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Women Can’t Be Funny (Seriously)

Study Shows Women Using Humor at Work Seen as ‘Disruptive’

Marianne Williamson during second night of the Democratic Presidential Debates | Credit: Youtube | NBC News

More women are running for president right now than ever before in history. Harris, Warren, Klobuchar, Gillibrand, Gabbard, and even Marianne “I’m here for my own amusement” Williamson are keeping their male counterparts on the run, and I hope they’ll keep it up. They should be bold, speaking out whether they’re invited to or not. They should be fearless, calling out opponents on their hypocrisies. 

But according to a recent study, there’s one thing they should not do: crack a joke.

While using humor in the workplace is likely to benefit men by boosting their professional status, a University of Arizona study has shown that it has the opposite effect on women. In fact, female humor — at least on first impression — was generally perceived as “disruptive” while male humor was seen as “functional.”

Ain’t that a laugh and a half. 

The researchers took a whack at explaining the disparity: Since many people still — consciously or unconsciously — stereotype women as being less committed to their jobs and more focused on family obligations, women’s humor may be interpreted as a sign they’re not taking work seriously. By contrast, men are largely assumed to be devoted to their careers, so a little jocularity — well, it just makes things so much more pleasant for everyone, doesn’t it?

But I’m gonna heckle the heck outta that nonsense. I think there’s something else at play here. Something more deep-seated. Even possibly … innate.

After all, this isn’t the first time or place that ladies have been chastened for letting perfect strangers have a peek (gasp!) at their hilarity. It’s a tale as old as your Aunt Fay’s dirty knock-knock joke — the one that always kills at family potlucks. There’s just something about funny females that makes people squirm, as if the very notion of a witty woman goes against the natural order of things.

Look, we all know anecdotally that women tend to be attracted to funny men (see Jessica and Roger Rabbit), and studies have shown it’s true. Turns out the reward center of the female brain reacts more strongly to humor than that of males. The thinking is this: Wit operates as a badge of intelligence, and women are biologically conditioned to seek out a smart mate. Or at least one that can still make them giggle when looks fade and lust dims.

But guys aren’t looking for the same thing. Sure, they swear they want a partner with “a sense of humor,” but scratch the enamel off that phrase and you’ll find it’s code for “someone who’ll laugh at my jokes.” Indeed, a study reported in The Atlantic found that male college students ranked attractive-but-dull women as (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) more datable than equally attractive women who were funny. I repeat: Funny made these gals less datable. I think a fella quoted in a 2012 Glamour article summed it up best: “Guys feel like being funny is a tool they can use when picking up/meeting/dating a girl to impress her, or get her to like him — and it’s a little intimidating when the person on the other side of the line has your secret weapon, too.”

The punchline in all of this? Women don’t seem to give a flying cackle anymore. As evidenced by the rise in female stand-up comedians (and the popularity of the brilliant Amazon Prime series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), clearly someone is ready to laugh with our side-splitting sisters — and by god, they’ve got yuks to spew.

Personally, there are few things I enjoy more than making strangers chuckle and snort — alighting on that awkward but universal truth whose well-timed utterance will elevate you from random-person-consuming-oxygen-in-room to worthy harlequin or quipster. So I’m not going to worry too much about a study that says women ought not generate lols on the job. 

Frankly, I’d love to see our female presidential candidates bust a funny on the campaign trail, too, as we could use a little “disruptive” right about now. Here’s one I heard recently:

Donald Trump walks into a bar …

He lowers it.

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