Funny women in a funny man's world

Especially when it comes to sexual humor, comedy has been traditionally directed toward a predominantly male audience.

“That’s not very ladylike” is a phrase I have heard used to scold young women dozens of times. Immediately, the sentence places unreasonable expectations on girls to behave in a specific manner according to their gender. Be it sitting with closed legs, ignoring bodily functions or keeping quiet about topics that make others uncomfortable, girls are expected to adhere to the invisible guidelines of politeness.

Double standards leak into the realm of comedy constantly. It is common knowledge that female comedians have a much harder time being successful, and the expectation of politeness is to blame.

Whitney Cummings, a stand-up comedienne, told Maureen Dowd of The New York Times that, “When girls write it for themselves, it’s extra taboo because it’s like, ‘Women have all these ideas, too! We thought men were making them do all this dirty stuff!’ It becomes raunchy all of a sudden when women like it. It’s in the zeitgeist because there’s a bunch of female writers and creators now, and, by a bunch, I mean, like, four.”

Especially when it comes to sexual humor, comedy has been traditionally directed toward a predominantly male audience. Inappropriate humor was mostly told by men for men, leaving half of the population out of the joke. As I have discussed before, female sexuality has been deemed sinful and expected to be ignored for generations. It is not surprising, then, to witness most sexual innuendos to be the lines of male characters.

Being scolded with “That’s not a very ladylike thing to say” is laughable. If women are expected to remain ladylike at all times, we would be bereft of comedic jewels like “The To Do List,” HBO’s “Girls” and “Sex and The City.” Good comedy tends to be honest. Some of our favorite films and stand-up performances are grown from the seeds of truth, especially truths that are typically not talked about.

Cummings went on to say, “I don’t see things getting raunchier because I don’t think women having sex is raunchy. I think it’s healthy and normal. If a guy does it on TV, he’s a cool bro, a heartthrob. If a woman does it, she’s raunchy.”

I believe this to be the underlying problem of sexism in comedy today. When there are different reactions to a joke because of the gender of its comedian, there is an issue. When the same scene has a completely different vocabulary to describe it, something is off. If I tell an inappropriate joke, I am immediately perceived differently — as more forward and audacious. If one of my male peers says it, his description stays relatively the same.

Humans are fascinated with sex and are therefore drawn to inappropriate humor as an outlet of expression, regardless of gender. Seth Stephens-Davodiwitz of The New York Times studied Google trends and their relevance in comparison with users’ interest in sex. “One of the many reasons sex is puzzling is that we lack reliable data. People lie to friends, lovers, doctors, surveys and themselves,” he wrote. Using data that quantified what people search on Google, he was able to find that both genders, while enormously self-conscious, utilize the Internet as a resource to quench curiosity.

The idea that there is equal interest in sex would infer that both genders like talking about it, learning more and hearing a good joke. So, would it not make more sense for comedians of both genders to perpetrate jokes based on such a basic human interest?

More recently, the lines between ladylike and human are being blurred by women in the comedy industry. Quite frankly, it should make no difference who is making a joke. Funny is funny. Sexual innuendos coming from female mouths make some people uncomfortable, while the same joke out of a man’s lips is hysterical.

With more media available for women to express themselves honestly, without concern of offending with a sex joke, sexism can at least lighten its sting in this aspect. Although it is easier to ignore awkward topics for the sake of politeness, honesty is so much more fun. In my opinion, making people squirm in their seats and break out in lobster-red blushes is far funnier than a knock-knock joke.

Reach the columnist at smmaki@asu.edu or follow @Syd_neym on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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