My kids are hilarious. If you followed me on twitter, you’d already know this. Rarely a day goes by without some comedy disaster involving underpants, missing homework or a mix-up between Star Wars and real life. It might not sound funny now but if you heard about their antics in real time (which twitter permits), you’d be rolling in the aisles. Or at least mildly amused. Or maybe you’d just unfollow. Anyhow, to me they will always be unwitting comedy giants.

I tweet about the funny things they say because they have no idea why I’m laughing, and I feel a bit pathetic laughing on my own (or worse, at them). The way in which a child’s intelligence develops ahead of knowledge or experience can often be tedious, but just occasionally it leads to wonderful linguistic errors, bizarrely out-of-place quotations and passionate defences of things which simply cannot be true (although mistrustful observers rarely bear in mind how much random nonsense you’ve had to get through before mining these gems). Obviously when it’s your own child you believe these flashes of hilarity may also be a sign that your offspring is a total genius (that one time my six-year-old said the Tudors were followed by the Steves, I was dining out on it for months).

I might share daft things my children say, and you may or may not find them amusing, but here’s the thing: it doesn’t make me less politically engaged. It doesn’t mean I think this is the only thing the internet is for. It doesn’t mean I am naturally conservative, unthinking, classist, fantastical, desperate for retweets from “some fifth-rate blazer ‘n’ T-shirt wearing comedian who guest-starred in one episode of Rev and has gained 2,500 followers as a result”. Except apparently it does. Some blokes – one of whom, Clive Martin, wrote a piece for Vice, the other of whom set up a “hilarious, but not in an uncool mumsy way” twitter account – have decreed that it is so. Humour is for the child-free hipsters. Iconoclasm doesn’t allow for maintaining a sense of humour while also keeping a critical focus on material reality; it’s taking the piss out of parents for not keeping out of the way while you treat the internet as one endless, pretentious undergraduate party.

Obviously I like chuckling at the edgy witticisms of youngish men as much as the next person. Like women and older people, parents can’t really do humour. They lack the intellect, moral rigour and involvement with the stuff of real life. They’re not even any good at curating the accidental bon mots of their little ones, but then that’s hardly surprising. As Clive Martin sympathetically notes in his analysis of The Sad World of Adults Pretending to Be Kids for Retweets:

Looking after a young kid must be pretty arduous and alienating at times, so you can understand why things like Mumsnet and gin exist.

I know! Such empathy from one who still has his finger on the pulse of human endeavour and suffering! The sad thing is, give us parents an inch and we’ll take a mile. We’re not just keeping to the Mumsnet talkboards, we’re now tweeting things about our kids which may not even be funny! Think of all the important twitterspace that’s taking up! Space that could be devoted to important things, such as mocking people because reasons.

While many of the current targets of mockery are male, I can’t help thinking there is a thinly veiled misogyny behind this latest round of parent-bashing (with the implication being that men who tweet about their children are in some way less intellectually engaged and honest, and therefore less “male”). Feminists have long pointed out that experiences of childcare and domestic life are edged out of public discourse, and this applies whether we’re talking about comedy or art. Such experiences are not considered “authentic” enough. When Marilyn French wrote The Women’s Room, the life of someone who cares for children was not considered novel-worthy. There’s nothing grand, nothing big or meaningful, even if it represents a person’s whole horizon. Why should the real people – those out there in proper, public life – have to come anywhere close to it? Why should anyone want to read your pathetic little domestic tweets, even in a light-hearted context? That’s not proper activism, at least not when activism is reduced to gaining retweets. But shouldn’t it be more than that?

Does it matter whether the tweets are true? Well, jokes frequently aren’t true, or are based on exaggeration (mine aren’t. My kids really are that funny. Honest). The problem, I feel, is the subject matter and the fact that individuals should gain approval for something considered so lowly. Only a tiny sector of society – youngish, child-free, male, snarky, educated yet cagey about it – are allowed that special pat on the back.

Parenting is not, in and of itself, anti-establishment. It enforces a degree of enclosure. Nevertheless, the minutiae of childrearing, the shared truths, even the shared lies, are part of how a community is formed. Mocking inoffensive jokes isn’t just hurtful; it betrays a misanthropy which shouldn’t form part of drive for social change. My children might not make you laugh but that’s not your problem.

Just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, even someone who believes in “rape shoes” and accuses Katie Price of being “Vichy France” can have moments of feminist glory. I thought this when reading Caitlin Moran’s latest Times column, which is on the subject of Seth MacFarlane’s 2013 Oscars misogyny-fest. In it, she looks at all the excuses that are trotted out for “ironic bigotry; faux misogyny; pretend racism; satirical homophobia” and calls bullshit on the claim that white, male, heterosexual comedians are merely “acknowledging the historical elephant in the room”:

Here’s the problem: in all these instances, the comedians were not acknowledging an elephant that wandered into the room – they brought it into the room. All artists start with an empty page, or a silence – and this is what they wanted to talk about. Over and over.

