are various and far-reaching. After a woman has become aware of the wound to her narcissism narcissism (närsĭs`ĭzəm), Freudian term, drawn from the Greek myth of Narcissus, indicating an exclusive self-absorption. In psychoanalysis, narcissism is considered a normal stage in the development of children. , she develops, like a scar, a sense of inferiority. When she has passed beyond her first attempt at explaining her lack of a penis as being a punishment personal to herself and has realized that that sexual character is a universal one, she begins to share the contempt felt by men for a sex which is the lesser in so important a respect. (12)
The point here is that I certainly do not believe that Freud meant these words to strike us as funny as they do today. While Freud no doubt would argue that the classroom reaction suggests our repressed sexuality, we certainly are no more repressed than he was. He obviously did not intend humor here. What we laugh at is the absurdity of his assertions based upon our own personal experience and observation. I was not impressed, upon first sight of my brother's penis, with any "strikingly visible and...large proportions." I certainly did not compare it with my own "small and inconspicuous organ." I did not live my girlhood with the hopes of someday obtaining a penis of my own. And I certainly do not "share the contempt felt by men for a sex which is the lesser in so important a respect." That Freud's train of reasoning leads from physical difference to the established inferiority of woman based upon her lack of a penis seems absurd to the point of laughability in our culture, as evidenced by the spontaneous lau ghter of both the young men and women in my classroom. We laugh because Freud attempts to use logic and arrives at what we find absurd, based upon our own experience. Here we have the basis for the most encompassing theory of humor, incongruity theory.
Incongruity, according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. Norman Holland, can take many forms. Cognitive incongruity occurs when "something affirms and denies the same proposition simultaneously, when something creates disorder and then resolves that disorder, when something shows the limitations of the real word as a way to affirm the logical order of some other, ideal plane." (17) Ethical incongruity involves our sense of values, such as the contrast between good and evil, the noble and the contemptible con·tempt·i·ble
1. Deserving of contempt; despicable.
2. Obsolete Contemptuous.
con·tempt , the high and the low, the beautiful and the disgusting. Formal incongruity involves defects of forms -- "something harmful presented harmlessly," the pathetic and tragic presented painlessly, something insignificant masquerading as something momentous, or vice versa VICE VERSA. On the contrary; on opposite sides. . German theorist Theodor Lipps Theodor Lipps (28 July 1851 in Wallhalben – 17 October 1914 in Munich) was a German philosopher. One of the most influential German university professors of his time, having attracted many students from other countries. wrote about the comic nature of "that little thing which behaves as though it were a big one, that swells itself to do it, that plays the role of a big thing and then behaves again like a little thing or melts into something insignificant." (18) The phallus phallus /phal·lus/ (fal´us) pl. phal´li
2. a representation of the penis.
3. the primordium of the penis or clitoris that develops from the genital tubercle. here becomes the "prototype of the laughable" (as Holland has observed), or to poststructuralists, a (transcendental?) signifier sig·ni·fi·er
1. One that signifies.
2. Linguistics A linguistic unit or pattern, such as a succession of speech sounds, written symbols, or gestures, that conveys meaning; a linguistic sign. of the comic.
Early twentieth-century theorists of humor, such as Bergson and Freud, further pointed out that it is incongruity followed by resolution that maximizes humor and takes it beyond the mere nonsense level. Humor, according to this incongruity/resolution model, comes from a gap between what is expected and what actually occurs, followed by understanding, or resolution, of the incongruity. Several theorists discuss the importance of the presence of a feeling of play that makes humor possible, a feeling that there is no danger to one's person or existing schemas. (19) Resolution of the incongruity signifies its nonthreatening nature and restores order. In this capacity, humor can be construed as a form of social control in that social structures may be challenged but eventually are reinforced. However, the perception of incongruity, safety and resolution is highly subjective.
Mary Rothbart has noted that individual responses to incongruity vary widely and may preclude the offered resolution -- different people find different stimuli more or less incongruous. (20) The hearer must recognize the ambiguity presented; but such recognition remains contingent upon Adj. 1. contingent upon - determined by conditions or circumstances that follow; "arms sales contingent on the approval of congress"
contingent on, dependant on, dependant upon, dependent on, dependent upon, depending on, contingent the person's cultural and personal life experience. Bruere and Beard, who compiled a 1934 anthology of women's humor, recognized women's contrasting paradigms and how they clash with the male world: "The angle of vision from which women see a lack of balance, wrong proportions, disharmonies, and incongruities in life is a thing of their world as it must be -- a world always a little apart." (21)
Denial of women's right to vote for over 140 years after the founding of a nation based on the equality of all people made evident an incongruity noted by almost all of the women humorists in Bruere and Beard's anthology. A society that espoused egalitarianism in principle but denied full enfranchisement The act of making free (as from Slavery); giving a franchise or freedom to; investiture with privileges or capacities of freedom, or municipal or political liberty. Conferring the privilege of voting upon classes of persons who have not previously possessed such. by law or custom to over half of its members abounded in incongruity and provided a limitless source of humor for women in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many men failed to recognize the incongruity or the offered resolution. Alice Duer Miller Alice Duer Miller (July 28, 1874 - August 22, 1942) was an American writer and poet. Biography
Alice Duer was born in New York, from a wealthy family. At the time of her entrance into society her family lost most of its fortune. , a writer of verse, satiric novels and short stories, and a columnist for the New York Tribune The New York Tribune was established by Horace Greeley in 1841 and was long considered one of the leading newspapers in the United States. In 1924 it was merged with the New York Herald to form the New York Herald Tribune, which ceased publication in 1967. from 1914 to 1917, wrote an introduction for her first column entitled "Are Women People?," which features a dialogue between a father and son emphasizing the longstanding contradiction of woman's disfranchisement The removal of the rights and privileges inherent in an association with a group; the taking away of the rights of a free citizen, especially the right to vote. Sometimes called disenfranchisement. :
Father, what is a Legislature?
A representative body elected by the people of the state.
Are women people?
No, my son, criminals, lunatics and women are not people.
Do legislators legislate for nothing?
Oh, no; they are paid a salary.
By the people.
Are women people?
Of course, my son, just as much as men are.
Miller returned to the subject repeatedly in her column and once took the approach of turning the tables, whereby the incongruities of the argument became apparent:
Why We Oppose Votes for Men
1. Because man's place is in the armory.
2. Because no really manly man wants to settle any question otherwise than by fighting about it.
3. Because if men should adopt peaceable peace·a·ble
1. Inclined or disposed to peace; promoting calm: They met in a peaceable spirit.
2. Peaceful; undisturbed. methods women will no longer look up to them.
4. Because men will lose their charm if they step out of their natural sphere and interest themselves in other matters than feats of arms, uniforms, and drums.
5. Because men are too emotional to vote. Their conduct at baseball games and political conventions shows this, while their innate tendency to appeal to force renders them peculiarly unfit for the task of government. (22)
While American society eventually came around to recognizing the inconsistency of anti-suffrage arguments, many men still did not find Miller funny (and, perhaps, many still don't).
Women also find incongruity in things that men take, or have taken, very seriously. For instance, what seemed logical to Martin Luther concerning the roles of men and women seems very incongruous to most women:
Men have broad shoulders and narrow hips, and accordingly they possess intelligence. Women have narrow shoulders and broad hips. Women ought to stay at home; the way they were created indicates this, for they have broad hips and a wide fundament fun·da·ment
1. a base or foundation, as the breech or rump.
2. the anus and parts adjacent to it. to sit upon (keep house and bear and raise chi1dren). (23)
A correlation between shoulders, hips, and intelligence strikes us as absurd and funny; but I am certain Luther was speaking in all seriousness. (By the way, how do women "keep house and bear and raise children" while they are sitting on their "wide fundaments"?) The resolution that allows us to laugh at such preposterous statements lies in our knowledge that there is no rational correlation between hips and intelligence (although the essence of the argument still lingers). Likewise, my students' perception of the incongruity of Freud's theory of penis envy arises from their entirely different perception of the events surrounding the discovery of sexual difference. Resolution occurs because women in our culture are not "officially" (relative to the Victorian era The Victorian era of the United Kingdom marked the height of the British Industrial Revolution and the apex of the British Empire. Although commonly used to refer to the period of Queen Victoria's rule between 1837 and 1901, scholars debate whether the Victorian period—as ) considered inferior.
While we can laugh at such seemingly outdated absurdities (whereas it was a bit more difficult for Victorian women to do so, although many of them did), I do not mean to suggest that incongruities in perceptions of gender roles and devaluation devaluation, decreasing the value of one nation's currency relative to gold or the currencies of other nations. It is usually undertaken as a means of correcting a deficit in the balance of payments. of the female no longer exist. In the case of cross-dressing, men dressed as women elicit laughter because their appearance is incongruous with gender roles in culture. From Shakespeare to modern movies ("Some Like it Hot," "Tootsie toot·sie
2. A girl or young woman.
3. or toot·sy A person's foot.
