Women going quiet amongst men

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You know that enduring stereotype that women aren’t as funny as men? I think I’ve identified part of the problem.

I’ve been watching QI, a comedy panel show featuring Stephen Fry as host. Every week, he has four guests who are asked the most obscure questions about all sorts of topics. They gain or lose points depending not so much on how right their answers are as how interesting. And because the four guests are usually comedy people, it’s hilarious.

It’s worth mentioning at this point: the four panelists are most often all white men.

QI video - Pal formatWhenever they do have a woman on the panel, she usually lets the men speak first. If they can’t answer the question or something, then she’ll pipe up with the answer. Often, these women actually know the correct answer, which is surprising considering how difficult and tricky the questions are. Some of them are fiercely funny comediennes or actresses I’ve seen on other shows, so I sit there thinking, “Speak, damn you! You’re funny! Show them you’re funny!” But for the most part, they quietly wait their turn, and then phrase their answer as a question so it won’t be so obvious they knew something the boys didn’t. “Isn’t it, um, is it that the square root of 4,807,991 is, oh, 2¬†192.71316?”

Aaarrrgh!

There are a couple of notable exceptions, and one appears almost semi-regularly: Jo Brand. She hilariously deadpans her way through the show, occasionally referencing stories of her days as a psychiatric nurse, spouting any amusing irrelevant answer that comes to mind and wryly ascribing human motivations to animal behaviors (animal questions are a big part of the show). Part of it’s her delivery – she’s one of those people who could read the phone book and make you giggle. Part of it’s her finely honed sense of absurdity.

But a big part of it is simply that she speaks up as quickly and as often as as the men. I mean, if we don’t speak up, where will they ever get the idea we can be hilarious, too?

It’s no mystery why the other women behave as they do, of course. It goes right back to school. In fact, the show (probably unintentionally) sets up a very classroom dynamic, with Fry as the teacher and the panelists as the students. And what did many women learn in school? What was implied by common occurrences such as:

  • The teacher would only call on boys to answer questions. If the boys couldn’t or wouldn’t answer, the teacher would ignore all the girls waving their arms around and give out the answer herself (it was usually a she, in my experience). She might even tack on a lecture about how no one had done the homework – meaning, literally, the girls who had done the homework and knew the answers were “no one.”
  • Girls who did answer questions were far more likely than boys to be cautioned about giving others a chance to answer, too.
  • Girls who answered questions, especially after boys had been given every opportunity and failed, answered meekly, in the form of a question, sometimes with hair-tugging and other “Gosh, I’m harmless” gestures. (In boy-free company, these same girls would speak boldly, intelligently and decisively). Back in the 80s, we thought girls who turned into “airheads” around boys were hormonally impacted, but in hindsight, I suspect they’d just worked out something I was too naive to contemplate: that boys didn’t like smart girls, and not only did they not ask smart girls out, but they might feel inclined to harass them in some way.
  • After a while, many girls didn’t even try. Teachers couldn’t beg an answer out of them even when they knew it.
  • Girls who answered questions were also at risk of harassment from girls and even teachers. I personally experienced harassment from boys, girls and teachers.
  • I mistakenly thought those girls who wouldn’t answer, or only answered coyly, were just completely and sadly lacking gumption. I bet you that’s the same impression the boys (who would, of course, be oblivious to social rules that only affected girls and never saw the girls behaving differently when boys weren’t around) got. I was wrong: those girls were smart or at least smart enough – they just understood the social game to which I was oblivious.

Women are trained from birth to let men speak first, let men make the jokes, never show up the boys in the humor or brains department, no one likes a smart ass, you’re making a spectacle of yourself, that’s boisterous and little girls mustn’t be boisterous, shut up and sit down.

And don’t forget: even though multiple studies indicate that women utter something like 0.11% more words per day than men, (and I wonder, tongue-in-cheek, if that extra point-eleven-percent is accounted for by all the times we have to repeat ourselves to men and children who weren’t listening the first time) the myth endures that women talk so much more than men. In 2006, a popular book stated that women talk three times as much as men, with no scientific citations to back up the assertion (the author withdrew the assertion in later editions). Marriage counselors jumped on this “fact” and used it to help wives understand why they needed to be more silent (wow, it’s like Paul’s here in the room with us!). The idea that women talk so much more than men is clearly not founded in reality, and yet it fits with our perception so much that we fell for this bogus number.

