Why I Cry When I Talk About Sexism

Yes, women are funny, and no, I can't talk about it.

Sep 26, 2011 at 4:03pm | Leave a comment

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I shouldn't have brought up "Bridesmaids."

He, my friend of many years, didn't think the movie was that great. I told him I thought it was hilarious. He suggested that maybe it was more for ladies, I said I thought it had more to do with how funny you find Kristen Wiig, whom he has never really gotten the appeal of. Then he said this: "I don't really find that many women funny."

My jaw dropped. It felt like the verbal equivalent of a "no fat chicks" bumper sticker. Doesn't find women funny?  Doesn't find Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey, Margaret Cho, Ellen Degeneres, Amy Poehler, Kristen Schaal, Amy Sedaris, Wanda Sykes, Roseanne Barr, Catherine O'Hara funny? Who says that?

Seeing the look on my face, he quickly added, "I find you funny, though."

He tried to explain further, but I couldn't discuss or explain beyond feebly saying "It's sexist..."

See funny is kind of my thing. I first started identifying as funny in junior high, when it became apparent that "pretty" wasn't going to work out. It went hand-in-hand with my other favorite defense mechanism, sexual attention-seeking. I could be the bold, brash, funny girl who told dirty jokes and stories and shocked everyone with my ribald sense of humor. I am still that girl, except now when I make a joke in therapy my doctor goes, "Humor is a defense mechanism...." Yeah, an AWESOME ONE.

I'm used to making people laugh, both in my personal life and with my writing and video work. And I never in a million years would have expected that "women aren't funny" schtick to come from any friend of mine.

So, I basically refused to talk about it, even when he persisted in trying to explain himself, and told him I just wanted to forget he'd ever said it, because I was only going to get upset otherwise. I'm not good in an argument about sexism. I get so angry and frustrated that I'm basically incapable of being reasonable and highly likely to burst into tears. I once had a boyfriend who was pro-life and nearly choked on my own snot during an argument about it. This is the reason I don't get involved in politics: I just cannot both function and comprehend the full weight of sex discrimination in the world. I become a sniveling rage-ball.

Since I refused to discuss the issue, it seems a little unfair to write about it on the Internet. So I will say that I've since had time to ponder his meaning and I don't think that he was saying that women aren't funny, just that his particular sense of humor is more attuned to traditionally male humor. He did say that he loved Melissa McCarthy in the movie, and I'd argue that her character had the most dude-ish jokes. Plus, you know, what makes you laugh, like what turns you on, is really pretty out of your control. All he did was state the truth as it applies to him.

I guess the bigger question here is why talking about sexism totally shuts me down. Why am I unable to engage in a discourse about a subject that is so important to me in my life? Why can't I defend myself or just have an intelligent debate on the topic?

I think a lot of it is about my complicated relationship with anger. I only really started experiencing anger in the past few years, and anger, like its annoying younger cousin frustration, is still the quickest direct line to my tear ducts. And bursting into tears tends to really undermine your cogent theories about gender inequality.

That special kind of entitled authority some men swagger around with particularly intimidates me. It reminds me a little of my father and the religious authorities I grew up with who made me feel small and unknowledgeable in the face of their ALL-KNOWING maleness. I've never been as sure of myself in my life as some of these men are every day. They turn me into a scared little girl swinging her heels over the pew's edge and soaking in a set of ancient rules imposed by men against female minds and bodies.

In little girl mode, I can't separate the political issues from my emotions. I'm too directly affected to employ logic; when a man, disagrees with me, I just feel like screaming "You'll never understand because you're not a WOMAN" or "Why don't you just go RAPE someone with your PENIS" while lobbing something at his head.

And that's crazy. So I check out of the conversation, flip off the television, turn off the debates and even stay out of the voting booth. I just can't engage without crumpling. And really, what my friend said wasn't the worst thing in the world. But when it came out of his mouth, it was like the small box that dislodged all the other covert and overt acts of sexism, big and small, to come toppling down on my head and I just crumpled underneath it all.

So, in response to my friend who doesn't find women funny, I understand what you're trying to say, but I disagree. I just can't talk about it right now.