[Origin unknown. ," and "Mrs. Doubtfire") to television ("Bosom Buddies Bosom Buddies is an American sitcom starring Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari created by Robert L. Boyett, Thomas L. Miller and Chris Thompson. It ran from 1980 to 1982 on ABC. "), men dressed as women never fail to get laughs. Women dressed as men, however, do not strike most of us as funny (unless, like Lucille Ball, they sport a mustache and mimic a pompous male stride). Why is it more comic for men to dress as women? If we draw superiority theory back into the equation, we might have an answer to the problem. La Fave notes that humor must involve a "sudden happiness increment (such as a feeling of superiority or heightened self-esteem) as a consequence of a p erceived incongruity." (24) It is assumed that women have something to gain by assuming a male role, so we are not surprised when women sport men's clothing (which they have been doing for centuries and which at various times has been outlawed). By contrast, it is perceived that men have nothing to gain in a female role; to do so strikes anyone in a patriarchal culture as extremely incongruous and catches us by surprise. It remains harmlessly humorous, even to the cross-dressers themselves, because the incongruity is resolved by their actual maleness--they are not really females. Others might point out that we laugh only when men sport distinctly female accoutrements ac·cou·ter·ment or ac·cou·tre·ment
1. An accessory item of equipment or dress. Often used in the plural.
2. Military equipment other than uniforms and weapons. Often used in the plural.
3. (high heels high heels high npl → talons hauts, hauts talons
high heels high npl → hochhackige Schuhe pl , pantyhose, dresses, makeup, certain types of jewelry) that are intended to display one's beauty in an attempt to be physically attractive to the opposite sex- the stereotypical role of woman. Women can laugh because, in spite of the trappings, the men are (in most cases) not attractive to the opposite sex. The order is essentially un challenged: men remain better at being men, and women are better at being women.
But is the order really left intact? Some theorists (e.g., Bergson and Freud) argue that comedy restores the social order with its resolution; another group counters that comedy is subversive and can even be revolutionary. Karl Marx claimed that humor separates us happily from our past (a catharsis catharsis
Purging or purification of emotions through art. The term is derived from the Greek katharsis (“purgation,” “cleansing”), a medical term used by Aristotle as a metaphor to describe the effects of dramatic tragedy on the spectator: by ) and can provide a space for change. (25) But comedy can also keep relationships going that would otherwise dissolve with conflict. Anthropologist Mary Douglas Dame Mary Douglas, DBE FBA, (March 25 1921 – 16 May 2007) was a British anthropologist, known for her writings on human culture and symbolism.
Her area was social anthropology; she was considered a follower of Durkheim and a proponent of structuralist analysis, with a believes that humor serves both social and subversive roles in that it represents a challenge to cultural forms that is usually resolved unthreateningly. She sees the joke as "a play upon form...[in which] one accepted [social] pattern is challenged by the appearance of another which in some way was hidden in the first." (26) Its role, then, is exactly opposite that of the rite: while the rite solemnly reinforces cultural structures and values, the joke undermines them, at least for a moment. Minority-group humor often takes this form inasmuch as in·as·much as
1. Because of the fact that; since.
2. To the extent that; insofar as.
1. since; because
2. comedy allo allo
allegro ws a challenge of an unacceptable norm of the dominant culture without being perceived as an anarchic attack. But certainly much humor can be interpreted as borderline in this respect. What about the cross-dresser who refuses to take off the dress and go back to his privileged position as a male in our culture? Hasn't the class clown always challenged and defied authority? Doesn't our laughter at Freud's theory of penis envy effectively emasculate e·mas·cu·late
tr.v. e·mas·cu·lat·ed, e·mas·cu·lat·ing, e·mas·cu·lates
1. To castrate.
2. To deprive of strength or vigor; weaken.
Deprived of virility, strength, or vigor. it? (Pun intended.) Humor is subversive when it refuses to resolve itself in accordance with the status quo. Subversive laughter has long been a nonviolent tool of oppressed classes and minority groups, and we infer that the privileged classes do not find it so very funny. (27) Can we assume that women's humor would also be highly subversive? Women, as a discriminated group, have much in common with other racial and ethnic minorities. It follows that women's humor would contain many of the same elements of the humor of other minority groups, which, in fact, is the c ase. (28) Because women live in such close relationships with members of the dominant group (men) in ways that members of other socially subordinated groups do not, their humor reflects the unique dynamics of those intimate relationships.
Well, We Think It's Funny: Comparing Communicative Approaches
With an understanding of some basic theories of humor, we can turn our focus back to some of our initial questions. What is "women's humor" and how is it used? Because most of our meanings are generated by difference, we can perhaps most easily understand women's humor by contrasting it with "men's humor." As previously mentioned, research shows that men tell more jokes than women, and those jokes are more often disparaging and deprecatory. Men's jokes tend to be shorter than women's jokes and are more likely to be sexual. Women's jokes are longer, more anecdotal, more often involve wordplay, and are more likely to be self-deprecatory. (29) What can account for these differences? I believe the answer can be traced to the contrasts in women's and men's communicative approaches.
Women Rarely Prefer the Quickie: Women and Joketelling
I believe that women, even empowered women who feel relatively free to share their humor, generally do not use the male forms of humor mentioned above because they simply are not the best tool to facilitate their communication goals. Humor is highly social -- we laugh more when we are with others -- and therefore can be examined in terms of what we know about social interaction. (30) Mary Crawford's research shows that the men in her study favored hostile humor, jokes and slapstick comedy. Women preferred humor in the form of anecdotes based upon their own experiences or the experiences of their friends and family. (31) Barreca concurs:
Where men tell jokes, women tell [humorous] stories, usually stories about themselves or their friends, and not surprisingly, these will concern issues of particular importance to women...[T]he "one-two punch one-two punch
1. A combination of two blows delivered in rapid succession in boxing, especially a left lead followed by a right cross.
2. Informal An especially forceful or effective combination or sequence of two things. line" form of most traditional jokes simply doesn't appeal to most women. (32)
One of the reasons for this discrepancy has already been mentioned. Joketelling has been perceived as a male form of communication and women are reluctant to transgress societal perceptions of appropriate linguistic behavior for women. "Making us laugh was always the boy's job," explains Barreca, and cracking jokes or even "getting" jokes labelled one a "Bad Girl." (33) Julia Klein, in her article about the problems faced by female standup comics Standup Comics is a webcomic by Basil White, debuting on October 23, 2003. The comic is material from Basil White's live standup comedy performances presented in comic strip format. , argues that "[c]omedy is itself an aggressive act; making someone laugh means exerting control, even power. But a woman cannot come off as overaggressive o·ver·ag·gres·sive
Aggressive to an excessive degree.
over·ag·gres " or she will make people uncomfortable -- a condition not conducive to laughter. Many researchers note the position of superiority held by the joketeller, a position that might be uncomfortable for some of the parties when the performer is female. Barreca says that "[m]aking a joke is like making a pass -- you take control, take a risk, and try to bring the house down. Good Girls just wait." (34) Paul McGhee's rese arch supports Barreca and Crawford's observation:
Because of the power associated with the successful use of humor, humor initiation has become associated with other traditionally masculine characteristics, such as aggression, dominance, and assertiveness. For a female to develop into a clown or joker, then, she must violate the behavioral pattern In software engineering, behavioral design patterns are design patterns that identify common communication patterns between objects and realize these patterns. By doing so, these patterns increase flexibility in carrying out this communication. normally reserved for women. (35)
When a women does cross these boundaries, she may be perceived as unfunny, as Alice Sheppard explains:
It has been known for some time that humor in a social setting is initiated by someone of higher status. Women, of course, are recognized as being of lower status than males. When a person of low status initiates a joke, the judgment may be that it is inappropriate for that person to be joking. In that case, indignation supplants amusement, and any tendency to respond humorously is suppressed from the outset. (36)
While it seems indisputable that cultural conditions have traditionally discouraged women's joketelling, I do not believe this completely explains our preference for humorous narratives over joketelling. I believe that characteristics of women's humor in general will reflect those dynamics that are also identified as directing women's language. Because women's conversational goals differ from men's, it figures that women's humor will serve different purposes and take different forms. Several studies conducted over the last twenty-five years document gender differences in language use, and of particular interest here are those studies that conclude that women and men use language toward different ends. (Again, I want to stress that these findings show generalities only. Many of us are sensitive here because we are close to some exceptional men.) Crawford notes the findings of several researchers that conclude that "men talk more, hold the floor, tell jokes, interrupt women and ignore women's contributions to d ialogue. Women tell more personal stories, support others in the conversational spotlight, and collaborate more than they compete." (37) Women also offer more feedback or other signs of attentiveness, rarely dominate the floor, and are less likely to demand the full attention of an audience (this, of course, excludes the nuns in parochial school parochial school (pərō`kēəl), school supported by a religious body. In the United States such schools are maintained by a number of religious groups, including Lutherans, Seventh-day Adventists, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and and several women in my family).
Now consider a joke within these parameters. For a joke to occur, the performer must get (demand?) the attention of the audience, and the audience must signal their attention with eye contact, verbal response, and so on. The performer then presents a set of circumstances, often in the form of a question ("How does a Jewish-American Princess This article or section may contain original research or unverified claims.
Please help Wikipedia by adding references. See the for details.