Why? Because we have a deeply ingrained belief that men have a right to talk, no matter how much we’d often prefer not to listen. But when women say things we don’t care to hear, we immediately start wondering when they’re going to realize we’re not interested, and therefore shouldn’t be subjected to it. Observe yourself: I’ve definitely found these thought patterns in my own reactions, and still struggle with them.

It’s not entirely the show’s fault¬† – there are a lot of social factors at work here, and the fact is, if they had two female panelists who were less outspoken than Jo Brand, I’m not sure they’d be able to generate the sustained inane chatter that makes the show so funny. But neither am I blaming the women who don’t speak up.

What we’re talking about here is a fantastic example of male privilege: boys look at girls being all quiet and meek, and assume it’s a biological difference between the genders. Even male scientists assume this stuff is a genetic reality because nowhere in their world do they see enough exceptions to make them question the “rule.” Men and boys are so profoundly insulated by these conventions that it’s not obvious from their perspective they’re being extended a privilege society works to withhold from women: the right to be assertive. It’s probably a privilege a sizable number of men don’t even want, judging by how often they complain about women not clearly stating their wants and needs the way another man would.

But there probably are plenty of men who still enjoy this privilege. It gives the most useless man a whole half-species to which he can feel superior. And there are misogynistic women who enjoy playing the “exception” to gendered social rules, being one of the boys, and enforcing against other women the very rules they flout. Those are the people I blame.

Comments

  1. Jen says

    arhg I hate the ‘Men are just funnier than women’ bullshit. I hear that statement so often but it’s just doesn’t add up at all. First of all, these people need to think about what makes them laugh. In a public place, I find, I have to be in the mood to laugh to laugh, I have to be OPEN to the idea of laughing at a joke. If Hitler told a joke, I definitely wouldn’t laugh because I’d be like ‘You’re not funny, you’re Hitler!’ Whether a joke is funny or not is subjective and depends on your upbringing and culture, your life experiences and also your feelings about the person telling the joke. Think about how jokes on a sit-com sound so much funnier when they have the laughter track playing. Male comedians live in a world where people are ready to laugh at their jokes, a lot of comedians just rely on tone of voice and delivery to make someone laugh. Being a female comedian is like a sit-com without the laughter track. Only your funniest jokes will get a laugh because no one is open and warmed up to the idea because ‘women aren’t funny’.
    I am actually embarassed to admit that I make jokes in public, I was brought up on comedy, can’t help it. ‘Embarrassed’ because it isn’t ladylike to goof around, do funny voices or be critical. While I think I’m pretty funny, men and boys have often taken the piss out of me as if I should be embarassed and ashamed of -if their mockery is anything to go by – being too ‘whacky’ or ‘loud’ or ‘aggressive’ SIGH.

    • says

      I hope someday you find a group of guys who are happy to laugh at your jokes. I have a number of guys like that in my life right now, and it’s a good thing because I’m rather like Jo Brand. :D

  2. says

    I think one important thing you point out is the phrasing of the answer as a question, that kind of hedging language that women are quickly taught to use. Because people react to strong language, either positively or negatively, and just as cautious scientific language has its problems against strongly-worded dogmatic bullshit, so do women come to have their problems when talking with men.

    It’s meek behaviour, it’s decency and respecting the natural order, and it sucks.

  3. Jack says

    The rampant and obvious sexism on QI makes me enjoy the show so much less.

    There’s one more thing that girls learn in school – when they get a question wrong, it can be interpreted as meaning that girls can’t master the subject, rather than being an individual and temporary assessment of one person’s skills.

    • says

      I was watching an old episode of QI last night, as it happens, and when the one female panelist (sorry, can’t remember her name, not someone I’m very familiar with) gave a wrong answer, Steven Fry’s response was “oh dear, girls are no good at physics”. Urgh!

      One of the other panelists was Jimmy Carr by the way, who is famous for his absolutely no-holds-barred filthyness. He was in fine fettle, and towards the end of the show there was this one opening where the female comedian got in first and delivered a really, really dirty one liner before anyone else got off the blocks. The look that Carr gave her! It’s like he was going to knife her on the spot for daring to poach on his territory. She got a lot of flack for that joke, admittedly not from Alan Davies, who’s just so nice, or from Darragh O’Brien, who’s probably the most feminist mainstream comedian working right now, but still.

