I suppose I spend more time than most people on social media, discussing various political and philosophical issues. I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing: in addition to passing the time engaging others in dialogue, I often learn things I would not have learned otherwise. Sometimes these things change my outlook significantly. Sometimes they don’t. And sometimes, well, I just have to log out of Facebook, put my Samsung Galaxy S4 away, and go find something more constructive to do with my time.
Such as writing here on my blog, I suppose. As this is only my third blog post, I hope the reader does not assume that my blog will primarily be extensions of arguments I took part in on Facebook or Twitter or elsewhere. It will most certainly not be. But from time to time it will be, as I am confident blogging opportunities will occasionally make themselves apparent through my interactions on social media.
For the record, I do not intend to divulge the identity of anyone involved in these interactions, but I will give the names of published authors cited by these folks. I do not think ill of anyone I disagree with, and I hope they do not think ill of me, though I suppose they are entitled to if they so choose.
Anyways, the inspiration for this blog post came about as such: a female Facebook friend of mine – incidentally one of the most intelligent and well-educated people on my friends list; she also possesses a sharp wit and a keen sense of humor – made reference to something the late Christopher Hitchens once claimed: that women are not “as funny” as men. I believe he might have actually said women are not funny at all.
I will attempt to describe the expression on my face upon reading this: my eyebrows furrowed (not in anger but in incredulity), my bottom lip jutted out and curled up, and my jaw began involuntarily opening and closing, uncurling and recurling my bottom lip as it did so.
I thought back to all the times women (both professional comedians, actors, and women I know personally, not to mention women I know exclusively through social media) have made me laugh, and all I could think of to comment was:
“Women aren’t funny? Is that a joke?”
Someone mentioned that they agreed with the “evolutionary arguments” against women being funny, and due to my lack of vocabulary I can only tell you, the reader, that I only imagined my reaction before to be “incredulity.” If my confused, perplexed, not-believing-what-I-was-reading state of mind upon reading that women are not as funny as men could properly be called “incredulity,” my state of mind after reading that there were “evolutionary arguments” which explained why women are not as funny as men, well, again, my lack of advanced vocabulary demands that I describe my state of mind as either “incredulity in extremis” or “incredulity times ten” or something along those lines.
I commented again, asking if there were really “evolutionary arguments” that claimed to explain why women are not as funny as men, and someone replied “yes.”
As it was getting late, and as I am, in my 35th year on planet Earth, finally attempting to regulate my sleeping and waking patterns somewhat, I made a rather sarcastic comment, logged out, and went to bed, intending fully to continue the conversation in the morning.
My comment was something like this:
“That is hilarious. Heck, maybe it’s true. Men using ‘evolution’ to explain why women aren’t as funny as men…it’s pretty hard to top that!”
I logged back in this morning to find that the “evolutionary argument” regarding why women aren’t as funny as men is basically this:
“Men use humor to attract women. Men have done so for millenia. Therefore women are not as funny as men, because evolution.”
I went back and forth with these gentlemen a little, then finally had to bow out of the argument. They may have seen my exit from the argument as a victory; to that possibility I say “fair enough.” I made the points I am about to make here on my female friend’s Facebook page, and these arguments didn’t convince the people I was arguing with, so maybe they will not convince you, the reader. But anyways, here they are, in slightly expanded fashion:
Being “funny” is not something that is quantifiable. Whether a joke is “funny” or “not funny” is entirely dependent upon whether the person who hears or reads it finds humor in it. For any person who is thinking clearly (sorry for being condescending), the issue begins and ends precisely here.
Christopher Hitchens (God rest, hahahahahhaha)* did not find women to be funny. That is all that is quantifiable about any of this. He apparently debated Tina Fey and perhaps others over this issue, but ultimately the only real issue at hand was that Hitchens did not find women to be funny. Or not “as funny” as men, or whatever.
That anyone chose to “debate” this issue sorta indicates to me that maybe the whole thing was a publicity stunt of some kind. Maybe. I don’t know. What I do know is that attempting to use “Men use humor to attract women” as a reason why Christopher Hitchens or anyone else does not find women to be funny is as inane as me claiming that blue is the best color of all the colors because of the sky.
I would simply have let the issue drop, and not chosen to expound on my views here in my blog, were it not that this sort of illogical thinking is widespread among people who like to pretend that their actions and thoughts are guided entirely by “science” and “reason.” But first, let me explain what I mean with regard to the issue at hand:
Hitchens’ opinion regarding whether women are funny is just that: an opinion. He attempted to justify this opinion by making the observation that since men use humor and have used humor practically forever to attract women, then that means men are funnier than women. I have to believe that his argument went a little deeper than that, but as people who take that argument seriously did not go any deeper than that in trying to convince me it was true, I see no reason to pursue the matter any further. As mentioned before, I might as well tell you blue is the best color and get angry when you disagree. The premise of the argument is based entirely upon subjective opinion. It is unprovable outside the realm of subjective opinion, therefore any argument claiming objectivity is, to put it bluntly, inane.