This article has been tagged since September 2007. ..."). This is a position of power for the performer in that he or she possesses information about these circumstances that the audience does not. The audience signals that they are allowing the performer to be funny by responding to the question ("I don't know Don't know (DK, DKed)
"Don't know the trade." A Street expression used whenever one party lacks knowledge of a trade or receives conflicting instructions from the other party. . How does a Jewish-American Princess...?"). The performer then delivers the punch line punch line
The climactic phrase or statement of a joke, producing a sudden humorous effect.
the last line of a joke or funny story that gives it its point
Noun 1. , an unexpected outcome of the circumstances, and expects the audience to be impressed or amused. The audience responds, showing that they "get" the humor by laughing or rolling their eyes, or providing some other nonverbal response.
This whole scenario describes precisely the male-female dynamics in conversation as described by Deborah Tannen Deborah Frances Tannen (born June 7, 1945) is an American professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., U.S.A.
Although she has lectured worldwide in her field, and written or edited numerous academic publications on linguistics and interpersonal in her book, You Just Don't Understand (New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of : Ballantine, 1990). The male is performer and the woman is audience/helper. This supports Barreca and Lakoff's notion that women, in leaving the joketelling to men, are simply fulfilling culturally prescribed roles. So we might conclude that as these "culturally prescribed roles" change, women will tell jokes more and more often. I think it is safe to say that women's roles today are not as culturally prescribed as they were fifty years ago, twenty-five years ago or even a decade ago. Indeed, Barreca establishes that women's humor is alive and well and that women are telling more jokes than ever--but they still don't tell jokes as often or of the same kind as men (i.e., disparaging, sexual). Women prefer other types of humor to jokes and no matter how much freedom we attain, women will still less frequently be the ones who come into the office each da y bellowing bellowing
in bovine rabies, continues until pharyngeal paralysis supervenes.
bellowing soundlessly "Hey, did you hear the one about..."
According to Deborah Tannen, men in general use language for positive self-presentation, that is, to establish and maintain status. Women, on the other hand, use language to connect, to establish and maintain relationship and intimacy. (38) While narrative forms of humor can be used to promote women's goals in conversation, the format and the content of the typical one- or two-line joke would not easily facilitate such connections. The power held by the joketeller, however, can advance those goals Tannen identifies with men, as we can see in Mercilee Jenkins's description of male joketelling:
Joking for men establishes them as credible performers and affords them an audience for whom they demonstrate their prowess. Their jokes are less personal, like their social groups, and they can be told in a variety of settings. Men can develop a repertoire of jokes which they can use to compete with other men for audience attention and honors. Their jokes are exclusive in that they more often put down others or are told at the expense of others. The teller rarely identifies with the butt of the joke.... (39)
Likewise, Jenkins' description of women's humor shows how it serves their purposes in conversation:
[Women's humor is] much more context-bound. It is more often created out of the ongoing talk to satisfy the needs of [a] particular group of women. Since the goal of interaction is intimacy, there is not the same need to compete for performance points...[Women's] humor includes and supports group members by demonstrating what they have in common. (40)
Nancy Walker points out that women's humor is often enmeshed en·mesh also im·mesh
tr.v. en·meshed, en·mesh·ing, en·mesh·es
To entangle, involve, or catch in or as if in a mesh. See Synonyms at catch. within a larger text that works "by cumulative effect, not by one-liners" and takes the form of "lengthy conversations between women that are basic to communication among women":
First, women tend to be story tellers rather than joke tellers. Humor functions for them more as a means of communication than as a means of self-presentation, a sharing of experiences rather than a demonstration of cleverness. (41)
These descriptions of male and female humor also raise an important point made by several researchers: women often avoid jokes because they have for so long been the butt of them. Almost every woman has at one time experienced what Barreca calls the "booby-trap" joke in which, while in a group of men, she is told a sexual joke primarily so that the men can amuse themselves with her embarrassed reaction. (42) Many women, because of such experiences, sympathize with Verb 1. sympathize with - share the suffering of
compassionate, condole with, feel for, pity
grieve, sorrow - feel grief
commiserate, sympathise, sympathize - to feel or express sympathy or compassion other groups that are the targets of hostile and aggressive humor. This helps explain why women are less likely than men to laugh at other's misfortunes or at situations in which someone is hurt or embarrassed and why they seldom use jokes for the purpose of embarrassing the listener. (43) Even retaliation in kind proves difficult for the woman whose empathy extends even to the aggressive male joketeller. Barreca cites an occasion when a female friend was able to "come back" against harassment directed at her but then became concerned with the possi ble effect of her aggressive humor:
I know a woman who was once so angry at such a [sexual] comment [from a man on the street] that she screamed First single released by Ultra Vivid Scene
The 12" version included You Know it All - 3:06 back "If your mouth is so big, your dick must be real small" and then spent the rest of the day worried--honest to God--in case he really did have a small dick. Believe me, this is misplaced mis·place
tr.v. mis·placed, mis·plac·ing, mis·plac·es
a. To put into a wrong place: misplace punctuation in a sentence.
b. compassion. (44)
While most women would probably agree with Barreca that this woman's compassion was misplaced, we might also understand her discomfort with aggressive humor. While anybody has a right to be angry when she is made the butt of someone's hostile joke, women still value the ability to empathize em·pa·thize
To feel empathy in relation to another person. , to experience compassion for others. Barreca admits this when she says that "women are often cautious about using humor around men, not because they perceive individual men as powerful, but because they perceive them as vulnerable, easily wounded." (45)
A conversation recorded by Michael Mulkay illustrates another example of women's reluctance to respond to aggression with aggression. This conversation involves cocktail waitresses who have been harassed by the bartender's sexual jokes:
Rob made some reference about my chest.
Same here. But I don't know what we can do to get him back.
Maybe we could all get together and try grabbing him.
That's silly. We aren't strong enough and they would just make a joke about it.
We could all ignore him, but that wouldn't work because he would just pick at us until we responded. If we ignore him, we're admitting defeat.
There's no way we can get them back. We can't get on their level. The only way to get them back is to get on their level and you can't do that. You can't counter with some remark about the size of his penis. (46)
Regina Barreca would respond to this last comment with a resounding re·sound
v. re·sound·ed, re·sound·ing, re·sounds
1. To be filled with sound; reverberate: The schoolyard resounded with the laughter of children.
2. , "why not?" and would suggest that these women empower themselves with a barrage of witty comebacks. While most women would argue that men who direct aggressive humor against women deserve a taste of their own medicine, women often choose not to be the dispenser of such a tonic. The caveat attached to Barreca's own recommendation to use aggressive humor in such situations suggests the reason why women often avoid the tactic: "If and when you decide to use aggressive humor, you have to be sure to do it with finesse. It has to appear not to matter to you at all, otherwise it won't work. Like any joke, it depends on concealing the true feelings underneath." (47)
Barreca's warning that it must not appear to matter to us and that we must conceal our feelings is advice many of us are unwilling to accept. While it would give satisfaction to retaliate against the aggressor AGGRESSOR, crim. law. He who begins, a quarrel or dispute, either by threatening or striking another. No man may strike another because he has threatened, or in consequence of the use of any words. , it does in fact matter to many of us and we do not want to hide those feelings. We have done that for far too long. Still, Barreca explains why she prefers the snappy comeback: "When you respond with a bitchy bitch·y
adj. bitch·i·er, bitch·i·est Slang
1. Malicious, spiteful, or overbearing.
2. In a bad mood; irritable or cranky. , funny remark, you are not so much being hostile as asserting your right to be heard. You are making sure that you have the last word, and the last laugh." (48)
For many women, however, conversational goals of connection and relationship make them less concerned than men are with having the last word, or the last laugh.
The Phyllis Duller Complex: Women and Self-Deprecatory Humar
While women are less likely to employ the quick quip as a form of humor, they are more likely to engage in self-disparaging humor -- that is, humor at one's own expense. According to Murray Davis, this is humor at the expense of a person or group with whom the humorist hu·mor·ist
1. A person with a good sense of humor.
2. A performer or writer of humorous material.
a person who speaks or writes in a humorous way
is closely identified, such as a spouse, mother, father, sibling, or own ethnic group. (49) What is going on when Judy Carter says, "I had a relationship that lasted 13 years, and ended just like that. She said, 'Let's just be friends.' I said, 'OK Mom,'" or when Joan Rivers Joan Rivers (born June 8, 1933) is an American comedian, actress, talk show host, businesswoman, and celebrity. She is known for her brash manner and loud, raspy voice with a heavy metropolitan New York accent. declares, "1 was the ugliest child ever born in Larchmont, New York For the district of Los Angeles, see .
Larchmontis a village in Westchester County, New York, United States. The population was 6,485 at the 2000 census. As a village, it is located within the town of Mamaroneck. ... When I was born, my mother looked at me and looked at the afterbirth afterbirth /af·ter·birth/ (af´ter-birth?) the placenta and membranes delivered from the uterus after childbirth.
n. and screamed "Twins!"? (50) Finding humor in these situations would seem to be contrary to the findings of Zillman and Cantor:
Witnessing the disparagement In old English Law, an injury resulting from the comparison of a person or thing with an individual or thing of inferior quality; to discredit oneself by marriage below one's class. of those things we do not hold dear is enjoyed because it gives us a moment's glory of superiority. The ridicule of esteemed objects, in contrast, cannot possibly be enjoyed because it is considered degrading and debasing de·base
tr.v. de·based, de·bas·ing, de·bas·es
To lower in character, quality, or value; degrade. See Synonyms at adulterate, corrupt, degrade.