      So it’s not just the stereotype threat, implicit or explicit; it’s the actual, real retaliation that women who “speak out of turn” are faced with. Who’d want to open their mouth in those circumstances?

  4. Jack says

    Also, Jo Brand doesn’t seem too worried about answering a question incorrectly, or even setting off the klaxons. One reason that she’s one of my favorites on QI!

  5. I. Scott says

    They did have a question once: Why are there fewer women on QI? or some such, and the answer was that audiences laugh more at men than women. The BBC probably hasn’t published on the subject (they should, frankly – where else are we going to get the data?) but combined with the points you make in your article, I can completely believe it.

    I remember reading a rather dry essay many years ago concerning women and men in conversation (and in general debunking a lot of gender-essentialist myths), and while there were a few statistically significant insignificant differences (such as 0.11%) between the number of words, there were much larger differences in the structure of conversational turn-taking. If I remember correctly, men would drop more turns (e.g “hmm”, “yes”, nod) to come out with longer individual statements later on, which resulted in a general consensus that “the women talked more”, even if the men used more words overall.

    • says

      Now that’s interesting (I can only see the eps that are on DVD, and don’t recall that question coming up). I wonder why audiences laugh more at men, assuming that’s correct (I’m guessing they’re measuring with a laugh meter). It suggests that people are better prepared to find men funny, and that’s, you know, exactly the sort of reason why one can’t seriously believe equality has already arrived.

      Also interesting about the essay on conversation. Going by that, I just realized I have a male conversation style when talking with men who want to persuade me about something. I let them talk and drop turns until they’ve argued their entire case, then I respond (usually to dismantle) at length, and the conversation ends because they don’t like that. :D

      • Grace says

        I remember that episode – it was the Boys vs Girls one. And they are correct – there have been a number of scientific studies on laughter that have found that women laugh more than men, and all people laugh more at men than at women. So in any social group, men will be the ones whose jokes will be laughed at, and women will generally be the ones doing the laughing.

        This is explained by the social nature of laughter – very little laughter in social situations actually occurs because something is funny, more often it’s a social signal. Laughing implies you are non-threatening, and that the person whose witticisms you are laughing at is of a higher social status than you. (At least that’s what some researchers think). So it seems pretty natural in our society that women would laugh more, and men would make more jokes.

        Of course researchers often explain this biologically; I would tend to think it’s for social reasons. As people have already noted, women have very good reasons for wanting to appear non-threatening.

        There’s an interesting article about laughter here:
        http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Abstracts/Provine_96.html

        • says

          Thanks for sharing all that research, Grace. I’ve noticed a lot of respected male researchers see a correlation between gender and a particular trait/behavior and immediately assume it’s biologically determined. It’s like they have no idea they need to eliminate the possibility of cultural training before assuming that. And why would they? Their cultural training is the “default” and they aren’t really aware of how very differently the rest of us are getting schooled. But that just points out once again how fallible science is when the scientists aren’t really thinking objectively. Cultural privilege is one of the biggest hindrances to objectivity.

  6. Sam L. says

    I can remember one episode of QI with Emma Thompson on it, and she absolutely just KILLED. Of course, a lot of that was that she and Stephen Fry have known each other for years, and she has no trouble bringing things up from their past to embarrass him, but she was honestly one of the best panelists I’ve seen on the show, right up with David Mitchell, Rich Hall and the aforementioned Jo.

    • says

      I haven’t seen that one! Sounds awesome! And yeah, they go back to Footlights at least, but so does Hugh Laurie and I found his QI appearance less funny than he usually is. (I’m a Fry and Laurie fan from way back.)

    • Kristi says

      Another woman they’ve had on the panel several times who I loved was Ronni Ancona. I’m an American who got addicted to watching QI on YouTube, so I don’t know a ton about some of the comedians who come on the show, and I’d never heard of her, but she told some of the funniest stories I’ve ever heard.

  7. sandra says

    I heard a theory somewhere that part of the reasons girl are “less funny” than men is because of the male gaze. For instance, when a guy’s belt is broken and his pants fall down, that’s slap-stick comedy. When a girl’s belt is broken and her pants fall down, suddenly it becomes sexual.

