In this so­cially sen­si­tive time, can women take a joke? Sloane Crosley says, “Let there be laugh­ter”

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Au­thor Sloane Crosley sounds off: “Free speech dies with­out hu­mor”

Shortly af­ter Tina Fey be­came the first fe­male head writer of Satur­day Night Live, she gave an in­ter­view with The New Yorker in which she shed some light on the dark­ness of the comedic mind: “If you want to make an au­di­ence laugh,” she ex­plained, “you dress a man up like an old lady and push her down the stairs. If you want to make com­edy writ­ers laugh, you push an ac­tual old lady down the stairs.”

I have re­gur­gi­tated this quote count­less times since I read it. It en­cap­su­lates the men­tal­ity of the co­me­dian, whose job it is to foster a sense of ca­ma­raderie with an au­di­ence de­spite pos­sess­ing a some­what an­ti­so­cial de­meanor and twisted imag­i­na­tion. But lately, as some­one who can prob­a­bly be cat­e­go­rized as a hu­morist and def­i­nitely be cat­e­go­rized as a woman, I won­der if keep­ing my more mor­dant ma­te­rial to my­self is wise—es­pe­cially when it re­volves around top­ics that hit close to home. It feels disin­gen­u­ous that at a time when women are be­ing en­cour­aged to speak up, to tell their truth, com­edy about what re­ally hurts us is the fi­nal taboo.

I get why. Things are se­ri­ous. We are in the midst of an em­pow­er­ing, uni­fy­ing, ex­haust­ing fem­i­nist tsunami, and try­ing to make sure the boat doesn’t cap­size is a full-time job. Right now sen­si­tiv­ity reigns supreme as we en­deavor to cor­rect a sys­tem that has al­lowed sex­ism and sex­ual pre­da­tion to oper­ate unchecked across all in­dus­tries for longer than we’ve been alive. Just this Jan­uary hun­dreds of prom­i­nent Hol­ly­wood women formed Time’s Up, a well­funded ini­tia­tive to fight sys­temic sex­ual ha­rass­ment na­tion­wide. We need this. Lest we for­get, last year’s litany of pub­lic apol­ogy let­ters in­cluded in­ad­ver­tent ad­mis­sions that no, ac­tu­ally, their au­thors had not re­al­ized women were peo­ple too. Char­lie Rose came to “a pro­found new re­spect for women and their lives.” Har­vey We­in­stein came of age “when all the rules about be­hav­ior and workplaces were dif­fer­ent.” Fel­las, wait till you hear about the man we put on the moon! (They sent a man be­cause ev­ery­one knows boo­bies fly all over the place in space. Makes sense.)

Sad­dened by the rudi­men­tary na­ture of our cause, we women tend to err on the side of jus­ti­fi­able anger and ba­sic em­pa­thy, even among our­selves. As if, upon glimps­ing a shot at real change, we don’t want to com­pli­cate things with com­pet­ing re­ac­tions. Not when some men are still fuzzy on the def­i­ni­tion of “equal­ity.” Be­sides, is it worth look­ing like a heart­less traitor to one’s own gen­der by mak­ing a crude joke about bathrobes?

I posit yes, ac­tu­ally, it is. It’s been six months since the spate of sex­ual ha­rass­ment scan­dals that rocked the world. We’re over­due for an ad­vanced course in Woman as Per­son. So I say we start by laugh­ing at what gen­uinely makes us laugh. Even if the joke comes at our own ex­pense. Es­pe­cially when it comes at our own ex­pense. It’s so im­por­tant to stay funny in these un­funny times, not only as an es­cape valve from head­line hor­ror but be­cause mak­ing a joke about a se­ri­ous is­sue is not mak­ing light of it; it’s con­trol­ling the spot­light on it.

Case in point: A few weeks ago a friend shared an ar­ti­cle with a group of us. It was about a pair of 6,000-year-old skele­tons—a man and a woman—who were dis­cov­ered curled up to­gether. It was meant to be sweet and re­as­sur­ing. I wrote back: “Yeah, but 50/50 that was rape.” The year 4,000 b.c. does not strike me as a fair­ground for ro­mance. An­other friend at­tached an im­age she found of a skull and typed “#metoo.” Does this make us jerks? Do we think non­con­sen­sual sex is a laugh riot? I hope not. We are a group of pro­gres­sive women, some of

whom have been vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault, all of whom are rea­son­able, ed­u­cated peo­ple. The more we share jokes like these with one an­other—the darker, the bet­ter—the more we test the lim­its of our own opin­ions, the more we can find out what we’re re­ally think­ing, and the more hu­mor be­comes a weapon. It’s our way of say­ing we have other gears and we will al­low our­selves to use them.

I’m not sug­gest­ing we sud­denly adopt an anti-pc stance, as if it’s re­motely OK to raise a coun­try full of eighth-grade bul­lies who ask, “What’s the mat­ter? Can’t take a joke?” Any­thing said with the ob­jec­tive to of­fend, shock, or dis­em­power is rarely funny. Which, for a hu­morist, is a crime in and of it­self. I am sim­ply sug­gest­ing that the more per­sonal own­er­ship we feel over anis­sue, the more we should in­dulge in our nat­u­ral ar­ray of re­ac­tions to it.

Be­sides, what’s the worst that can hap­pen? No one is amused by your com­ment on Face­book or across the lunch ta­ble. OK. It’ll suf­fo­cate quickly. Butwhat if it doesn’t? What if it­s­peaks to other women who’ve been think­ing the­ex­act same­thing­buthaven’tar­tic­u­lated it yet? Hu­mor may die with­out oxy­gen, but free speech dies with­out hu­mor.

So to my fel­low women I say, “Noth­ing is off-lim­its.” Make the joke, post the tweet, write the blog, say what you feel, write what you think. Don’t water it down. Don’t just text it to your one friend­whow­ill laugh, be­cau­seipromise you she’s not the only one whow­ill ap­pre­ci­ate it. When it comes to the is­sues we care deeply about, there is no such thing as too soon, only too late. Now is not the time to put our most twisted thoughts in a mod­est dress. Now is the time to find the clos­est stair­case and push.

Crosley’s lat­est book of es­says, Look Alive Out There, is avail­able April 3.

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