[de- + base2. to the self. (51)
La Fave goes so far as to claim that self-disparaging humor does not exist -- that no one truly finds their own misfortune amusing. So why do women disparage themselves with their humor? Why do they perpetuate stereotypes of women, such as the nagging wife, the hated mother-in-law, the inept housekeeper, the JAP Jap
n. Offensive Slang
Used as a disparaging term for a person of Japanese birth or descent.
Noun 1. Jap - (offensive slang) offensive term for a person of Japanese descent
Nip (Jewish American Princess), the dumb blonde The dumb blonde is a popular-culture stereotype applied to blonde-haired women. The archetypical "dumb blonde", while attractive and popular, lacks both common street-sense and academic intelligence, often to a comedic level. , the flatchested woman, the fat woman?
Freud claimed that self-deprecatory humor was aggression toward others turned inward. (52) One might theorize that self-disparaging humor in the manner made popular by Phyllis Diller Phyllis Diller (born Phyllis Ada Driver on July 17, 1917) is a Golden Globe-nominated American comedian who is considered one of the pioneers of female stand-up comedy. and Joan Rivers has come about as a result of the repeated message that women are inferior. Anger at this message may be turned inward, particularly if inferiority has been internalized. In this case, the pleasure of the joke can be read as masochistic mas·och·ism
1. The deriving of sexual gratification, or the tendency to derive sexual gratification, from being physically or emotionally abused.
2. or, in the case of those who disparage other women, as an indicator of a psychological need to compare favorably with others who are devalued de·val·ue also de·val·u·ate
v. de·val·ued also de·valu·at·ed, de·val·u·ing also de·val·u·at·ing, de·val·ues also de·val·u·ates
1. To lessen or cancel the value of. . McGhee's studies support others who have found that those in power within a culture prefer humor that disparages the powerless, whereas those not in power tend to prefer self-deprecatory humor. His findings have an important qualifier: not all women found self-deprecatory humor funny. Those who accepted more traditional sex roles and values tended to prefer self-disparaging humor, while those who were open to changing and progressive roles f or women tended to reject such humor. (53) But Freud also claimed that the ability to laugh at oneself represents the "triumph of narcissism and assertion of invulnerability in·vul·ner·a·ble
1. Immune to attack; impregnable.
2. Impossible to damage, injure, or wound.
[French invulnérable, from Old French, from Latin ." (54) In this model, the individual shifts some of the energy from ego to superego superego: see psychoanalysis.
In Freudian psychoanalytic theory, one of the three aspects of the human personality, along with the id and the ego. and "stresses moral values at the expense of pragmatic interests, thus lessening the impact of physical adversity." (55) Because humor at one's own expense has a long history, Hobbes even had to acknowledge this phenomenon and explained it by positing a present and a past self. People laugh, according to Hobbes, at "some sudden conception of some eminency em·i·nen·cy
n. pl. em·i·nen·cies
Eminence. in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity Flaw, defect, or weakness.
In a legal sense, the term infirmity is used to mean any imperfection that renders a particular transaction void or incomplete. For example, if a deed drawn up to transfer ownership of land contains an erroneous description of it, an of others, or with our own formerly." (56) We laugh at ourselves only when we feel that we are actually distanced from that former inferior self.
Still other theorists believe self-disparaging humor has a positive function. Laughing at how we fall short of the ideal has long been considered a healthy facet of comedy because of the self-knowledge gained. Christopher Wilson argues that genuine amusement at self-ridicule more often reflects resilience and adjustment than masochism masochism (măs`əkĭzəm), sexual disorder in which sexual arousal is derived from subjection to physical and emotional degradation. . It may be a tactic used to deal with seemingly overwhelming problems by sporting an amused acceptance and a denial of pain or harm. When the joker is not sincere, it may be used as a social ploy and possibly an attempt at ingratiation in·gra·ti·ate
tr.v. in·gra·ti·at·ed, in·gra·ti·at·ing, in·gra·ti·ates
To bring (oneself, for example) into the favor or good graces of another, especially by deliberate effort: . (57) While self-deprecatory humor may reflect woman's acceptance of her devaluation and her perception of vulnerability in patriarchal society, it can also become an offensive weapon against that devaluation. By disparaging oneself, the humorist claims knowledge of her own vulnerability, and by that knowledge gains mastery over it. Walker notes that:
Laughing at one's shortcomings is not only a way of diminishing their importance and potentially overcoming them but is also a technique for cleansing them of pejorative pejorative Medtalk Bad…real bad connotations imposed by the dominant culture and, thereby, turning them into strengths. (58)
In this manner, even self-deprecating humor can be seen as assertive. Erma Bombeck's lament of the problem of swimming-suit season provides a good illustration:
No, I don't think I'm ready I'm Ready is the double platinum second release from R&B singer Tevin Campbell. I'm Ready yielded the biggest R&B hit of his career the #1 R&B smash "Can We Talk", and produce 3 more successful hits in "I'm Ready", "Always In My Heart" and "Don't Say Goodbye Girl". for a bikini again this year. Heaven knows I try to bend to the dictates of fashion, but let's face it, I'm a loser. When I grew my own bustle, they went out of style. When my hips reached saddlebag proportions, the "long, lean look" came in. When I ultimately discovered a waistline, the straight skirt came into being. I had a few bright moments when they were exploiting the flat chest as denoting women with high I.Q.'s, but then someone revealed a certain clearly unflat movie star's 135 (I.Q. that is) and shot that theory down...Tell you what. If I don't "shape up" by June, go on to the beach without me. Stop on the way back and I'll serve you a dish of homemade shortcake, topped with fresh strawberries crusted in powdered sugar and wallowing in a soft mound of freshly whipped cream. (59)
While Bombeck's target may seem to be her own body, it is really the "dictates of fashion," which are forever changing the standard of women's beauty in our culture and have created a problem with her body the way it is. This is also the case with much of the humor directed toward women's bodies. Arbitrary and ever-changing standards of beauty in our society weigh most heavily on women and humor can be seen as an antidote to such arbitrariness. Bombeck overcomes any perceived vulnerabilities and becomes the actor of her narrative at the end when she substitutes sensual edibles and good company for the dictates of fashion.
Christine Lavin, a folksinger/comedian, targets herself and other women who sacrifice common sense to fashion in these excerpts from her song, "High Heel Shoes":
I'm getting dizzy way up here I haven't been this high in years Oh whatever possessed me to blow eighty dollars on these high heel shoes... "Looks like a pump, feels like a sneaker"? Do they think we're idiots? But I bought 'em Now I'm standing in a subway car I ride because I cannot walk far I couldn't find an empty cab on the street They were filled with high-heeled women with non-functioning feet... Take pity on my vanity Maybe question my sanity Why I wear these uncomfortable things heaven knows which makes me wonder about these pierced earrings and my pantyhose, my control top... Oooo, I can see you don't want me to sing out about pantyhose You'd rather I go back to tap dancing Like my close personal friend Paula Abdul Who, like me, was a geek back in high school...
In this last verse, she acknowledges that such humor can strike a little close to home for some of us. In an episode of her weekly sitcom, "Grace Under Fire," Brett Butler Brett Butler can refer to different people:
downstairs, on a lower floor, below dressed for a night at the opera. Her best friend comments, "Why, Grace, I didn't know you had cleavage." Looking down she replies, "Well, I don't really. I'm wearing a 'Wonderbra'. This is really my fanny." Here the joke is directed at the "Wonderbra" and its incredible claim to make our bodies achieve the cultural standard of big breasts. In a similar manner, dumb blonde jokes can be read as a reaction to the arbitrary preference for blondes in our culture, and Jewish-American Princess jokes can be interpreted as class protests (since their protagonist is usually rich and spoiled).
Self-deprecatory humor, when used by women, often functions not to demean de·mean 1
tr.v. de·meaned, de·mean·ing, de·means
To conduct or behave (oneself) in a particular manner: demeaned themselves well in class. a particular woman but to establish a common ground among women... [A]s women begin to identify with one another, the sense of powerlessness decreases and the use of self-deprecatory humor takes on the function of uniting women and of laying the groundwork for the creation of other, more positive, forms of humor. (60)
Women do not necessarily need to make males the brunt of their jokes to use humor to their advantage, because it is the joking itself, rather than its content, that brings them together and keeps them connected. Such humor can foster community among women and effectively cross the boundaries of ethnicity and class that often divide them and thereby create what Nancy Reincke calls an "antidote to dominance":
Women's laughter counteracts dominance when it constructs a counter-knowledge, a counter-knowledge that is collectively produced through female bonding across barriers of class and race. The threat to male dominance Male dominance, or maledom, generally refers to heterosexual BDSM activities where the dominant partner is male, and the submissive partner is female. However, the term is sometimes used to refer to homosexual BDSM activities, where both partners are male and one is dominant. isn't women laughing Women Laughing is a stage play written by Michael Wall in 1989. It was first produced for the stage in 1992, just after the author’s death.