    • says

      That makes sense – it’s hard to capture the dynamics of comedy (failure, pain, irony, etc.) when everything you do gets boiled down to how your body parts looked while you were doing it.

      • ACW says

        This is true, actually–I didn’t get this at first while watching ‘Pantsed’ starring June Raphael on Funny or Die. The context may have been confusing, as it happened on a date…

  8. Nialla says

    The female valedictorian of my graduating class never answered a question in class except with the words “I don’t know.” It became a running joke in class, especially when we had new teachers who’d make the mistake of calling on her.

    Everyone knew she and her boyfriend (the salutatorian) were always running neck and neck for the top spot in the class for years, but you wouldn’t know it from her behavior. I used to think it was a fear of public speaking, but I look back on it now and think it was an attempt to camouflage being a smart girl because she was also in the “cool” clique. You had to choose one or the other.

  9. cycles says

    “Men are funnier than women”

    Some types of giggles, laughs, and smiles are acts of passiveness. Deference, weakness. A sign that proclaims “Hee he hee, I’m harmless.”

    Men refusing to laugh at women’s jokes may be influenced by this, among other things.

    Also, a successfully told joke means you have been reeled in and manipulated into laughter by someone’s words (or actions). Making somebody laugh is almost like having emotional power over them for a brief moment – not the angry kind, but the funny kind. Women aren’t supposed to have power, except for the Mysterious Cosmic Pussy Power that secretly controls the universe through sex.

    • says

      Huh. This would certainly fit right in with people using humor as a defense mechanism. People who use humor that way are generally not interested in hurting anyone, but they feel a need to protect themselves, and that little bit of harmless power could fill that need. (I say “they”, but I totally am one of those people.)

      LMAO @ your description of “pussy power.”

  10. sbg says

    I suppose women like Carol Burnett, Madeline Kahn, Margaret Cho, Ellen DeGeneres, etc, etc … all flukes. They are/were not really funny.

    Ugh.

    • says

      Every single one of them is a fluke. You could line them all up, from Fanny Brice through to Sarah Silverman, so that they covered Broadway end-to-end, and THE WHOLE OF BROADWAY will be one big fluke.

      Them’s the rules.

    • Savannah says

      Don’t forget Lucille Balle, the Grand Dame of comedy fluke! (And still the funniest person I’ve ever seen.)

  11. Raeka says

    This might not have much to do with women/men being funny, but with women going quiet amongst men…

    …YES. I know I certainly do. I even tried talking over guys like I see them doing so often –it seems to be the accepted way of taking the floor– but it seems to cost me so much MORE effort to get people to shut up by talking over them than it does any of the guys :/ I can often get out half to an entire sentence before anyone seems to get the hint that I am not, in fact, going to quietly sit and wait my turn (because it will never come, or it’ll be interrupted before I’ve had my say).

    …has anyone else noticed this…?

    • says

      Oh, god, yes. In fact, once: a bunch of married male co-workers during a break were discussing a movie full of cute guys. They were debating which actors women found most attractive. They brought in every comment any woman they knew had ever made, but only to support their candidate for hottest guy. It became a battle amongst guys to prove I Know What Women Want.

      I tried to insert something several times, thinking my opinion as a hetero woman might possibly be relevant, but I had become invisible and inaudible to them. The conversation was all about their relationships with each other.

      I finally laughed and said, “God, you sound exactly like teenage girls debating who’s your ‘fave’ member in a boy band. I’m sitting right here, and not once have you thought to ask who I or my friends find most attractive.”

      They were very embarrassed and apologetic, but I just kept laughing and walked off.

    • june says

      Yes! Totally noticed this. I have to increase the volume of my voice and keep talking forcefully before they finally shut up.

    • Elee says

      A little gender-neutral tidbit: I know a couple of young teachers on my old school. It seems they are all taught a certain tactic to regain the attention of the class when it gets too loud, namely: instead of trying to talk over the whole class they have to be silent. Male and female teachers try it out every once in a while, but from what I have seen, it doesn’t work so well. After a moments irritation the students usually take it as a permission to talk more and the teacher is loses what little authority he/she has. On my own experience: It happens to me a lot, too, but luckily I learned by example in another group where we had a lot of dominant talkers that sometimes I need to say “Goddamn, let me finish my train of thought, if you expect the same courtesy from me!” (it was sometimes funny, when all the people in the group would start a meta-discussion about they are discussing, and here I am, still haven’t said anything more than Hi. It was a matter of survival, really). OTOH, men tend to disregard one ANYWAY, while women usually stop to rethink their behavior (though it doesn’t mean it is always the case). Probably because women can usually relate to the feeling of being overheard and see where the discussion lost equal footing.

