Sunday, 21 June 2009

Women just aren’t funny, while patriarchy is hilarious

[I heart Sarah Silverman]

I have been speaking to a friend a lot recently about how much Spiked Online sucks. As a supposedly intelligent, progressive website it is regularly weirdly reactionary, poorly written and strangely often plays into the hands of big business. Of course I moaned about it but didn’t really know what to do. However, now I think is the time for the sceptics to strike as is well demonstrated by the indefatigable Gimpy.

And what do they go and do but hand me a terrible article on gender by Patrick West to criticise. So settle in and lets deconstruct a little.

For a site that claims to be libertarian they are very selective about the power dynamics they choose to oppose. Government forcing us to do stuff – bad, patriarchy squeezing us into oppressive flawed and frankly lame gender-stereotypes – fine, indeed ‘natural’.

Patrick West decides to criticise moaning women who complain about aggressive atmospheres in TV panel shows and in politics. Put simply, if you don’t like the rules that us boys have made for our club, then get out. But he also goes further by saying that women aren’t as funny as men and that a hand full of women have adapted to the adversarial nature of the House of Commons so other women should similarly ‘grow some balls’. Nice.

Let’s start with the spurious claim that men are naturally funnier, like there’s some funny chromosome or identifiable ‘natural template’ of comedy. Call me a lay scientist, but I think that is likely to be bollocks.

Being funny is something that is beaten out of girls at a young age. Being funny is often synonymous with being smart and being clever two things that are seen as deeply unattractive in young women by young men. Put simply, funny girls don’t get laid. Young, insecure men certainly don’t want to get naked in front of a smart young woman who might laugh at their cock. Humour is a powerful thing, it cuts people down, it pokes fun at them, it makes them look ridiculous and men don’t like that coming from a woman.

Its not that men are funnier or more aggressive than women, it that females are brought up to be attractive in the eyes of men – that means feminine, and that means not funny. In all these stupid surveys about what women look for in a man, a guy who can make them laugh always comes top. When do men ever look for being funny as a top quality in a woman?

As for women ‘growing some balls’ and wouldn’t it be better if women were just more like men, again I’m afraid Mr West that I think you’ll find that it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Let’s just say for argument’s sake that women should be more like men in politics. If you want to lazily stereotype people and then try to defend such ‘generalisations’ as scientific, then fine let’s enter that science-free zone for a second.

When women are assertive what they quickly find is that other people actually think they’re aggressive. Men being assertive are just being men and nobody notices or comments on it. Women being assertive are cold, bolshy, pushy, unnatural, surly, and generally a bitch. So Margaret Thatcher was often portrayed as being a man, and indeed encouraged that portrayal. Barbara Castle, Shirley Williams, and Ann Widdecombe have all been portrayed at one time or other as mad, bad or useless.

(As an aside I’m getting really sick of the use of a handful of examples as ‘proof’ of anything. Those three women’s careers span over half a century in which there were hundreds of male MPs. You know their name because there were so few)

If women don’t want to take on certain masculine traits in order to succeed in their field, and particularly if they dare to criticise that culture, they are accused of “crying when they got insulted”, that they “moan about ‘ya-boo’ politics” and are “timidly retreating” from challenges.

Let us step out of that science-free zone where ‘generalisation’ is a mathematical term that allows you to be a fuckwit.
To put that into algebraic terms:
Where A is men’s height and B is women’s height.
A > B ≠ any ungrounded statement you want to make
How about you analyse that behaviour in a way that doesn’t maintain your power? Do you think that perhaps ‘ya-boo’ politics is not the best way to run a country? Could it possibly be that the people that are put off by cock-knocking in Parliament might actually be intelligent, thoughtful, empathetic, rationally minded people (female or male) who have something to contribute to discourse and debate? You generally find that those who shout the loudest have the least to say, (see BNP etc).

Now I say all this as an assertive woman, but one who has often been called aggressive, blunt and argumentative when I ‘act like a man’ (read: have an opinion). If I stay and fight I’m a bitch if I don’t want to play by male rules I’m timid. Seriously, there is no pleasing anyone. But I also recognise, that although I am able to stand my ground and thrive in a combative environment not everyone can or wants to. This includes men but mostly impacts on women and this is the crucial point – by creating barriers to entry into politics, the arts, comedy or anything, you are losing out and perpetuating the same bullshit over and over again.

Ultimately saying that adversarial, combative, ya-boo debate is the best form of politics is anti-intellectual. That argument is nothing to do with the substance and all about the style and posturing. It’s rhetoric over rationality.

Jo Brand commented on the structure of certain TV panel shows not working well for women. That doesn’t mean that women are less funny. (For a start the only funny ones on Mock the Week are Frankie Boyle and Dara O’Briain) It means that the set up, where they have to fight for air and verbally jostle for position, and the atmosphere, which is probably as much backstage as what we see on our screens, is not conducive to women being able to be heard. They could have hilarious things to say, but Jo Brand doesn’t feel they get the chance.

I’m not saying that there need to be an equal opps policy on Mock the Week, but women should be allowed to criticise that aspect of it without being told that they are weak, moaning and unfunny.

I don’t want anything to be diluted or weakened and I do not believe that enabling women to participate meaningfully will lead to that. That is a myth perpetuated by those in power – if we change something then awful things would happen! Things would CHANGE! I actually think (in fact know) that breaking down gender stereotypes leads to more diversity, more creativity and is more dynamic. It is the femininity vs masculinity, power vs weakness dichotomy which is stale, discredited and monotonous.

Viva la evolution.

3 comments:

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

Hi. You do know Spiked Online's genesis out the "Living Marxism" magazine? It would be nice to say they are just nutters - but they're worse than that. The magazine got closed down after they libelled Ed Vulliamy and ITN. Normally when libel laws get used against small publications you have sympathy for the underdog - but LM had published an article saying the reports on concentration camps in Bosnia had been faked. They shilled for Milosovic throughout the Bosnian war. Both weird and very not nice.

graimito said...

A friend sent me a link to a sp!ked article, on climate change I think, and it was ridiculous. Retreading the same, tired, undermined-a-thousand-times arguments, making some pseudo-marxist points about the west using climate change to keep down the industrial development of the developing world (Really? That's weird, because most of the people I know working in climate change issues are development researchers...).

Anyway, I was put off sp!ked having read a few articles. Smug, reactionary, thoughtless crap, largely.

Good article, this. Wish I could see your stuff published in a Ben Goldacre style column.

G

Andrew said...

I've seen people before use libertarianism as little more than an excuse to rail against the government whenever it suggests that perhaps they might like to stop acting like dicks. How dare they interfere, they cry. I thought this was a free country, let me get on with restricting the freedoms of this minority whose views are irrelevant.

I can see the point of libertarianism, but it's laughably naive in what it expects of people to make it work.