The original version of the play, which was for radio, contained only one act. A second was added for the stage production. at men; the threat is women laughing with women. (61)
The Wife Who Sat Around the House: Domestic Humor
We have learned from researchers that women's humor tends to be longer and more anecdotal, focusing on domestic subjects that reflect their day-to-day experience. Women prefer storytelling to joketelling. The length of a story or anecdote provides increased opportunity to connect with one's listeners and to impart information about one's life. This has led, according to Nancy Walker and Zita Dresner, to the development of a "distinctive body of humor with common subjects and themes that set it apart from the male tradition of American humor American humor refers collectively to the conventions and common threads that tie together humor in the United States. It is often defined in comparison to the humor of another country - for example, how it is different from British humour or Canadian humour. ." Female humor, they explain, differs for obvious reasons. Women write about things that interest women, and in our culture, women's experience has included the domestic realm. Women's humor, from the earliest documentation of it to the present, has a strong emphasis on the household and the interpersonal relationships of the family. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when "woman's sphere" was limited, the focus of women's humor was located in the kitchen, the nur sery, the parlor, church, school, and corresponding interpersonal relationships. Today woman's sphere has expanded greatly, but much of the humor springs from the same source -- family life.
Marietta Holley, a humorist as popular as Mark Twain at the end of the nineteenth century, created an opinionated o·pin·ion·at·ed
Holding stubbornly and often unreasonably to one's own opinions.
[Probably from obsolete opinionate : opinion + -ate1. , outspoken character whose life at home with her farcical far·ci·cal
1. Of or relating to farce.
a. Resembling a farce; ludicrous.
b. Ridiculously clumsy; absurd.
far husband, Josiah Allen, provided the backdrop for all her humor. Samantha, who ironically refers to herself as "Josiah Allen's wife," takes on subjects of national concern and compares them to problems she faces on the farm. She then applies her common sense. In the following excerpt she responds to her husband's espousal of the popular position against women's enfranchisement:
"If wimmin know when they are well off, they will let poles and 'lections boxes alone, it is too wearing for the fair sect."
"Josiah Allen," says I, "you think that for a woman to stand up straight on her feet, under a blazin' sun, and lift both her arms above her head, and pick seven bushels of hops, mingled with worms and spiders into a gigantic box, day in, and day out, is awful healthy, so strengthenin' and stimulatin' to women, but when it comes to droppin' a little slip of clean paper into a small seven by nine box, once a year in a shady room, you are afraid it is goin' to break down a woman's constitution to once." (62)
She subsequently decides to write about the "great subject of Wimmin's Rites." Holley cleverly uses Samantha's relative lack of education as an opportunity for wordplay (as in "Wimmin's rites" and "woman's proper spear"), but her good sense always transcends her lack of mastery over the language.
Fanny Fern Fanny Fern (July 9, 1811-October 10, 1872) was the pseudonym of Sara Willis Parton. She was a popular columnist, humorist, novelist, and author of children's stories in the 1850s-1870s. (Sara Willis Parton par·ton
Any of the point particles believed to be a constituent of hadrons, now known as quarks. No longer in technical use.
[part(icle) + -on1.] ), long considered by historians a writer of sentimental fiction only, was better known during her lifetime as the satirical, humorous, outspoken columnist for the New York Ledger. For sixteen years she offered her witty observations on everything from fashion to literature to women's rights The effort to secure equal rights for women and to remove gender discrimination from laws, institutions, and behavioral patterns.
The women's rights movement began in the nineteenth century with the demand by some women reformers for the right to vote, known as suffrage, and . In "Hints to Young Wives," she addressed the subject of the wife whose idealized i·de·al·ize
v. i·de·al·ized, i·de·al·iz·ing, i·de·al·iz·es
1. To regard as ideal.
2. To make or envision as ideal.
1. love for her husband makes her a slave to his every whim and necessitates her constant efforts to win back his affections, lost as a result of her obsequious ob·se·qui·ous
Full of or exhibiting servile compliance; fawning.
[Middle English, from Latin obsequi , fawning fawn 1
intr.v. fawned, fawn·ing, fawns
1. To exhibit affection or attempt to please, as a dog does by wagging its tail, whining, or cringing.
2. behavior. She orders the wife to dry her eyes and quit making a fool of herself and offers the following observation:
Mr. Fern came home one day when I had such a crucifying headache that I couldn't have told whether I was married or single, and threw an old coat into my lap to mend. Well, I tied a wet bandage over my forehead...and sat down to it -- he might as well have asked me to make a new one; however I now lined the sleeves, mended the buttonholes, sewed on new buttons down the front, and all over the coat tails -- when finally it occurred to me (I believe it was a suggestion of Satan,) that the pocket might need mending; so I turned it inside out, and what do you think I found? A love-letter from him to my dressmaker!! I dropped the coat, I dropped the workbasket, I dropped the buttons, I dropped the baby (it was a female, and I thought it just as well to put her out of future misery) and then I hopped up hopped up Drug slang A popular phrase for being influenced by drugs into a chair front of the looking-glass, and remarked to the young woman I saw there, "F-a-n-n-y F-e-r-n! If you -- are -- ever -- such -- a -- confounded fool again" --and I wasn't. (63)
The tendency of young women to romanticize ro·man·ti·cize
v. ro·man·ti·cized, ro·man·ti·ciz·ing, ro·man·ti·ciz·es
To view or interpret romantically; make romantic.
To think in a romantic way. marriage and motherhood has been validated, particularly in the nineteenth century, with romanticized, idealized notions of womanhood. Mahadev Apte has observed that men justify the restrictions they place on women, including the freedom to publicly engage in humor in the public domain, by "creating ideal role models for women that emphasize modesty, virtue, and passivity." (64) Women's humor during this period sought to shoot down these popular conceptions. Bruere and Beard, in the introduction to their 1934 collection of women's humor, note how the humorists target this stereotype and envision a world without it:
The male type may be an amusing wag; the female must be somber and suggest the superhuman su·per·hu·man
1. Above or beyond the human; preternatural or supernatural.
2. Beyond ordinary or normal human ability, power, or experience: "soldiers driven mad by superhuman misery" . But think how relieved the tension among nations would be, and how much brighter their international discourse, if they could no longer fall back on the obscure divine mother In Hinduism, the Divine Mother is the female polarity of the Godhead, the Shakti or Adi-shakti.
The supreme Shakti or Citi is the original cosmological principle from which the entire universe emerges. for militant justification -- If armored ladies symbolizing war, preparedness, and patriotism, or unarmed angels and Amazons leading on embattled hosts were removed from their minds! (65)
Fanny Fern's column, a very public domain, frequently sought to dispel such notions, as she does here in her "Whisper to Romantic Young Ladies":
"A crust of bread, a pitcher of wine, a thatched thatch
1. Plant stalks or foliage, such as reeds or palm fronds, used for roofing.
2. Something, such as a thick growth of hair on the head, that resembles thatch.
3. Dead turf, as on a lawn.
tr.v. roof, and love, -- there's happiness for you." ...
Water and crust! RATHER spare diet! May do for the honey-moon. Don't make much difference then, whether you eat shavings or sardines -- but when you return to substantials...if you can get your husband to smile on anything short of a "sirloin" or a roast turkey, you are a lucky woman....
Lovers have a trick of getting disenchanted dis·en·chant
tr.v. dis·en·chant·ed, dis·en·chant·ing, dis·en·chants
To free from illusion or false belief; undeceive.
[Obsolete French desenchanter, from Old French, , too, when they see their Aramintas with dresses pinned up round the waist, hair powdered with sweeping, faces scowled up over the wash-tub, and soap-suds dripping from red elbows.... (66)
In the 1960s, Judith Viorst Judith Viorst (born February 2, 1931) is an American author, newspaper journalist, and psychoanalysis researcher. She is perhaps best known for her children's literature, such as The Tenth Good Thing About Barney (about the death of a pet) and the Alexander similarly deromanticizes motherhood:
Last year I had a shampoo and set everyweek and Slept an unborken sleep beneath the Venetian chandelier of our discerningly eclectic bedroom, but This year we have a nice baby And Gerber's strained bananas in my hair And gleaming beneath the Venetian chandelier. A diaper pail, a portacrib, and him, A nice baby, drooling on our antique satin spread While I smile and say how nice. It is often said That motherhood is very maturing. (67)
In the same way that nineteenth-century female humorists challenged idealized notions of true womanhood by countering them with the reality of their own experience, today's female humorists tackle the problems of double duty (housekeeping and outside careers), "super momism momism
an excessive attachment and devotion of children to their mothers, resulting in a child’s dependence and failure to achieve emotional emancipation.
See also: Mother
Noun 1. ," and the Barbie complex.
The endless cleaning up after others that is part of woman's experience provides a source for much women's humor, from Fanny Fern's description of wives standing over the washtub to contemporary cultural anthropologist Noun 1. cultural anthropologist - an anthropologist who studies such cultural phenomena as kinship systems
anthropologist - a social scientist who specializes in anthropology Riane Eisler's observation that if women ran the world, toxic waste toxic waste is waste material, often in chemical form, that can cause death or injury to living creatures. It usually is the product of industry or commerce, but comes also from residential use, agriculture, the military, medical facilities, radioactive sources, and would not be a problem because we have always picked up after ourselves. Then, of course, there is also the woman who insists that no one should say anything about her housework on the grounds that she shouldn't be criticized for something she didn't do. But housekeeping is approached from a different angle by Nikki Giovanni Yolande Cornelia "Nikki" Giovanni (born June 7, 1943 in Knoxville, Tennessee) is a Grammy-nominated American poet, activist and author. Giovanni is currently a Distinguished Professor of English at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. , who shifts the focus from drudgery to self-asserting practice:
Housecleaning i always liked housecleaning even as a child i dug straightening the cabinets putting new paper on the shelves washing the refrigerator inside out and unfortunately this habit has carried over and i find i must remove you from my life (68)
Giovanni, instead of focusing on the unromantic aspects of housecleaning house·clean·ing
1. The cleaning and tidying of a house and its contents.
2. Informal Removal of unwanted personnel, methods, or policies in an effort at reform or improvement. , treats it as a skill that has added to her character and employs it as an effective domestic metaphor.
