Google ‘funny women’ and you’ll find yourself in a world of debate
about whether women are funny, why funny women are intimidating, and even a nice little article about “why men don’t fancy funny women”. Don’t worry if you’re puzzled by this supposed correlation between gender and funniness; you are one of the clever ones because so far as I can tell it is entirely – ssshhh – IMAGINERY. Some men are funny and others aren’t, but I’ve never seen anyone debate the success of male comedians, or suggest that funny men are wasting their time on humour. But then along came this week with feminist discussion of humour in bucketloads. On the one hand we had Ellie Mae O’Hagan’s passionate assertion that
lols are all well and good, but it’s anger that will change the world. On the other, we had anonymous commenters, facebook trolls and die-hard Family Guy fans alike lumping us into the angry feminist cliché box as soon as we spoke up against Seth MacFarlane’s Oscar-worthy display of sexism at Sunday’s ceremony. Women occupy a world of double standards – not too skinny, not too fat; sexually available without being a slut; made-up but not overdone. Now, it seems we can add humour to that ever-increasing list. It will change nothing, according to O’Hagan, but being angry at other people’s jokes gets you labelled an all-round feminist fun sponge. How to negotiate this newest of double standards then? Let’s start with MacFarlane and his presenting fiasco. Where to start is a task in itself – in the duration of the 4 hour ceremony he managed to call Jennifer Aniston a stripper, make a Chris Brown/Rihanna gag, go off on some weird semi-racist tangent about Hispanic actors, and make a sex joke about a 9-year-old girl who was not only sat in the audience, but nominated for the coveted Best Actress Award. But obviously to make any difference in the world we have to pick our battles and then get really ANGRY about them, so let’s go with the frankly ridiculous opening number, ‘We Saw Your Boobs’. For those that were spared the pleasure, the song was just as lyrically profound as the title suggests, composed of the catchy ditty repeated over and over with verses comprising a who’s who of female Hollywood based on who had got their tits out for the all-male-choir-lads, wheeey. Because obviously, in a room packed full of inspiring, talented women, their defining feature is still one – or maybe I should say two – shared by the rest of the female population. Making it on to the big screen might be glamorous and glitzy – although I’m willing to bet not to the extent we fantasise about – but it also takes hard graft, time and effort. In the cases of the women who’ve appeared topless on screen, it also likely took a massive sacrifice precisely because we live in a society intent on reducing a woman’s worth to pouches of lobules and milk ducts on a daily basis. There are some scenes where I reckon that hard graft, skill, effort and sacrifice is called on more than in most. Maybe, for example, in the four scenes mentioned in MacFarlane’s song that actually depicted rape. Probably most pertinently in the two that were based on true stories. Yep, you heard me. He really did include those references. But nudity IS funny. There’s no denying it. A naked body can denote humour just as it can denote vulnerability, sexuality, art, beauty… Or maybe that’s just when men do it. Because I notice that, in a year that gave us films such as Magic Mike, about male stripping, nude scenes from male actors didn’t make the cut for MacFarlane’s song. While men’s bodies are their tools, used for their own purposes to provoke the desired reaction, apparently women’s remain nothing more than the passive recipients of male scrutiny. A song called ‘We Saw You Naked’ might have been lowbrow and childish, but it might also have been funny. A sleazy, sexist song reducing hard-working and talented women to their naked bodies is not. This sleaziness is perhaps most obvious in MacFarlane’s mention of Scarlett Johansson whose boobs, he kindly tells us, he didn’t see in a film but on his phone after explicit pictures of her, taken in private, were leaked to the press without her permission. If a man can get cheap laughs out of the betrayal of a woman’s trust in this way, we really have stooped very very low. Of course, the disgusted expressions on the faces of Naomi Watts and Charlize Theron during the song have now been confirmed as pre-recorded and part of the joke, so that’s all fine. Except that I’m willing to suggest that there’s something even less palatable about telling women to look ashamed and embarrassed at mention of their bare bodies, while the eponymous subject of the line “We haven’t seen Jennifer Lawrence’s boobs at all” is pictured punching the air in celebration. In real, non pre-recorded land though, the song was reportedly met with disdain from the likes of Jane Fonda, Lena Dunham and Helen Hunt. Katheryn Bigelow was also apparently offended by its content – unsurprising really, when you consider that she is the only woman ever to have won the Best Director Oscar, and one of only 4 to be nominated. Unsurprising when you consider that 9 women collected awards on Sunday compared to 30 men. Unsurprising when you realise that the Oscars awards board is 77% male. So Ellie should be pleased. I’m suitably angry at MacFarlane’s humour, just as she likes it. Maybe I’ll change the world. Except that I probably won’t, because there will be many people reading this, men and women alike, who are currently rolling their eyes and thinking about how I just can’t take a joke, how I’m just another angry woman ranting. How I’ll never make any difference by shouting for a page and a half. And I – to a certain extent – am inclined to agree with them. Because women don’t strive for equality by fitting into a handy little tick box, or a convenient mass. We strive for equality by showing how, like men, we are multi-faceted and can experience more than one emotion at a time. Like men, we’re a heterogeneous group who don’t always agree with each other and who have different skills, experiences and talents to draw on for our own purposes. Some of us are fantastic actresses, like those namechecked above who have made their contribution to women’s liberation by depicting issues like rape and violence, something MacFarlane dismissed in one fell swoop. Some of us are really clever and will write books that change people’s thinking forever. Some are beautiful or sexy, others are kind and caring, and they all have attributes that they can use to make a difference. We will all be angry sometimes, because we’re human beings, and that anger can be powerful or difficult or sad. Most of us are, at various points in our life, a different combination of any or
all of the above, and much, much more. And some of us are really, really funny. Hilarious even. I have no doubt that many women will use that hilarity to change the world. Because it’s not that women need to get a sense of humour, and it’s not that we need to be angry all the time to make a difference. It’s just that people like Seth MacFarlane need to stop making us the butt of the joke in the first place.