Wednesday, December 13, 2006

That's no lady . . .

Christopher Hitchins, who in the September 12, 2005 labeled the Iraq disaster a “war to be proud of,” proved in the recent issue of Vanity Fair that his imbecility extends not only to foreign policy. Hitchins constructs a ridiculous stereotype of the entire human race, male and female, in an article called, “Why Women Aren’t Funny.”

If you don’t have a strong stomach for sexist simple-mindedness and decline to read the piece, here’s his argument in a nutshell: Women don’t need humor to attract men, because men will chase after them regardless. Men as a group are less appealing than women and evolved humor as a way to get laid.

Some observations here: some women would be amazed to find out that attracting men is so easy. Perhaps Hitchins could have talked to women who are shunned because they are too smart, too assertive, or they weigh two ounces beyond the anorectic, disempowering standard of American culture. Or, perhaps in his extensive research Hitchins could have spoken to the women who starve themselves to reach Nicole Ritchie disproportions and then find that men are universally revolted.

His article reminds me of the Lenny Bruce routine, responding to the racist cliché about miscegenation, "Would you want one of them to marry your daughter?' In this sketch, Lenny imagines forcing the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan to say whether he would rather marry a black, black woman or a white, white woman, when the black woman is Lena Horne and the white woman is Kate Smith.

"If we want to get down to basics, let's persecute the ugly people," Lenny said.

That is the issue here, regardless of gender. Unattractiveness is pain in this culture. Humor is an excellent tool for coping with pain. It is also a devastating weapon of self-defense. If you are small and weak, what better way is there to keep from getting beaten up than to tell a joke that makes the bully laugh? If you are being tormented, what better way to change the subject than to mock someone else's shortcomings?

All women in American culture are made to feel unappealing and bullied. I have to wince when I have my students read Betty Freidan’s “The Feminine Mystique” as she analyzes the vapidity of women’s magazines in the 1950 and early 1960s because not a point of IQ has been added to the content of such publications since. In one of my lectures, I flip through an issue of "Good Housekeeping" and point out that’s there’s a colorful picture of a rich, calorie-laden cake on the cover while half the articles inside are about dieting. The rest of the articles tell women they face numerous health disasters with every passing moment of age, that their relationships are emotional Baghdads and that it’s up to them to revive the “spark,” and that it's almost impossible to balance home and career although everyone will expect them to. Every girl growing up in this country, whether she looks like Angelina Jolié or Tammy Faye Baker, is told by the media that she is fat, sick, mismanaging her time or is equally unimaginative in the bed and the kitchen.

Smart women respond to feelings of inadequacy the way men do. I don’t know what alternate universe Hitchins lives in, but I reside in a world of hilarious women, from my wife, to my funny and beautiful sisters-in-law, to my close friends Mary and Susan. Growing up, I recall laughing out loud at the writing of Dorothy Parker and Flannery O'Connor, the acting of Mae West, Myrna Loy (in the "Thin Man" movies) and Audrey Meadows (in "The Honeymooners"), and the 1980s standup of Carol Leifer (a regular contributor to “Seinfeld.") I think that Tina Fey is one of the funniest people on television today, male or female. Even the decidedly attractive but tragically abused Marilyn Monroe had impeccable comic timing, though that too often was less noticed than her cleavage. Wit emerges from inner demons, not from gonads.

I'm not surprised that Hitchens, who has suffered from testosterone poisoning since 9/11, turns a discussion of humor into a sexist claim of male comedic supremacy. He's not exactly the smartest bear in the zoo, even if he writes for a self-important magazine like Vanity Fair. He should go back to writing laughably wrong-headed screeds about Iraq.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

1 comment:

Gin said...

Amen.