  12. M.C. says

    Girls who answered questions were also at risk of harassment from girls…

    It’s good that you mentioned that. Because everytime I don’t play by the rules girls are supposed to play, I get put down by other women. It’s usually older women who I suppose feel they have the right to tell me what to do because I look very young.
    I’ve also had more girls/women threaten me with physical violence than boys/men.
    Most men ignore me, when I don’t submit to social rules, but there will always be at least one woman who thinks she can pick on me. (On the other hand women are also the only ones who take my side – men ignore me.)

    • Ace says

      I got a lot of this stuff growing up as well (and still do occasionally) – I’ve never been one to follow gender roles/convention and have gotten far more flack for it from other girls/women than boys/men. The male half tend to just ignore the fact that I exist if they object, only rarely will they make comments, but some of my female peers would and do get really nasty about it.

      It’s really astonishing just how much gender roles and sexism are propped up by other women, not just men.

      • Lexi says

        You’re a reminder to your female peers that they don’t have to be passive. That can be very threatening to those women who’ve elected to be that way (either through socialization or choice). It’s a real shame.

  13. Robin says

    Lots of great discussion above, so I’ll just add this…

    I’ve never seen the show, so I can only guess at this, but I’d bet that a contributing factor to the women waiting their turn is the fact that (I assume) the panelists are all British. Politeness is pretty strongly ingrained in their culture, which still (unfortunately) includes women deferring to men in certain ways. That said, I think the Brits have long been way ahead of the curve on acknowledging women’s potential for humor, particularly in the realms of broad comedy amd slapstick. Just look at some of the work of Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Tracy Ulman, Catherine Tate, Patricia Routledge, Connie Booth, etc.

    • says

      Thanks for sharing that – yes, the panelists are mostly British, so that could certainly be a factor. And yes, there’s a LOT of acknowledgment of funny British women going back to at least the late 70s. (Luuuuv French & Saunders. And Dawn French in general.)

  14. says

    1.) Just wanted to mention I’m one of the men you mentioned who doesn’t want the privilege of being assertive, and wish that nobody had it. Not to say people shouldn’t be assertive, but I find it used all to often (by men, I should note) as an excuse for being a loudmouth and a bully, and ignoring/talking over others. Then the victim blaming, in that the person who was ignored simply “wasn’t being assertive enough”. Fuck that, what’s wrong with a little courtesy and letting people have their say without having to yell?

    2.) Going along with #1, re: The Other Patrick’s comment about hedging language…again, I wish this was something everybody (not just women) would do. I for one find it incredibly annoying for some jackass to spout out complete crap as if it was gospel truth…and then I have no choice but to be rude and correct him. There is no shame in not knowing something, and nothing wrong with admitting the fact that you could be wrong.

    • says

      Assertiveness by definition does not include bullying people, refusing to let someone else “assert” themselves” or behaving in an entitled manner. Assertiveness means politely, without discourtesy, stating what you feel, think or want in proper contexts. The problem is that society defines EVERY context as proper for male assertiveness and no context as appropriate for female assertiveness. (That, I would argue, is one of the fundamental reasons many male commenters have trouble interacting in online “safe spaces” for women – they go into these spaces thinking they must assert themselves, and feel attacked when the women give back 75% what the men are dishing out because that’s not a usual consequence of telling women How It Really Is.)

      ITA that the best balance would be somewhere in between how men and women are taught to behave.

      • says

        Don’t disagree regarding the proper definition of assertive behavior. Only with how often people (mostly men) confuse it with aggressive behavior.

        I also agree with the cultural expectations regarding assertiveness from men and women…but I find there’s also a cultural expectation for men to assert themselves…well, in an aggressive fashion. The same behavior that is seen as TOO assertive coming from women is seen as too PASSIVE coming from men.