While domestic humor served the purposes of nineteenth-century female humorists, an undervaluation un·der·val·ue
tr.v. un·der·val·ued, un·der·val·u·ing, un·der·val·ues
1. To assign too low a value to; underestimate.
2. To have too little regard or esteem for. of the domestic arena contributed to their disappearance; and it is only through the work of feminist scholars that so many voices, so much like our own, have been preserved so that we can laugh-and cope-with them. "Domestic humor," say Walker and Dresner, "provided a way for both writer and audience to minimize through laughter and, therefore, better cope with the frustrations and demands of their lives." (69) Their comment suggests the undercurrent of much domestic humor: anger.
The Angry Woman: The Tactical Use of Humor as a Nonalienating Means of Resistance
While women laugh, they also cope with anger and stress in a positive way. Women's humor generally does not involve ridicule, deprecation dep·re·cate
tr.v. de·pre·cat·ed, de·pre·cat·ing, de·pre·cates
1. To express disapproval of; deplore.
2. To belittle; depreciate. , or humiliation, but aggression is not absent; rather, it has been masked. In general, disempowered members of a culture are restricted from the expression of their anger because it would be perceived by the dominant forces as a direct threat, so anger is either repressed or expressed in seemingly non-threatening ways. Although expression of anger through humor presumably pre·sum·a·ble
That can be presumed or taken for granted; reasonable as a supposition: presumable causes of the disaster. represents no threat to the status quo, any self-expression whatsoever remains empowering and signifies a rejection of cultural codes. It represents what Elizabeth Janeway Elizabeth Janeway (October 7, 1913 – January 15, 2005) was an American author and critic.
Born Elizabeth Ames Hall in Brooklyn, New York, her naval architect father and homemaker mother fell on hard times during the Depression, leading her to end her Swarthmore has called the "first power of the weak," that is, the "ordered use of the power to disbelieve dis·be·lieve
v. dis·be·lieved, dis·be·liev·ing, dis·be·lieves
To refuse to believe in; reject.
To withhold or reject belief. ." (70) Women's humor refuses to accept hegemonic definitions of women and thereby subverts them.
In general, women release anger and aggression subtly and indirectly. Female humorists seem particularly adept at this. Emily Toth asserts that:
Women humorists from Anne Bradstreet Noun 1. Anne Bradstreet - poet in colonial America (born in England) (1612-1672)
Anne Dudley Bradstreet, Bradstreet through Anna Howard Shaw were all, in some way, angry: about the limited roles they were given, about the pious platitudes droned at them to justify their submission, about the outright false statements about women's "nature." But their responses were not truly an attack on men, not a "so's your old man" response. Theirs was an attack on patriarchal norms -- on hypocrisy, on irresponsibility -- in the name of a higher norm. Women humorists were not seeking domination -- but equality. (71)
Nancy Walker likewise maintains that even when it points to the absurdities of the patriarchy, women's humor has a "subtext sub·text
1. The implicit meaning or theme of a literary text.
2. The underlying personality of a dramatic character as implied or indicated by a script or text and interpreted by an actor in performance. of anguish and frustration." (72)
Sarcastic humor in particular carries an undertone of anger and provides an outlet for rage that has been too long repressed. Each successive time I teach Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin Uncle Tom’s Cabin
highly effective, sentimental Abolitionist novel. [Am. Lit.: Jameson, 513]
See : Antislavery , I am increasingly struck by the undertone of anger that accompanies it. Sarcasm functions most effectively as a means of social criticism, and Stowe waxes eloquent when she takes on the fugitive slave In the history of slavery in the United States, a fugitive slave was a slave who had escaped his or her enslaver often with the intention of traveling to a place where the state of his or her enslavement was either illegal or not enforced. law. Apologizing for the crude behavior of the slavecatchers gathered in an inn, the narrator NARRATOR. A pleader who draws narrs serviens narrator, a sergeant at law. Fleta, 1. 2, c. 37. Obsolete. says to her readers:
If any of our refined and Christian readers object to the society into which this scene introduces them, let us beg them to begin and conquer their prejudices in time. The catching business, we beg to remind them, is rising to the dignity of a lawful and patriotic profession. If all the broad land between the Mississippi and the Pacific becomes one great market for bodies and souls, and human property retains the locomotive tendencies of this nineteenth century, the trader and catcher may yet be among our aristocracy.
When Tom was on a southbound boat on his way to be sold, he witnessed the separation of a slave mother and her child. Stowe contrasts his simple, supposedly ignorant, views in an attempt to shame those who hold more sophisticated views that include acceptance of the sale of human beings:
Tom had watched the whole transaction from first to last, and had a perfect understanding of its results. To him, it looked like something unutterably horrible and cruel, because, poor, ignorant black soul! he had not learned to generalize, and to take enlarged views. If he had only been instructed by certain ministers of Christianity, he might have thought better of it, and seen in it an every-day incident of a lawful trade; a trade which is the vital support of an institution which an American divine tells us has "no evils but such as are inseparable from any other relations in social and domestic life." But Tom, as we see, being a poor, ignorant fellow, whose reading had been confined entirely to the New Testament, could not comfort and solace himself with views like these. (73)
Such biting sarcasm represented an overt attack on slavery in America, or what Stowe referred to as the "patriarchal institution," and reflected a particular rage at supporters of slavery who considered themselves good Christians. But Stowe's domestic novel, with its condemnation of slavery, cannot fail to also be read by contemporary readers in the light of the restrictions placed on women of the period--restrictions that amounted to a type of slavery. Her narrative abounds with women from the North and the South, women of all colors and classes, who each faced some kind of oppression in their patriarchal culture. It could be the oppression of the slaveholder who intended to sell her child, the husband who supported the fugitive slave law, or the slavecatcher who barged into her quiet Quaker community. Stowe's ubiquitous satire and sarcasm in her denunciation DENUNCIATION, crim. law. This term is used by the civilians to signify the act by which au individual informs a public officer, whose duty it is to prosecute offenders, that a crime has been committed. It differs from a complaint. (q.v.) Vide 1 Bro. C. L. 447; 2 Id. 389; Ayl. Parer. of slavery must certainly also reflect her own frustration with woman's oppression. (74)
While Stowe's relatively privileged position, as the wife of a clergyman and a member of the well-known Beecher family Originating in New England, the Beecher family in the 19th century was a political family notable for issues of religion, civil rights and social reform. Notable members of the family include clergy (Congregationalists), educators, authors and artists. , made her sarcasm not too risky a project, Harriet Jacobs, ex-slave of a respected town doctor in North Carolina North Carolina, state in the SE United States. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean (E), South Carolina and Georgia (S), Tennessee (W), and Virginia (N). Facts and Figures
Area, 52,586 sq mi (136,198 sq km). Pop. (with relatives still under his control), had to be more careful. Stowe's anger in part reflected her keen ability to empathize with the slave woman, but Harriet Jacobs's anger was developed firsthand. In the narrative of her life under slavery and her eventual escape, she tells the story of her Aunt Nancy, the servant of her mistress ("Mrs. Flint"), who was forced, even in sickness or disability, to make herself available to the demanding woman twenty-four hours a day. At night she had to sleep on the floor outside her mistress' door in case she needed her. The toll on her own health caused her to lose all of her own children through premature birth premature birth
Birth less than 37 weeks after conception. Infants born as early as 23–24 weeks may survive but many face lifelong disabilities (e.g., cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness). and eventually resulted in her own premature death Premature Death occurs when a living thing dies of a cause other than old age. A premature death can be the result of injury, illness, violence, suicide, poor nutrition (often stemming from low income), starvation, dehydration, or other factors. . Jacobs tells how the whole town was impressed with her mistress' devotion to her servant when she announced that she wanted to provide a plot in her own cemetery for her "beloved" servant -- a black person had never been buried in the white cemetery -- but Jacobs was not moved. She related how her grandmother refused the offer:
When my grandmother was consulted, she at once said she wanted Nancy to lie with all the rest of her family, and where her own old body would be buried. Mrs. Flint graciously complied with her wish, though she said it was painful to her to have Nancy buried away from her. She might have added with touching pathos, "I was so long used to sleep with her lying near me, on the entry floor." (75)
Jacobs, a recently freed black woman in the North with family still in the South, was under even more pressure than most women of the period to repress re·press
1. To hold back by an act of volition.
2. To exclude something from the conscious mind. her anger. Her narrative was written under a pseudonym pseudonym (s`dənĭm) [Gr.,=false name], name assumed, particularly by writers, to conceal identity. A writer's pseudonym is also referred to as a nom de plume (pen name). -- Linda Brent -- with the names of the principals changed. Probably the humor and sarcasm in her narrative were toned down considerably and represent only the tip of an iceberg.
