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Why #BalanceForBetter Helps Comedy on International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day! The theme for 2019’s International Women’s Day is #BalanceforBetter so what better day to announce that I, Kate Stone editor of Funnywomen.com would like the idea that male and female humour is different to die. In the name of balance, you understand.

To aid my quest Professor Gina Rippon, a researcher in cognitive neuroscience has published a book The Gendered Brain which picks apart the mistaken notion of a ‘female brain’, or a Venusian womanly origin. In the book, Rippon asks not ‘do you have a female or male brain’ but rather if that’s the wrong question to ask. Increasingly we inflict gender on everything from map reading to Lego to empathy but when brains are examined researchers have found little physical difference.

In an article asking “Can we finally stop talking about ‘male’ and ‘female’ brains” the New York Times Daphna Joel and Cordelia Fine used recent findings in neuroscience to discuss the fallacy of gender biological complementarity, the idea that women are inferior to men because they are they are so fundamentally different from men. Now, when you put it like that, in this day and age of ‘equality’ and International Women’s Days, it might seem silly but Rippon, Joel and Fine are all able to demonstrate how much this has infiltrated our society’s impression of gender and sex, even when it comes to the (masculine) cold hard logic of the science world it’s caused much presupposing and iffy ideas.

But it’s International Women’s Day Kate, why have you got to blind us with science of all things? Why can’t you just don a slave labour created t-shirt that says Girl Power on it? Well, one, quit trying to wind me up and two, I bring this up because this thinking has infiltrated everything, including comedy. From the first day a man with a mic stood in front of a brick wall comedy, nay humour has been seen as predominantly male.

You don’t have to look far to find this. How many books (I’m tying in World Book Day here) did you read as a child in which the dad was the fun one and the mother the nag? How often in films is a woman character’s lack of humour the punchline? Or just plain how often is someone’s gender used as shorthand as to why they’re ‘like that’? He’s a man so he doesn’t understand tidiness, or she’s a woman so she’s obsessed with babies. Who seems more fun? The dude who’s laidback about a few plates in the sink or the woman with a menacing biological clock?

It filters into women trying to disassociate themselves from other women, often comedy employs a sense of bafflement at the world (hence all the Edinburgh Fringe posters featuring young white men scratching their heads – ‘cos functioning is HARD) and occasionally this manifests in internalised misogyny on stage. I’m not like those other girls, who like pink and babies and clothes, I’m a cool girl and I’m an exception to the rule, that’s why it’s ok for me to be on here stage, I get you and you will get me, I am not That Girl.

But what if we decided that whether you are ‘That Girl’ or not you can be funny? Would this need to caveat any ‘cis’ behaviour fall away if we recognised that not only are brains not male or female but humour is accessible to everybody? Whether you’re male, female, non-binary, cis or trans we all have a sense of humour (though some keep it buried deep) and at Funny Women we’re here for you if you want to see or be a funny woman being hilarious on stage, screen or on the page. Balance makes for better comedy.

Happy International Women’s Day.