  15. Alara Rogers says

    As a child, I didn’t get this. I’m not sure why not. Part of it I think is that I was raised in a family where I was the first child, the first grandchild, and the golden prodigy, and my brother was decidedly quieter and shyer, so I’d just grown up with this self-perception that I will talk and everyone will care what I say. I also think I might possibly be on the Asperger’s spectrum — I used to consistently miss *all* kinds of social cues, and while half the time I felt like I was walking in a minefield and people were laughing at me and I had no idea why, the other half the time, I was just immune to subtle social cues saying that I shouldn’t do this or that. So in class, I raised my hand pretty much 100% of the time, and also would read a book at the same time, which must have really confused the teachers. :-) They called on me more than they called on anyone else, because they *had* to, and when they didn’t call on me they said this was because other people needed a chance to answer, and I interpreted this as “Alara, you’re so special and superintelligent you need to make allowances for the weaknesses of others”, not “Alara, boys are more important than you.”

    But as an adult woman, I get it all the time, and it infuriates me, in part because I *don’t* expect it. My husband and a few male friends are talking, and I interject, and they talk over me. Or they don’t respond to what I said. Or they interrupt me halfway through. The only thing that gives me any advantage is that I’m from New York, home of the full duplex conversation, and the people I’m surrounded with do tend to expect more of a full and complete conversational stop before taking their turn. However, the result of this is that people claim I interrupt them all the time… when, in fact, they interrupt *me* all the time, and I accept it as part of my expected conversational style and just interrupt back, but they notice it when I do it to them and not when they do it to me. It gets tiring. Many times, I just retreat onto the Internet and don’t bother to try to converse, because I get sick of feeling like I’m battling up a hill.

    At least in my case, though, it hasn’t affected my self esteem. It just makes me contemptuous of the men who talk over me.

    It isn’t just women who are affected — we have a roommate who is a very unassertive man, who *also* gets interrupted by my husband and his friends, all the time, and plainly gets really ticked at it — but I am actually a really assertive person who *expects* to dominate the conversation, so the fact that people are interrupting me and ignoring me has nothing whatsoever to do with any social cues I might be sending out that say I am subdominant and interruptible. It’s entirely to do with me being female.

    • says

      This kind of ties in with what Jay’s talking about – I think men are taught to see their lives as a struggle to dominate every situation they find themselves in. So they have no respect for men who don’t dominate, and no respect=no courtesy, either. But while they don’t respect women for not trying to dominate, they also don’t respect women who DO dominate, because they have been taught not to expect a fight from that corner, and they feel betrayed/attacked when a woman merely tries to participate.

      And if I’m not mistaken, some men feel men of color, disabled men, etc., have no business trying to participate, but while a cold shoulder is usually the extent of their attempt to show a woman her place, some men will get hostile/aggressive toward a man from a group they view as having a place “beneath” them. I can’t really speak to that, obviously, but it’s something I believe I’ve observed before.

    • says

      You know, I’m with you all the way on the childhood experience: I too grew up expecting people to listen to me, because when I was learning to speak, people did.

      Which is why I really can’t accept the potential diagnosys of Aspergers for “missing social cues”. It seems incredible to me that “not being socialised to bow to the kyriarchy” equals “autism!!!” all of a sudden, and I take grave exception when people try (as they occasionally do) to apply the same analysis to my own behaviour.

      I’m not autistic – I’m just badass. =)

      • says

        The Asperger diagnosis is indeed a lot more complicated than just missing social cues. Perhaps Alara totally knows what she’s talking about on that – some people do – but I do see a lot of people kinda casually tossing it around.

        I used to miss social cues AND have intense difficulty processing certain sounds – being in a classroom with someone chewing gum, it took enormous willpower NOT to run screaming from the room. I am being completely literal here – it’s like it not only annoyed me (as it does many people), but actually stimulated the fight/flight urge bigtime (“I HAVE to get out of here!!”). While many people have casually suggested both these traits sound autistic and I must be HF autistic and autism autism autism, I’ve asked a couple of mental health professionals if I should be tested for that diagnosis, and they chuckle and say no because it’s so obvious to them that I have a lot of traits which *contradict* that diagnosis. And the arguably-autistic-like traits I do have, one can have for a number of other reasons.