Regenia Gagnier, in her study of Victorian middle-class and working women's humor, purports that their humor, targeting social incongruities, represented a "prolonged anarchic assault upon the codes constricting con·strict
v. con·strict·ed, con·strict·ing, con·stricts
1. To make smaller or narrower by binding or squeezing.
2. To squeeze or compress.
3. them." It had "socio-behavioral implications for exploring difference rather than merely disparaging it and for prolonged critical action rather then momentary release." (76) Suzanne Bunkers points out that the use of sarcastic humor "enables women to speak out in a non-violent, assertive way about adverse societal norms and to take the first step toward replacing pejorative images of women with more positive images." (77) Implicit in Adj. 1. implicit in - in the nature of something though not readily apparent; "shortcomings inherent in our approach"; "an underlying meaning"
underlying, inherent Bunkers's comment is the notion that women seek change through nonviolent means. Women also seek change through nonalienating means--that is, in ways that preserve relationship and connection. Harriet Jacobs's narrative engenders in her readers a deep empathy for her grandmother who, although a free woman, refused to move away from her beloved community and her lifelong attachments there. Uncle Tom's Cabin abounds with characters (even slaveholders) who also appeal to the reader's sympathy, because of their valued interpersonal relationships. A violation of these relationships becomes the greatest crime, and we are allowed to hate only those characters who break up families and whose evil natures are exaggerated and overstated o·ver·state
tr.v. o·ver·stat·ed, o·ver·stat·ing, o·ver·states
To state in exaggerated terms. See Synonyms at exaggerate.
o . Even when women humorists target such "evil" men in their humor, it is rarely with the sadistic sa·dism
1. The deriving of sexual gratification or the tendency to derive sexual gratification from inflicting pain or emotional abuse on others.
2. The deriving of pleasure, or the tendency to derive pleasure, from cruelty. derisiveness that characterizes some men's humor.
Conclusion: Women's Humor as Creative Imagination
Emily Toth claims that women's humor has gone beyond the mocker characteristic of much of men's humor and beyond parody and role reversal In psychodrama, role reversal is a technique where the protagonist is asked, by the psychodrama director, to exchange roles with another person (an auxiliary ego) on the psychodrama stage. The former assumes as many of the roles of the other as possible and vice versa. to a third stage: "creating new norms, a new culture." It attacks the stereotypes that have for so long restricted women but seeks to replace them with something new. With impressive insight, Bruere and Beard stated that "under stress especially it is important to remember laughter, for it is more than a defense mechanism, a means of adjusting to circumstances, a safety-valve against tyranny--it is an agency in creative enterprise." (78) Women take their oppression and, through humor, turn it around and create. Regenia Gagnier calls it "a process of imaginative engagement." (79) This creativity represents women's attempts to deal with the incongruities of women's situation in a patriarchal society while maintaining connection and relationship with each other and the males in their lives.
Women's humor reflects our need to be understood as well as our need to understand others. Janet Surrey tells us that women all share the need to be understood or "recognized" by others, but it is equally important, "but not yet emphasized, that women all through their lives feel the need to understand the other--indeed desire this as an essential part of their own growth and development, as an essential part of self-worth and the ability to act." (80) Women's humor, by allowing for the simultaneous expressions of protest and desire for connection, empowers women by facilitating their ability to act.
Further studies of women's humor should consider more thoroughly the role of language, which plays a critical role in psychological development and also represents an essential element of most humor. I have examined briefly how language plays a role similar to humor in self-expression and the establishment and maintenance of connection, but there is more work to be done. The acquisition of language is an important part of the process of relationship, for it signifies a major step in the infant's ability to communicate, and thus connect, with her mother. Women's use of language continues to facilitate the same goal. (81)
However, even before the first word is ever spoken, there are lots of smiles and play that strengthen the connection between mother and child. When the mother provides a nurturing, facilitating environment for the baby, she makes room for the smiles and laughter of play, the first social interaction. "Peek-a-boo," as humor theorist Thomas R. Shultz notes, "is quite clearly a social phenomenon involving intense interpersonal attachments." (82) Those early instances of laughter arise because the child feels safe and can experiment with her self and her new world and thus prepare for the incongruities of life. That she will grow up using humor as a means of expressing herself and maintaining her connections should come as no surprise.
(1.) Janet Surrey, "The Self-in-Relation: A Theory of Women's Development," in Women's Growth in Connection: Writings from the Stone Center (New York: The Guilford Press, 1991): 62.
(2.) Kate Sanborn, "Introduction" to The Wit of Women, in Linda Morris, American Women Humorists (New York Garland Publishing, 1994): 5.
(3.) Robin Lakoff, Language and Woman's Place (New York: Harper & Row, 1975): 56.
(4.) Mahadev L. Apte, Humor and Laughter: An Anthropological Approach (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Cornell University, mainly at Ithaca, N.Y.; with land-grant, state, and private support; coeducational; chartered 1865, opened 1868. It was named for Ezra Cornell, who donated $500,000 and a tract of land. With the help of state senator Andrew D. Press, 1985): 70.
(5.) Mary Crawford. "Just Kidding: Gender and Conversational Humor," in Regina Barreca, ed., New Perspectives on Women and Comedy (Philadelphia: Gordon and Breach, 1992): 24.
(6.) Joe Cox, Raymond Read and Philip Van Auken, "Male-Female Differences in Communicating Job-Related Humor: An Exploratory Study," Humor, 3(3): 288 (1990).
(7.) Martin Grotjahn, Beyond Laughter (New York: McGraw Hill, 1957); Betty Lehan Harragan, Games Mother Never Taught You (New York: Warner, 1977); Sharon Crain, "At Work, it Pays to be Funny," Family Weekly, 27 September 1981; Cox, Read, et al.
(8.) Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (New York: Penguin Books, 1968): 125. In Humane Nature, Hobbes also states: "[T]he Passion of Laughter proceedeth from the sudden imagination of our own oddes and eminency: for what is else the recommending of our selves to our own good opinion, by comparison with another mans infirmity or absurdity?" (London: Anchor, 1651): 102.
(9.) See Lawrence La Fave, Jay Haddad and William A. Maesen, "Superiority, Enhanced Self-Esteem, and Perceived Incongruity Humour Theory," in Antony J. Chapman and Hugh C. Foot, eds., Humour and Laughter: Theory, Research and Applications (London: John Wiley John Wiley may refer to:
(10.) For an excellent analysis of identity theory in humor, see Norman N. Holland, Laughing: A Psychology of Humor (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1982).
(11.) See Jeffrey H. Goldstein and Paul E. McGhee, The Psychology of Humor: Theoretical Perspectives and Empirical Issues (New York: Academic Press, 1972): 13. Some psychoanalytic theories of humor build on this notion of humor as an energy-release function, a tool of the ego (Goldstein, 20).
(12.) Sigmund Freud, "Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes," in vol. 19 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, James Strachey James Beaumont Strachey (1887 – 1967) was a British psychoanalyst, and, with his wife Alix, a translator of Sigmund Freud into English.
He was a son of Lt-Gen Sir Richard Strachey & Lady (Jane) Strachey; called the enfant miracle , ed. and trans. (London: Hogarth Press, 1931): 243-258.
(13.) See Goran Nerhardt, "Incongruity and Funniness: Towards a Ncw Descriptive Model," in Chapman and Foot, Humour and Laughter: Theory, Research and Applications (London: John Wiley & Sons, 1976): 55.
(14.) G.B. Milner, in Norman Holland, Laughing, 27.
(16.) Henri Bergson, Laughter: An essay on the Meaning of the Comic (New York: Macmillan, 1911): 27.
(17.) Holland, Laughing, 22.
(18.) Theodor Lipps, Grundlegung der Aesthetik, 1903: 575
(19.) See Mary K. Rothbart, "Incongruity, Problem-Solving and Laughter," in Chapman and Foot, Humor and Laughter, Max Eastman
Max Forrester Eastman , The Enjoyment of Laughter (New York, 1936); D. E. Berlyne, "Laughter, Humor, and Play," in Gardner Lindzey and Elliott Aronson, eds., The Handbook of Social Psychology, 2d ed., (Reading, MA, 1969, III), pp. 795-852; and Norman Holland, Laughter, p.30.
(20.) Rothbart, 38.
(21.) Martha Bensley Bruere and Mary Ritter Beard Mary Ritter Beard (August 5,1876 – August 14, 1958), was a United States historian and campaigner for woman's suffrage.
She was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. Like her husband Charles A. , eds., Laughing Their Way: Women's Humor in America (New York: MacMillan, 1934): viii.
(22.) Alice Duer Miller, from Are Women People? A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times, in Nancy Walker and Zita Dresner, eds., Redressing the Balance: American Women's Literary Humor from Colonial Times to the 1980s (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi The University Press of Mississippi, founded in 1970, is a publisher that is sponsored by the eight state universities in Mississippi:
(23.) Martin Luther, The Table Talk of Martin Luther, 1531; cited in Tama Starr Tama Starr is an American businesswoman and author.
