As long as there have been jokes, there have been people saying that women can’t tell them.
It can be tempting to dismiss recent “women aren’t funny” firestorms as yet another by-product of our internet era, where we are instantly alerted the second that anyone—from Adam Carolla to some yahoo with a Reddit account—makes an inflammatory statement about anything.
But the claim that women aren’t funny isn’t just new to our times. Here I've compiled a brief, totally incomplete history of people publicly peddling this line bull. Though the idea that women aren't funny hasn't changed much, public reactions to it have steadily changed.
I'm a feminist and a high school English teacher in the south suburbs of Chicago. Last year, one of the students in my class was inspired to start a group for girls at our school and approached me about sponsoring it. Of course I agreed! A few weeks ago, we tackled the topic of positive female role models in pop culture. The high school students came up with a list of eight current, mainstream "feminist idols" they and their friends look up to.
The list is a good insight into what interests teen girls these days, as well as hopefully a helpful resource. We talk a lot about degrading and regrettable portrayals of women in media, here are eight actresses and comedians my high schoolers are excited about supporting.
1. Emma Stone: My students loved the movie Easy A, a modern film inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. In it, Emma Stone plays a high school student who tries to bring the book into her real life. The movie definitely has feminist undertones, but Stone herself is a major feminist. In a recent interview she did with her boyfriend Andrew Garfield, she was asked who her style icon was. After Garfield said he never got asked questions like that, Stone piped up, "You get asked interesting, poignant questions because you're a boy... It is sexism." Way to call out sexist media, Emma Stone!
Tonight, 30 Rock ends its seven-year run. I'm a fan of the show, but I think it's time to say goodbye to Liz Lemon, Tina Fey's goofy loser star of the show.
Lemon is one of the best characters on TV: she's a hard-working, independent, sloppy person that always flashes to mind when I, say, spill soup down the front of my "professional jacket." Lemon's right in line with what the New York Times said about Fey's influential work this morning, that she's "a pioneer who resists being taken too seriously. She prefers to be revered for her irreverence."
But in recent seasons, it felt to me like Lemon's looks and age became more and more punchlines in the show. Joking about how ugly a woman is gets tired extremely fast. In some episodes, as a viewer it felt like Lemon's character was less an interesting, funny person we could commiserate with and more a foil for everyone else's fat jokes. The constant pokes at Lemon's physique often fell flat, in part because they're such a stretch from how Lemon actually looks. Lemon's a messy woman who is prone to wearing sweatpants, but the show occupied a bizarre reality where staffers agreed that Fey's character was a hideous crone. This was partly a smart commentary on how women in show business are often written off as old and ugly if they're a healthy weight and over 30. But many of the jokes were just easy, unfunny jabs.
For me, at least, the Lemon-needling was always the least funny part of the show. I've got my fingers crossed that Fey will take her excellent writing skills and well-earned prime-time cred to a new character whose looks are less of a punchline. Goodbye and good luck.
I rode on a plane over the weekend, and since I love excuses to buy shiny new hardcover books (and I do not love air travel), I got a copy of Tina Fey's Bossypants to take along. Note to others who might make a similar decision: Bossypants made my trip go by very quickly. It also made me cry tears of laughter, which made the burly dudes on either side of me visibly uncomfortable. You've been warned.
OK, so I guess I was sort of under a rock the past few days, because I kind of missed the Tina Fey mega-freakout that blew up all over the feminist blogosphere. I have only watched a few clips from the episode, and I think I've yammered on (in blog form as well) about Tina Fey enough already, so I won't say anything about SNL here. (Except that I thought the Brownie Husband skit was kinda funny. There. I said it.)
Anywho, getting to the point, all this Tina Fey jibber jabber has me thinking: What DO we want from a feminist comedic actor? What ARE our expectations for our fellow funny feminists? Because of course we don't want to see ladies bashing other ladies, and we don't want to see ladies objectifying themselves in order to get laughs, and we don't want offensive humor that caters to the lowest common denominator (hell, we don't want to see dudes do that either). But what is it that we do want? And is anyone currently giving it to us? Let's discuss.
Last month, NBC aired 30 Rock's "Future Husband" episode, wherein TGS creator/head writer Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) tracks down the man she labeled her spouse-to-be on her iPhone. It was a follow-up to the Valentine's Day-themed "Anna Howard Shaw Day," which found the show's heroine spending the most romantic day of the year at the dentist, haunted by hallucinations of ex-boyfriends as the painkillers took hold. Apparently while doped up, Lemon met a British man named Wesley Snipes (Michael Sheen). When they exchanged phone numbers, both parties were looking to settle. "Future Husband" focuses on them not wanting to acknowledge that society thinks their age and relationship status thinks that they should. For those who'd like to watch the episode in full, go here.
As I was anticipating this blog series at the time of my viewing, imagine my good fortune when I realized that Lemon changed her ringtone from Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" (i.e., Elmer Fudd's "Kill the Wabbit") to Peaches's "Fuck the Pain Away."
There’s a lot to love about Tina Fey’s sexy-geek image. For instance, "Geeks can be sexy!" is an awesome message, as is "Sexy women can be geeks!" (Okay, maybe there are only two things to love.) I think it’s safe to say we get it: She’s hot. She’s smart. She’s hot, yet smart. And vice-versa.
But Fey’s sex appeal is no accident — it’s the price she paid for fame. In January’s Vanity Fair feature, Maureen Dowd gushes about "how a tweezer, cream rinse, a diet, and a Teutonic will transformed a mousy brain into a brainy glamour-puss." Dowd thrills at the success of the makeover that made Fey fit for the camera, and her enthusiasm for weight loss and designer clothes is unsettling. No one wants to picture Liz Lemon doing Weight Watchers...