As Moran points out, there is no need for men to remind women that sexism used to exist and hey, just in case you’ve forgotten, this is what it looked and felt like. What’s so offensive about the whole thing isn’t just that these men are still being sexist, but that they’re using such a self-congratulatory argument to get themselves off the hook: “look, I was only parodying what people used to do to you for real”. If I’m honest, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if one day some clever-clever rapist were to claim he was merely performing a slapstick satire of the days when men used to have sex with women without their consent (it’s hardly his fault if his victim was too unsophisticated to realise it was all a postmodern joke). (more…)

I have in my time been called a “humourless feminist”. Obviously this is something of which I’m very proud. I think if you’re not called humourless at least once – preferably by someone who’s also speculating on where you are in your menstrual cycle – then you’re doing feminism wrong (this rule applies regardless of whether or not you’re someone who actually menstruates. I’m pretty sure my partner’s been accused of having PMS in his time, although clearly not by me). (more…)

Two days ago the “comedian”/professional arsehole Frankie Boyle sent out the following tweet:

My advice to people with depression is to keep it to yourself, maybe just fuck off on your own when you’re down, it’s a bit of a drag.

As someone who has suffered from depression, I’m not about to get all upset about this. I know there is genuine prejudice surrounding mental illness. However, I doubt many people will read Boyle’s tweet and think a) “hey, perhaps he’s got a point” or b) “ha ha, that’s hilarious”. If anything, I’d like to think Boyle might giving those who seek to raise awareness a helping hand. After all, “Frankie Boyle” is synonymous with “person who says shit things just to be offensive”.  Thus bullying the mentally ill can be placed alongside laughing at rape victims and mocking the disabled as something you only do if you’re a total bastard with a career that’s completely reliant on desperate, toddler-esque boundary-pushing. (more…)

This evening I stayed late at work, while all the sad little mummies and daddies rushed home to their… Oh, hang on, I’ve got some of them, too! Never mind. They’re cute, they’ll manage. Anyhow, where was I? Oh yeah, I was late in the office with some of the cool kids when I overheard the following conversation:

So, yeah, I’m actually thinking of “un-friending” her on Facebook since she had that baby. It’s all she ever goes on about.

I know! New parents are boring as hell! Always on about sleeping patterns and poo! Can’t they understand? We don’t want to know!

[cue OTT laughter]

Yeah, it’s mad. It’s like, when they put scan photos up on their desks. First you think, ooh, that must be the solar system! They you realise it’s the inside of their missus’s stomach.

[everyone totally dies at colleague's unrivaled wit]

At which point I decided it was hometime. Hence I gathered my things and left, aiming for the nonchalance of the child-free as I brushed past what must surely have been candidates for the next Edinburgh Comedy Award. (more…)

Today, after 36 years of false starts, confused outbursts and misguided ‘girl power’ moments, I finally graduated as a feminist. At long last, after countless attempts at winding up the patriarchy, the Man finally took the bait. I am, according to ‘Sarah’, who commented on this thread, not only lacking in humour, but may also have PMS. Sisters, I’ve made it! I’m a humourless feminist with PMS! High fives all round!

It’s been an arduous struggle getting here. Being heterosexual, having big tits and remaining undecided on Tori Amos haven’t helped, but somehow I’ve made it. Even so, I won’t rest on my laurels just yet. After all, I still haven’t been accused of having hairy legs, being a lesbian or, the biggie we all aim for, hating all men (Sarah, come on! Haven’t I done enough yet? I’ll put on some dungarees if it’ll help). To be fair, I wouldn’t even mind being a lesbian or having hairy legs, since both of these seem perfectly reasonable (or is this the PMS talking?). I’d definitely swap a night of passion with Caitlin Moran for having pre-menstrual mood swings (WHICH I TOTALLY HAVEN’T GOT!!! SO LEAVE ME ALONE!!!!).

Anyhow, tomorrow I’ll get back to the hard work of pissing off all sensible folk and making sure not to laugh at Family Guy, not even during the surreal bits, cos that’s simply not allowed. Not when you’re fully qualified Humourless Feminist (BA, MSc, PMS). Thanks to all who helped me on my way (Jordan and Geri Halliwell, I love ya!). Hey, do I get some kind of certificate for this?

Where I work I’m lucky enough to sit near two people who are very, very funny. It’s hard to put into words quite what makes them so amusing, but they have a genuine knack of making me, all our colleagues and, above all, each other laugh. It’s all down to their relationship with each other, and the banter, and, every now and then, the songs. One will start singing, then the other will join in, and suddenly they’re parodying Beyoncé in a manner that’s both original and tremendously well observed. All this sounds potentially very annoying, but it isn’t because it’s relatively infrequent and extremely well done. If we worked for some trendy, fake-liberal company like Apple or Ben and Jerry’s, they’d be in line for some annual bonus for being all-round office merriment makers. Or at least they would be, if they were men.

