Why Women Aren’t Funny

For context, please read this article: Adam Carolla is Not a Misogynist.

He didn’t say that all women aren’t funny, or that all men are funnier than all women. But he is making a statistical argument that men, in general, are just better at being funny than women…in general.

My problem with Carolla’s argument is that you can’t do statistical analysis without controlling for the variables (in this case, variables outside of gender) that also impact the measured outcome of your sample population. And no, he’s neither academic nor analyst, so normally I wouldn’t be tearing him down – except that he just attempted to reinforce a flawed argument with false quantifiers. So, I’m going to elaborate, in English:

I agree that the comedic landscape is fraught with untalented people. And, in fact, truly hilarious women are few and far between in the world of professional comedy. (There’s a reason – perhaps many reasons – for this that I will save discussion for later.) Thus, when gems like Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig emerge, we’re all either A) dogmatically hesitant to recognize their talent, or B) appreciative, but regard them as exceptions to the rule.

The reality is more complicated than what rudimentary and uncontrolled observational studies will suggest about links between gender and humor. There are social and cultural factors that exist to block truly funny women from entering the world of comedy. In fact, these social and cultural variables often discourage women from being funny at all – even in personal, private settings. It’s not about whether women have humor printed in their DNA, but about whether these genes have ample opportunity to be expressed. More and more, researchers argue that for every trait we embody, there are countless others we’ve never developed. We tend to go for the jugular – the “nature” argument – when often realities we encounter are actually products of nurture. There’s nothing statistically random about the fact that most men try to be funny even if they haven’t the knack for it (and many don’t). The impulse to impress may be a biological instinct, but the male desire to impress by being funny is primarily a social/cultural one. Not by, but on the flip side of the same token, women are generally not encouraged to discover or develop a profound sense of humor. Society does not reward them for it in the same way that it rewards men. I will even suggest that profoundly funny women are often derided for stepping over the gender divide.

(And none of this even takes into account the fact that comediennes are hired for looks rather than chops.)

So what are we really saying when we make an off-the-cuff remark about how *most* women are just not wired to be funny? Well, the first is that we’ve made a value judgment about humor based on a definition decided by a patriarchal society. That implied perspective in itself contains bias, and limits. The second thing we are saying – and this I believe to be even more insidious – is that women aren’t born to be funny because there are so few funny women visible to the naked eye. That’s like saying African Americans aren’t smart because proportionally, so few of them occupy high-skilled, high-paying jobs. At what point do we consider the history of oppression – explicit or implicit, explosive or implosive – that predetermines these unfortunate outcomes? It’s time we start thinking about the variables we’ve omitted in our haste to define realities of the world.

I don’t think Carolla’s a raging misogynist. But in a world that is still entrenched in misogyny, he isn’t bucking the trend. And that’s probably an accurate way to describe society at large: Neither violently oppressive nor astoundingly progressive. Comfortably ignorant, and thereby implicitly responsible.


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