The last laugh's on men Humor becomes weapon in battle of the sexes

September 30, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

The cause was politically correct and so, it turned out, was the humor.

"So didja see the cover of Life magazine this month," comedian Diane Ford asked the mixed-gender audience at the comedy benefit for the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault. " 'What if women ran America?' . . . I can think of a couple changes we'd make right away."

And off she went: a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue with models from Big and Beautiful catalogs; beer commercials featuring "the Swedish jock strap team." Men, it seems, have become the last safe butt of a joke.

Whether this is a fleeting humor fad or reflective of socially significant change depends on whom you ask in this so-called "Year of the Woman."

Men's Movement member and Playboy magazine columnist Asa Baber sees the latest rash of dumb men jokes as part of a 20-year onslaught by the most radical of America's feminists, those he thinks want superiority, not quality.

"I think there is a strong element of anti-male rhetoric that is politically correct in this culture," Mr. Baber says. ". . . It's sort of the white-men-are-slime era; it's definitely out there and I think it does affect the culture."

Joseph Boskin, a Boston University professor and author who has examined humor as a social and political form, says we are watching history "[Men], learn to laugh at yourself. . . . Develop a sense of humor. Or . . . marry one. " DIANE FORD Comedian

being made.

"We're in a period now which I call joke wars. For the first time in American history, minority groups have been able to retaliate against their oppressors in humor as they've never been able to before."

Oh, lighten up already! says Ms. Ford. "This whole term male-bashing, if women did it for 30 years, we still wouldn't even the score. I say, learn to laugh at yourself, like women have had to over the years. Develop a sense of humor. Or," she adds with a giggle, "at least marry one."

;/ * So you know why dumb-blond jokes are one-

liners? So men can understand them!

* What's the difference between government bonds and men? Bonds mature.

* How do you force that man of yours to do sit-ups? Put the TV remote control between his toes.

* What does a man consider a seven-course meal? Hot dog and a six-pack.

* Why is it a good thing there are women astronauts? When the crew gets lost in space, someone will ask directions.

Toward the end of summer, those and a half dozen other !B male-busting jokes seemed to be circulating all around the country.

"I called my mother up one day," said college student Ted Thompson, "and my mother told me the whole list."

Photocopies passed among office co-workers on both coasts and the telephone carried them back and forth between distant offices.

The national press corps heard a bunch of them as the presidential campaigns toured the country. During the Republican and Democratic conventions, a group of women published a newspaper called Getting It Gazette -- meaning men don't -- that was peppered with humor deriding males.

By early August, even congresswomen reportedly got into the act, faxing dumb men jokes to one another.

But sociologists and comics say the only thing new is the list of jokes; humor poking fun at men has been popular for some time now.

Witness "Roseanne," the top-rated TV series about a working-class family, the Conners, starring Roseanne Arnold. Wisecracks about men are a trademark of her stand-up gigs, and they remain part of the loving barbs she trades with Dan, her show hubby played by John Goodman.

After learning their teen-age daughter has lost her virginity, Dan says, "It almost makes me want to go back and apologize to your father for having sex with you." Retorts Roseanne: "Oh, that's all right Dan. It's enough that you apologized to me."

Some observers believe this latest round of men-needling jokes was triggered by the outrage that resulted from Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings. After days of nationally televised testimony that held millions of Americans transfixed, Justice Thomas was confirmed despite allegations by former employee Anita Hill that Justice Thomas sexually harassed her.

Invariably, discussion of sex-based humor draws up the bigger picture: male-female relations, the history and progress of (or backlash against) the women's and men's movements, and who is reacting to whom.

From the arrival of Jewish-American princess jokes decades ago through last year's batch of dumb-blond jokes, the wisecracks, says Mr. Boskin, are "male retaliation against the women's movement and social change in the United States, which affected their role."

Alan Dundes, a Berkeley anthropology professor specializing in folk humor, says "castration humor" and legends are ancient in many cultures, and the recent batch of male jokes is similar to a round of them compiled in books that compared men, unfavorably, to cucumbers. Many are about sex, but virtually all of them "are folk commentary on women's complaints about men."

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