This sort of thing is prevalent in a field of research I have only recently learned even existed. That field is evolutionary psychology. I am not dismissive of the field altogether; some of the claims made are valid, and like any field of research I support it fully. But I do not support the erroneous and pseudoscientific claims it sometimes makes, specifically regarding feminism.
As a matter of fact, most writings I have personally read on the subject are explicitly designed to do one thing and one thing alone: to discredit feminism and feminist thinkers.
Now I am not going to sit here and tell you that every feminist thinker, author, writer, whatever in the world is a genius and all of their arguments are flawless. To assume every person in any field of academic research is above and beyond reproach is, well, stupid.
The basic arguments against feminism by evolutionary psychologists are generally no deeper than Hitchens’ argument that women aren’t funny. I invite the reader to find any that are and point them out to me. I have not seen any. What I have seen is that these arguments primarily are used to justify sexist (and occasionally racist) attitudes using “science.” Again, if anyone can show me examples where this is not the case, I invite them to do so. I am not dismissive of the field entirely, I just haven’t seen much of it that couldn’t be described as I have described it.
If one were to look at the question of whether women are funny, or as funny as men, or whatever, I think it is a bit disingenuous to pretend that “funny” or “not funny” is something that can be objectively determined. As I have already said, humor is subjective. I might think something is funny that you find offensive. Or vice-versa. All the argumentation in the world isn’t going to convince either of us that something is or isn’t funny: we either find it funny or we don’t.
Which brings me to another point I raised on Facebook, though admittedly in a more terse fashion than I am doing here: if we want to determine the psychology of why we find some things funny and other things not funny, we should examine our own psychology. We should ask, “Why didn’t Christopher Hitchens think women are funny?” We should also ask, with regard to psychology, “Why did Christopher Hitchens feel it necessary to justify the fact that he didn’t find women to be funny through pseudoscientific posturing?”
The answers to those questions point to fairly obvious conclusions. To ignore those conclusions, and furthermore to not even ask those questions, is the epitome of unscientific thought. It borders on idolatry and dogma. As do many opinions put forth as “scientific fact.”
I was told that I was incorrect in my assertion that women are actually as funny as men, because millennia of men attracting women through humor proved it. It was in women’s DNA, I was told, the reason that they are not as funny as men.
Which let’s think about that for a second: “Women are not funny because of their DNA.” Let’s take that argument to a logical extension: “It isn’t that I simply don’t find women to be funny, everyone who finds women to be funny is wrong, because it is in women’s DNA to not be funny.”
If you are furrowing your eyebrows and involuntarily working your jaw with incredulity, know that you are not the only one who has done so. This argument is, in a word, inane. It is a perfect example of projection: it allows the person using it to blame their own inhibitions on other people.
To explain what I mean by that, let me point out that yes, there are a great many more male comedians than female ones. This has been the case since “comedians” became a thing, I am willing to bet. And just for the sake of argument, let’s say that there actually might be an “evolutionary” reason for this.
Perhaps, just perhaps, the reason has something to do with the fact that until fairly recently, women were not even considered to be actually people. This is still the case in a considerable part of the world. Women in the USA were not even allowed to vote until 1920.
“Evolutionary psychology,” at least in my very limited reading of it, does not take one irrefutable “evolutionary” fact into account: women, historically, were reduced to second-class citizens by virtue of the fact that men were able to physically dominate them. To say “women aren’t funny because of their DNA” ignores the fact that women were not allowed to speak their minds, much less be comedians that told dirty jokes, until fairly recently. It is my opinion, one I do not anticipate anyone will be able to change argumentatively, that the reason Hitchens didn’t find women funny was because he was uncomfortable with the idea that men and women are — or at least should be treated as — equals. In short, assuming his proclamation that women aren’t funny wasn’t a joke or publicity stunt of some sort, it should be obvious that this is only his opinion, and while that opinion may or may not have been sexist, his attempt to justify it using “science” most certainly was. May his sexist ass rest in peace.
To say that women aren’t funny because of their DNA is projection, plain and simple. It is attempting to justify the fact that you (if you agree with Hitchens) are uncomfortable with women who do not adhere strictly to the gender roles you have assigned to them in your mind. You are (if you agree with Hitchens) blaming your hangups on the people your hangups adversely affect. You are projecting.
I hope I do not drive anyone to fury by pointing this blatantly obvious fact out. But if I do, so be it. This is how people learn things. If you can prove me wrong, please do so.
At any rate, I hope you all have a nice day.
*Yes, as Hitchens was a prominent atheist writer, “God rest” is a joke, one I find immensely funny. However, if you don’t find it as gut-bustingly hilarious as I do, I promise not to attempt to convince you it is funny by using “science.”