The tired theme that women aren’t funny gets some new life in today’s Guardian, with Germaine Greer trying her hand at the famously explosive topic. Greer’s strategy seems to be to mitigate the objections of ladybloggers and assorted other wimminfolk by following each absurd assertion (“Women are about as funny as a botched colostomy”) with some half-hearted apologia (“But that’s only because they don’t want to be!”).
“Women famously cannot learn jokes,” Greer writes. “If they try, they invariably bugger up the punchline. The male teller of jokes is driving towards his reward, the laughter of his mates. The woman who messes up the same joke does so because her concentration is not sharpened by that need. She is not less intelligent, simply less concerned.”
Oh Germiane, you caught me. Try as I might to tell a good chuckler, my lady brain invariably gets distracted by more pressing issues, like hairstyles and sewing notions.
Wait, though. Greer then backpedals a bit and asserts that women actually can deliver jokes, we just can’t think them up:
“Given an opportunity to perform a finished comedy routine, a female comedian will make you laugh as hard as any man. Put her in an improvisation situation along with male comedians, and she is likely to be left speechless.”
Where the logic of Greer’s argument falls apart is when she moves from moderately fact-based Assertion One, “There are more funny men in entertainment than there are funny women” to unsupported, overreaching Assertion Two, “Men are naturally funnier than women.”
I think that if it is true, at least on average, that a woman is less likely than a man to get a laugh, it’s because boys are raised to attract attention, while girls are brought up to deflect it. All jokes, gags and innuendos basically say the same thing: Look at me. And on the whole, men are more comfortable in the spotlight, possibly because they don’t have an entire entertainment industry firing mortars at their self-worth from the time they pick up a crayon.
I wish there were more funny women. There certainly are a few. It isn’t easy being a woman who’s more piss and vinegar than sugar and spice in a society that still values doe-eyed deference far more than we’d like to admit, and given the choice, I’d much rather laugh than drink, cry and cut myself.
I just hope I won’t be laughing alone.