Their type of humour – light, almost silly, but concise, and based on the bringing together and filtering-down of countless snippets of knowledge – does, I think, require a huge amount of intelligence to pull off. It’s a level of intelligence that some might not expect to find in two women in their twenties. And hence some colleagues, men in particular, seem to find it a little strange. They laugh – it’s impossible not to – but then always end on some patronising, belittling note: “Tch! You two! You’re worse than my kids!” As if to say well, sure, you’re funny, but you probably don’t even know why.

We have funny men in our department too (hell, we’re just comedy central). The difference is, they’re not quite as funny (as are none of the other women, either), but also, no one accuses them of being like children. After all, that would be stupid. The humour is self-conscious; they know they’re playing the fool. Not like those crazy females, who don’t really have a clue how or why they’ve struck comedy gold. In any case, comedy geniuses or not, these women keep their humour under wraps when it comes to a boardroom presentation. It’s probably just as well.

Today’s Observer features a piece by Dan Boffey called “Why women’s jokes fall flat in the boardroom“, covering some research completed by linguistics academic Dr Judith Baxter:

An analysis of the 600,000 words used during 14 meetings, seven led by a woman and seven by a man, found sharp differences between the use of humour by men and women in the boardroom – and how the jokes are received. Baxter discovered that the majority of male humour (80%) in business meetings takes the form of flippant, off-the-cuff witticisms or banter. About 90% of it receives an instant, positive response, usually as laughter.Yet most female humour during the course of a meeting is self-deprecatory (70%) and more often than not (at least 80%) is received in silence, according to Baxter.

I read this and it makes me feel instantly miserable. What a quick, direct and effective way to undermine women. Just don’t laugh at their jokes. It’s guaranteed to make a person feel crap. It doesn’t surprise me that female humour is therefore also more self-deprecatory. What do you expect if you’re already in a hostile environment? You’d hardly want to put yourself out on a limb.

Some research into why women are less likely than men to ask for pay rises has suggested that this may, in part, be based on the fact that if they did behave in the same manner as their male counterparts, they would be perceived in a far more negative way and actually undermine their own progress. It’s no good telling a woman to be more like a man; act more like a man when you’re still expected to be a woman, and you’ll piss people off all the more. This is why Baxter’s own advice, based on her research, seems to me to shy away from what’s really required:

What should senior women do about it? They should learn to develop the running gag or light, teasing banter with male and female colleagues at appropriate moments such as the beginning and ends of meetings, passing in the corridor, or while making a cup of tea.

Doesn’t this seem a little, well, patronising? Do women really need to learn the “right” type of humour? Or do we need to learn to respect women enough to appreciate their jokes?

Because I think humour is linked to intellect (one of the many, many reasons why Frankie Boyle isn’t funny), whenever people suggest women “just aren’t” as funny as men, I think it’s a way of saying that actually, deep down, they just aren’t as clever. It’s the new, acceptable way of doing it. They might outperform boys at school, they might be outnumbering men on degree courses, but hey, they just don’t make us laugh. It’s not their fault. It’s just the way they are. Hence we piss ourselves at Russell Brand but smile politely at all the crap “token women” who appear on panel shows. It doesn’t bother us that if these women were saying the same things as the men, we still wouldn’t find it as funny. Oh, it’s in the delivery, we’ll airily say. What part of “the delivery” do we mean? The part that comes with anything being said by someone with a higher-pitched voice? Or the part that comes with us assuming that whatever the subtext of a joke could have been, it probably isn’t there after all, because a woman’s unlikely to get it?

It’s hard to argue seriously about discrimination in humour. You can hardly order someone to find something funny, on the basis that it would be bigoted not to. Furthermore (furthermore! look how serious I’m being!) you can’t objectively measure how funny the telling of a joke is; you can only judge from the response, which can be clouded by all sorts of prejudice. Certainly, from what I see in daily life, women are every bit as funny as men because they’re every bit as clever and capable of making crazy associations, and of puncturing delusions, and of twisting language, and of basically using their minds for fun and to entertain others. We find them less funny only when being so would give them a kind of power.

Funny, that.

BTW, in case you’re wondering whether I’m ever funny in the workplace, no, I’m not. I sometimes make the odd stab at it, but I’m so tired and over-caffeinated people can’t tell whether I’m serious or not, so they end up getting a little bit scared. I do, however, have a good reputation in my workplace for being hilarious on Facebook. I have actually heard colleagues recommend that others “befriend” me, not because I’d be a good friend, but because my Facebook statuses are apparently a laugh a minute. I’m like the Mr Kipling of Facebook: uploads too many boring pictures of her children and won’t add any fish to your virtual aquarium, but she does make exceedingly witty observations about her crap life. It’s reached a point where I can’t take the pressure. What if I lose my touch? I won’t just let myself down, I’ll let down women in my workplace and dampen the “being funny” torch we seek to hold aloft. See, I bet men don’t have similar worries. No wonder they’re laughing.

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