She is currently the President of Artkraft Strauss the largest outdoor advertising company in the Eastern US. , ed., The "Natural Inferiority" of Women: Outrageous Pronouncements by Misguided Males (New York: Poseidon Press, 1991): 178.
(24.) La Fave et al., 89.
(25.) In Holland, Laughter, 93.
(26.) Ibid., 94.
(27.) Most contemporary theorists of humor discuss its use as a means of challenging authority. See Ron Jenkins, Subversive Laughter: The Liberating Power of Comedy (New York: The Free Press, 1994).
(28.) Nancy Walker, A Very Serious Thing: Women's Humor and American Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota (body, education) University of Minnesota - The home of Gopher.
Address: Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. , 1988): 13, and Nancy Walker and Zita Dresner, Redressing the Balance: American Women's Literary Humor from Colonial Times to the 1980s (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1988): xxiii.
(29.) There is an important exception to this finding, however. According to Apte's study (fn 3), women are more likely to ridicule men and make sexual jokes within a group of women than in a mixed group.
(30.) Bergson claims that "our laughter is always the laughter of a group ... It must have a social signification SIGNIFICATION, French law. The notice given of a decree, sentence or other judicial act. ," in Holland, Laughter, 31.
(31.) Crawford, 31.
(32.) Regina Barreca, ed., Last Laughs: Perspectives on Women and Comedy (New York: Gordon and Breach, 1988): 118, 194. One study found that both men and women prefer longer anecdotal jokes to shorter ones, which is interesting considering they are not the ones men are most likely to tell (See Torborg Lundell, "An Experiential Exploration of Why Men and Women Laugh," Humor 6(3): 301 (1993).
(33.) Barreca, 2.
(34.) Ibid., 61.
(35.) Paul McGhee, "The Role of Laughter and Humor in Growing Up Female," in Claire B. Kopp, ed., Becoming Female: Perspectives on Development (New York: Plenum Press, 1979): 183-84.
(36.) Alice Sheppard, "Social Cognition Social cognition is the study of how people process social information, especially its encoding, storage, retrieval, and application to social situations. Social cognition’s focus on information processing has many affinities with its sister discipline, cognitive psychology. , Gender Roles, and Women's Humor," in June Sochen, ed., Women's Comic Visions (Detroit: Wayne State University Wayne State University, at Detroit, Mich.; state supported; coeducational; established 1956 as a successor to Wayne Univ. (formed 1934 by a merger of five city colleges). Press, 1991): 39.
(37.) Crawford, 32.
(38.) Crawford Tannen and other researchers cited here qualify their findings as generalities and note that exceptions are common.
(39.) Mercilee Jenkins, "What's So Funny? Joking Among Women," in N. Caskey, S. Bremner, B. Moonwomon, eds., The Proceedings of the First Berkeley Women and Language Conference (Berkeley: Berkeley Women and Language Group, 1985): 6.
(41.) Walker, xi-xii.
(42.) Mahadev Apte points out that as women age, the restrictions on their humor are eased. Regenia Gagnier summarizes Apte's findings: "Men fear women's humor for much the same reason that they fear women's sexual freedom -- because they encourage women's aggression and promiscuity Promiscuity
See also Profligacy.
constantly flits from one girl to another. [Aust. Drama: Schnitzler Anatol in Benét, 33]
promiscuous goddess of sensual love. [Gk. Myth. and thus disrupt the social order, that therefore men desire to control women's humor just as they desire to control women's sexuality -- to wit, in the public domain." Thus, men's use of sexual humor serves a social-sexual role of oppression. (Regenia Gagnier, "Between Women: A Cross-class Analysis of Status and Anarchic Humor," Women's Studies women's studies
pl.n. (used with a sing. or pl. verb)
An academic curriculum focusing on the roles and contributions of women in fields such as literature, history, and the social sciences. 15: 137(1988).
(43.) These are findings in the research of psychoanalyst Natalie Becker and folklorist Carol Mitchell Carol Mitchell is a politician in Ontario, Canada. She is currently a member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, representing the riding of Huron—Bruce for the Liberal Party. (cited in Barreca, Regina. Last Laughs, pp.12 and 65, respectively).
(44.) Barreca, 100.
(45.) Ibid., 65.
(46.) Michael Mulkay, On Humor. Its Nature and Its Place in Modem Society (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988): 149.
(47.) Barreca, 86. Emphasis mine.
(48.) Ibid., 100.
(49.) Murray S. Davis, What's So Funny? The Comic Conception of Culture and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press The University of Chicago Press is the largest university press in the United States. It is operated by the University of Chicago and publishes a wide variety of academic titles, including The Chicago Manual of Style, dozens of academic journals, including , 1993): 276.
(50.) Quoted in Davis, What's So Funny.
(51.) Dolf Zillmann and Joanne R Cantor, "A Disposition Theory of Humour and Mirth," in Chapman and Foot, Humour and Laughter, (London: John Wiley & Sons, 1976): 95.
(52.) See Sigmund Freud, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905), in vol. 8 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, James Strachey, ed. and trans. (London: Hogarth Press, 1931).
(53.) McGhee, Becoming Female, 199.
(54.) Christopher Wilson, Jokes: Form, Content, Use and Function (New York: Academic Press. 1979): 142.
(55.) Ibid., 142.
(56.) Davis, What's So Funny?, 174.
(57.) Wilson, Jokes, 149.
(58.) Walker, A Very Serious Thing xxiii.
(59.) Erma Bombeck Erma Louise Bombeck (February 21 1927 – April 22, 1996), born Erma Fiste, was an American humorist who achieved great popularity for a newspaper column that depicted suburban home life in the second half of the 20th century. , At Wit's End, quoted in Walker and Dresner, 371.
(60.) Suzanne L. Bunkers, "Why Are These Women Laughing? The Power and Politics of Women's Humor," Studies in American Humor 4(1/2): 83-84 (Spring 1985).
(61.) Nancy Reincke, "Antidote to Dominance: Women's Laughter as Counteraction," Journal of Popular Culture The Journal of Popular Culture (JPC) is a peer-reviewed journal and the official publication of the Popular Culture Association.
The popular culture movement was founded on the principle that the perspectives and experiences of common folk offer compelling insights into the 24(4): 36 (Spring 1991).
(62.) Marietta Holley, [Josiah Allen's Wife], My Opinions and Betsey Bobbet's (Hartford, CT: 1874): 92.
(63.) Fanny Fern, in Ruth Hall and Other Writings, Joyce W. Warren, ed. (New Brunswick New Brunswick, province, Canada
New Brunswick, province (2001 pop. 729,498), 28,345 sq mi (73,433 sq km), including 519 sq mi (1,345 sq km) of water surface, E Canada. and London: Rutgers University Press Rutgers University Press is a nonprofit academic publishing house, operating in Piscataway, New Jersey under the auspices of Rutgers University. The press was founded in 1936, and since that time has grown in size and in the scope of its publishing program. , 1986): 225.
(64.) Apte, 81.
(65.) Bruere and Beard, vi.
(66.) Fern, 229.
(67.) Judith Viorst, "Nice Baby," in Walker and Dresner, 375.
(68.) Nikki Giovanni, "Housecleaning," in Walker and Dresner, 407.
(69.) Walker and Dresner, xxxi.
(70.) Elizabeth Janeway, Powers of the Weak (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980): 167.
(71.) Emily Toth, "A Laughter of Their Own: Women's Humor in the United States," in Linda Morris, ed., American Women Humorists (New York: Garland Publishing, 1994): 90.
(72.) Walker, xii.
(73.) Harriett Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin (New York: Viking Penguin, 1981): 209-210.
(74.) Although Stowe did not endorse women's political rights at the time she wrote the novel, later in life she came to espouse them. With her sister, Catherine Beecher, she believed in woman's moral superiority and her ultimate spiritual triumph; and she never underestimated woman's ability to change society.
(75.) Harriet Jacobs, in Jean Fagan Yellin, ed., Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Cambridge: Harvard University Press The Harvard University Press is a publishing house, a division of Harvard University, that is highly respected in academic publishing. It was established on January 13, 1913. In 2005, it published 220 new titles. , 1987): 146.
(76.) Regenia Gagnier, "Between Women: A Cross-class Analysis of Status and Anarchic Humor," Women's Studies 15: 138 (1988).
(77.) Bunkers, 86.
(78.) Bruere and Beard, v.
(79.) Gagnier, 140.
(80.) Janet Surrey, "The Self-in-Relation: A Theory of Women's Development," in Women's Growth in Connection: Writings from the Stone Center (New York: The Guliford Press, 1991): 62. Emphasis mine.
(81.) Daniel Stern, Interpersonal World of the infant: A View from Psychoanalysis and Developmental Psychology developmental psychology
Branch of psychology concerned with changes in cognitive, motivational, psychophysiological, and social functioning that occur throughout the human life span. (New York: Basic Books, 1985). Based on empirical studies, this book has provided the impetus for reevaluation of theories of language acquisition. Stem's assertion, based on experiments and observations, that language is an outgrowth of the many attempts of the infant to connect with the primary caretaker contradicts traditional psychoanalytic theory, which positions language acquisition as the entry into the father's world.
(82.) Thomas R. Shultz, "A Cognitive-Developmental Analysis of Humour," in Chapman and Foot, Humour and Laughter, 31.