When I talk about this feminism and humor project, a considerable number of people shift their glance, squirm a bit. Sometimes the smile politely and change the subject. Sometimes they smile and ask what I think of 30 Rock/Roseanne/this one prostitute joke. Once, a guy tried to bait me into an argument over Andrew Dice Clay. (My response: "Yeah, I guess his rise was before my time.") More than once, I've been treated to the "Isn't that an oxymoron?" quip. Zing! Good one. Way to prove you know nothing about feminism!
But you can't really blame people for being confuddled, especially if they're not hip to what feminism actually is, compared to its stereotype: angry, male-hating bra-burners with a not-so-secret agenda to lesbianize our daughters, refinish our garage cabinets and rule the world. And these people have jokes?
The internet is littered with "Feminist Humor" sites, only adding to the miseducation. These sites feature anti-male jokes. They were probably not written or labeled by feminists (we were too busy refinishing our cabinets). But nonetheless, they reinforce the idea that feminism is about putting men down, which, if you're still confused about, isn't true.
Here's the hard part. It's easy to say what feminism isn't. And much harder to say what it is. Contrary to popular belief, feminism isn't one big united front, with a sneaky set of objectives. Feminism or feminisms, as Make/Shift magazine likes to put it, are as varied as the groups that identify with the terms. A commonality is a concern for the well-being of women and girls in a world that frequently treats them like crap. Many feminisms recognize the intersectionality of how race, gender, class and sexuality can severely limit the opportunities for individuals... and think needs to be addressed and changed.
And so, what is true "feminist humor"? It's a slippery slope to try to create a classification system- this counts, this doesn't. Generally, feminist humor is based on a worldview cognizant of the way the world oppresses certain groups. It might address and invert cultural assumptions about identity or experiences of being marginalized. But it might not. In a world where women and minorities are given so few voices in the mainstream media, I feel that the act of a woman holding a microphone is feminist, in itself. (Er, unless she's reinforcing misogyny with that voice. See how tricky it gets to start saying what counts and what doesn't?)
Feminist Humor Theory is a interdisciplinary field of scholarship devoted to intersections of gender, humor and power. It's really cool. I'd recommend Nancy A. Walkers, A Very Serious Thing, if you're looking to read more about it. More recently, Sabiyha Prince is writing about the ghettoization of black female comedians.
We hope Wisecrack will be a virtual space for exploration of issues of gender and comedy. We'd like to include as many voices as possible- if you're interested in contributing, let us know at wisecrack [AT] gmail [DOT] com.