Why women aren’t funny (in general), and female autistics are up the creek without a paddle (in general)

After sitting in an idle moment watching one of those terribly popular cooking shows on TV, because someone else wanted to watch it, I have become convinced of my explanation as to why there are so few really funny female comedians, and in general men are funnier than women.  While watching closely a fine specimen of the perfect woman I’ve been able to see what is so limiting about being a woman.  I have reminded myself of one of the reasons why my adolescence was such a horrible time for me.  It was the time when girls are expected to try on a range of straight-jackets for size and style.  I didn’t like any of them.

I was watching a female minor celebrity, a very presentable lady who is everything that a woman is supposed to be, slim, fashionable, attractive and well-endowed with social skills.  As far as women go, she is the top of the social pile.  She was sharing the show with two male celebrity cooks.  The way she behaved was in some ways different to the male cooks - her body language often looked designed to draw attention, and the blokes’ body language didn’t, they looked more spontaneous and unselfconscious, more focused on the task at hand and thinking about the job.  Their expressions of emotion were generally to do with the success and failure of the task at hand - they didn’t appear to be emoting or expressing for too many other reasons.  The blokes joked around, one confessing to eating food while shopping at a supermarket.  The price of being funny is often being seen as socially inappropriate.  Socially successful women don’t like to pay this price.  The males didn’t use flourishy body language to attract attention.  I think one of these male cooks is popular because some women find him attractive and the other had a fascinating accent, which is almost comedy in it’s own right because it is verging on the ridiculous in its departure from ordinary Anglo-American English.

In contrast, socially successful women often try their best to avoid being ridiculous, so no funny accents and no eccentric body language.  Such women try to smile often regardless of the situation around them, because it apparently looks good, but the female celebrity cook looked very slightly peeved or awkward when one of the other cooks was demonstrating how to do a dish (not enough attention? being upstaged?).  Her smiling or not smiling seemed to be often unrelated to the task, in contrast with the blokes who seemed to be animated by their work. Social appropriateness and social success are not an absolute values, they can only be judged in relation to the social judgements of others.  This is why socially oriented women and men constantly seek the attention of others, and they do this with eye-catching body language.  What others think of them is the point of the exercise and the only real measure of their success.  That is why these people need to be constantly checking the eyes and faces of others.  They need attention and they need feedback.  This is why this type of person so often fails to get along with autistic people.  Autists do not give reliable attention and feedback in body language, leaving sociable companions feeling lost or offended.

So it seems to me that socially successful women (an exclusive group of women that many women aspire to join) have difficulties with being emotionally spontaneous in relation to being emotionally engaged and fully and immediately focused on a job, task or interest.  Emotional spontaneity is dangerous because it can lead to unguarded and uncensored behaviour.  Autistic people often look like dicks or curmudgeons because of our very spontaneous emotional expressions - outbursts when angry, jumping for joy, extremely euphoric or puzzled facial expressions.  Autistics behave like this because, as the experts tell us, autism is being extremely male, the opposite of feminine, and males seem to be naturally less capable at self-censorship of word and body language.  The experts tell us that this is because the brains of the average man and the average woman are built slightly differently. Being appropriate is the result of constant and completely reliable self-censorship, and socially successful women must be appropriate at all times.  This is expected of women, but males and autistics simply don’t have the hardware required to achieve this, according to some scientists and academics.  For males this is no tragedy, because people expect males to behave like typical males - so men and boys are allowed to be a bit naughty, a bit loud and inappropriate at times.  Autistics are uncommon to rare - so there are usually no preexisting sets of expectations to smooth our way in society, unless we give off all the cues to engage the set of stereotypical expectations that go with the concept of the geek or the nerd.  Smart autistics never mind being called a nerd - there are much worse things that one can be called.

Socially successful women are allowed to, expected to smile a lot, but being an alpha woman isn’t really compatible with being emotionally spontaneous and fully engaged in a process.  It is unfeminine to look too passionate or too excited about anything.  Being obsessively interested in something that is deemed not interesting like a nerd or an autistic is most certainly out of the question for a woman.  Just try mentioning something interesting that you’ve read in New Scientist magazine among a cluster of Mums at a playgroup and see how much of an outsider you look. Try to discuss physics or a controversial area of science and you could make yourself as popular as a turd in a punchbowl.  There is no female equivalent of Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki, the over-excitable Australian know-it-all hyper-nerd who has a very successful career in TV, radio and writing.  There never has been a Dr. Karla in the mass media, and there never will be.

Social expectations forbid women from behaving in any way that looks inappropriate.  This is not because there is some elite secret and powerful group of evil people who think up and enforce gender roles.  This social straight-jacket for women is the result of adults being expected to behave up to their expected level of ability, and most women are apparently neurologically endowed with superior powers of self-censorship.  I believe that women are limited by their own superior natural abilities in self-limitation.  Rather ironic, don’t you think?  How do you escape from that prison?  I also believe it is a generally good and natural thing for children and adults to use and develop their best abilities.  Intellectually gifted kids want, need, to be given challenging school work.  Many technically gifted people enjoy pulling their computer apart to make it run faster, just because they think they can.  Socially-minded women and men enjoy social climbing and social excluding.  Just try to stop them - you will be wasting your time.

What has this all to do with comedy?  Most comedy is often about looking foolish or being socially inappropriate, and comedy often gets a laugh from spontaneous or extreme-looking expressions of emotion.  All of these things are most definitely off-limits to any woman who aspires to be anyone in the social set.  So a woman’s role in the world of comedy is very limited, or she risks being seen as beyond the pale, an uncivilised woman, a bloke in a dress.  It isn’t too hard to identify female comedians who are beyond some social boundary - Phyllis Diller (too honest), Jo Brand (ditto), Barbara Windsor (too slutty), Joan Rivers (too ….).  The alternative for female comedians is to play the straight role as the defender of social rules and expectations, which is a pretty boring gig and more acting than comedy, but does allow for some emoting, in disdain, embarassment, distress, horror or surprise.  Hattie Jacques from the British Carry On movies and Cheryl Hines, who plays the wife of Larry David in the US TV series Curb Your Enthusiasm could be cited as examples.  Some female comedians take this role a bit further, to the point of being whiny, bitchy and cynical about people who behave inappropriately or are outsiders, but in the process their own mood excludes them from membership of the always pleasant and appropriate world of the socially acceptable woman.  A classic example of this type of disapproving female comedian who becomes an outsider herself because of her negativity is the Australian comedian Judith Lucy.  Ms Lucy is a hard-drinking and terminally cynical lady who has made a career in stand-up comedy and autobiography writing at the expense of her adoptive family.  She can be funny at times, but I find her not terribly likable, and many Australians can’t stand her.

So being a woman is a very limiting role.  My 2D:4D finger ratios tell me that I’m not really a woman at all.  I’m so glad, but some other people aren’t, and I simply can’t find it within myself to give a damn.

Lili Marlene blogs at Incorrect Pleasures.

Why Women Aren’t Funny … appears here by permission.

[image:  American comedian Sarah Silverman]

on 01/18/11 in Art/Play/Myth, featured | No Comments | Read More

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