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4 Ways We're Programmed to Think Women Aren't Funny

#2. Laughing at Women's Jokes Feels Unnatural

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The fact that so many men choose being funny over being with someone who's funny is part of a wider point on jokes and gender roles. In a way, humor is a type of power. Making quips about someone, even in a nice way, is exerting a kind of control over them. And since power is something we associate with men, humor is therefore seen as more of a masculine than a feminine quality. People accept that the natural order of things is men making jokes and women laughing at them. When it's the opposite, we feel like something is wrong, even if we can't put our finger on what.

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"Yup, she's on the sauce again."

One example of this is in the business world. Humor can not only be beneficial in work situations, but also help you get a job in the first place. But there is a big difference in how people react to female bosses making a joke and male bosses making a joke. One study found that only 20 percent of jokes made by female bosses in boardroom situations elicited laughter, while a full 90 percent of jokes by male bosses did. And if you've ever heard your male boss tell a joke, you know this isn't down to the fact that most CEOs should have gone into standup comedy. Again, it comes back to a power dynamic. Laughter is a social cue that lets others around us know we got the joke and shows respect to the person who made it. Laughing when a man in a position of power makes a terrible joke is a sign acknowledging that power, but societal biases already make us slightly uncomfortable when women are in charge.

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"Hey, did they make sure to soundproof that glass ceiling?"

Add to that the fact that women making jokes instead of laughing at them seems backward to us, and it ends in silence. It doesn't actually mean that the joke wasn't funny, but the reaction reinforces to both the joker and the listener that women should avoid the whole humor thing altogether. This results in female bosses making fewer jokes, and suddenly an unfair reaction created by society becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

#1. You're Already Biased

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If this article had been written by a man, you would have thought it was funnier. Science says so.

In one study, participants were asked to rank the humor in various cartoon captions. Half of the captions had been written by men, and half by women. When not told who wrote what, the participants judged them almost equally funny. In fact, based on the scores given in this experiment, men are just 2.2 percent more likely to be funny than women. Yet 90 percent of the participants agreed with the stereotype that men are funnier. Talk about a mind-bogglingly huge difference in perception versus reality.

And it gets weirder -- when the participants were asked which gender they thought wrote a caption, the funnier ones were almost always assumed to be by men and the less funny ones by women. This might be expected, considering their stated bias. Even when told the name and gender of the person who wrote each caption, within a short time the participants started misattributing the funny ones to men. In other words, even when they knew that women had written some of the funniest captions, the bias that men are funnier was so ingrained that it made them misremember who had written what.

Jacob Wackerhausen/iStock/Getty Images
"His joke about having his first period was so true."

All this is leading up to the obvious point: Society thinks joke writing requires a penis. (They obviously don't understand how typing works.) So if you are a funny lady, there can be a benefit in hiding that fact. There are women on this very website who write under male pseudonyms or only use their first initial. When I had my first article accepted here in 2009, I went down to the telegraph office (it was a long time ago, you see) and had a long conversation with some lady friends about whether I should put my real name in the byline. JWF (Joking While Female) not only can be an uphill battle, it can be dangerous.

In the end, I went with my real name, because I felt that if I wasn't part of the solution, I was part of the problem. Plus, Cracked wouldn't let me write under the name Dick P. Ballington the Turd.

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Esq.


Kathy wrote a very funny book, and you can buy it here and here.

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