Christopher Hitchens is a good example of the way the “powerless white man” (of the community of dudes who couldn’t make a name for themselves in traditionally masculine spaces) lash out against women, POC, and other marginalized communities and blame them for problems that can inherently be understood through the lens of systems of power. His tirades against religion, against women, against “leftists,” and this ridiculous “article,” reveal more about the role that structural power, historic power, and perceptions of power play in humor.
I was not necessarily super moved by Alessandra Stanley’s response, either, as I don’t think it dissected Hitchens’ argument aside from his claims about the grossness of the body & how women don’t find that amusing. Although the chronology of gender and the comedy industry is really helpful. Multiple other readings, including Pretty/Funny Women & Comedy’s Body Politics as well as When Women Perform Charged Humor, address some of Hitchens’ points to deconstruct everything from biological essentialism to desexualizing the critiques of anti-woman-comedian writing.
I would have slowed down on my resistance to Hitchens had his argument been framed as “men are forced to be funny because of the construction of heteromasculinity, thus forcing men to be more invested in humor than women may feel traditionally.” Hell, if he had even stuck to his own statement “Precisely because humor is a sign of intelligence (and many women believe, or were taught by their mothers, that they become threatening to men if they appear too bright), it could be that in some way men do not want women to be funny.” I would have been more willing to dive into this.
But Hitchens failed, as he so often does, with his patronizing, mansplaining, virgin-white-dude-MRA-on-the-corners-of-Reddit-are-REALLY-hurting attitude, that shifts the focus away from the constructions of gender, sexuality, and how the elements of humor relate and towards the idea that intelligence, humor, gender, and the REAL oppression of men are the problem. And his argument is all over the place.
He deliberately made the decision to use sentences like “hefty, dykey, or Jewish or some combo of the three” and “hereas women, bless their tender hearts, would prefer that life be fair, and even sweet, rather than the sordid mess it actually is” because he joins a large swarth of people who genuinely believe that being “charged” and being “not-PC” are necessary to advance some kind of free thought and intellectualism in society. And not, in fact, indicative of just how tender and sensitive he, himself, is. #TriggeredSnowflake
That already sets his context up, and it’s a context that is comfortable and blissful in missing many pieces of a collective puzzle.
First off, his claims about funny are objective. I have never found Will Ferrell, Jerry Springer, George Carlin, Bill Burr, or any of these other folks funny. And his questions are subjective to exactly our class discussions about what is, and isn’t funny.
Second, he argues that some of it is that men are forced to be funny because women hold the power to not have to be appealing to men. His script comes from the assumption that this means the power is against men and not that there’s a larger system at play. It assumes heterosexuality. And it assumes that his discomfort with knowing that he always finds the women he’s courting attractive but that they may want him to prove *gasp* that he has a nice personality, is about the fact that men have the imbalance of power here and not questioning why women have been told they don’t need to do the same. It couldn’t be sexual objectification and the demonization of women’s intelligence, right? It has to be that guys are rendered powerless by the vixens that are traditionally attractive women?
And then of course, his next argument is that funny women are then fundamentally unattractive or missing some kind of that femininity he demands they have. He doesn’t ask why “dykes, hefty, or Jewish” may be indicative of a trend of which women haven’t been afforded the “power” of traditional feminine sexuality. Instead, he uses that as an insult. Well damn, I think it’s fair to say most funny dudes are fat, ugly, or Black. Same argument, right? Those are the only funny ones in my book! HA!
And finally, his obscure and awkward ending argument where he tries to claim that women are missing the ability to mock or ridicule the melancholy and tragedy of the world, as if his Great Whiteness is the see-er of all tragedy in life. And then something about how the world was a matriarchy but then we found out we needed men so then the matriarchy fell??? Oh for crying out loud, Christopher, you wouldn’t know the real tragedy of life if it fell onto the front page of your Reddit feed.
Look, if you want to argue women are less funny because their intelligence is a threat, I say cool but nuance that a little more.
If it’s because you think women don’t have to be funny, step outside of your bubble and think about which communities of men and which communities of women you’ve deemed the funniest and why.
If it’s because you think women don’t know how to find amusement in the grossness of our bodies, I encourage you to look up the most popular skits of women stand up comedians and observe the number of jokes about pooping, farting, fucking, vaginas, periods, etc.
And if you think it’s because we don’t know that life is a “losing struggle” and the world is “tragedy,” try being a woman of color who has to read your stream of semi-consciousness as an actual published article on Vanity Fair. xoxo