    • Karakuri says

      I can totally relate to this, except that in my family I am *always* being talked over, being the youngest, and the only daughter. Which has made me a loudmouth. Over the years it built up into a chronic yearning to be listened to, to the point where people have told me I’m way too sensitive to being ignored. The fact that I’m naturally assertive makes it even worse.

  16. Aidan says

    I remember so sharply a time in high school when i made a joke and everyone in my social circle just ignored it–which in of itself isnt neccesarily wrong because conversation is dynamic like that. But THEN a guy made the exact same joke and people were literally rolling on the ground. I felt so incredibly angry, and worse because i didn’t think i could point it out–these guys were the “good” ones, and that guy was a close friend’s boyfriend.

    The worst part is its such a small thing and i know if i ever brought it up my friends would be like, uh, seriously!? you remember that?! Let it go already! But i dont *want* to let it go. It upset me.

    I’m at an all women’s school now and it becomes very apparent in an environment such as ours, mostly women and a few men, that women are HILARIOUS.There isn’t that subconscious desire to wait and let the guys speak. The type of humor they engage in varies, too–among other things, we become more physical. In the mostly coed world, humor that involves using ones body (piggy backs and jumping on eachother etc is something guys do–they are so much more free with their bodies. Us ‘girls’ are conditioned to keep our limbs close to our bodies; our legs closed, to take up less space. It’s great when i’m there, but makes returning to the ‘real world’ that much harder!

  17. Charles RB says

    “Whenever they do have a woman on the panel, she usually lets the men speak first.”

    I’ve seen this happen on Mock The Week and Have I Got News For You as well, and did wonder why. Now I know, and it’s depressing.

  18. Mark W says

    Me too (am English, btw)
    I’m an avid watcher of Mock the Week but this is very true, that though they have a female comedian more often than not on the show, she often seems to vanish, which is baffling when you know very well that they’re in no way shrinking violets. And it isn’t apparent that the male panellists aren’t respectful of them or anything like that.

    I’d add a couple of factors to the points made previously.
    First, there’s never more than one female comedian on the panel. It’d be really interesting to see an edition of the show with a reversal of the usual gender ratio.

    Second is something I can’t prove, but which I’ve suspected more and more when I’ve watched repeats; that more of the female comedian’s contributions disappear in the editing than the males’. You tell me why that might be…

  19. Kara K says

    New reader, so hopefully it’s alright to comment on an older post.

    I find myself doing this all the time, even among family members. It surprises me, as I’ve normally never at a lack of things to say. It can be very intimidating to speak up, or to find a break in the conversation.

    I find it interested that several people mentioned being the oldest child and feeling like what they had to say was valued. I’m the oldest child and I felt that way too, and I think that very much helped me feel confident at school. I didn’t notice it as much until I became an adult and was in adult social situations. I’d always attributed it before to feeling too young before.

    As for the women not being as funny trope, my husband and I just had a conversation on this last week. We were discussing the lack of top stand up comedians, and he actually said, “Maybe it’s because women aren’t as funny.” I could only stare at him in shock for about thirty seconds. I never expected those words to come out of his mouth in that order. The man was more feminist than I was for the first eight years of our marriage. I pointed out to him that I crack him up multiple times a day. Out witty banter could be recorded and sold as comedy CDs. We could make a fortune, if only I could carry recording equipment on my back. I think he said it unthinkingly, because it is so socially conditioned, and because there is a lack of visible female comedians, but maybe that’s because of the industry being mostly run by men and for men. After a little tiff, he retracted his statement as unthinking and untrue. But sheesh, if even the good ones occasionally say things like that when the evidence to the contrary lives with them, I can’t believe how entrenched these attitudes are.

  20. Heather says

    Another aspect I’ve noticed in QI especially is the demeaning of “women’s topics”. There was an old episode once with two female panelists (bringing the proportions up to 3/5) and almost every question was about Women or Things Involving Female Culture in a very arch way. It was as if two lizards were on the show and they were taking this opportunity to have a Lizard Special.

    More recently, they had Eleanor Oldroyd on for their ‘Horse’ episode, and she knew a lot about horses as well as being dryly humorous, especially about how much she loved ponies more than life as a child. It was interesting to have an expert on for the theme, although it didn’t stop Jimmy Carr from talking over her about his superior knowledge of horses’ ear gestures. Nor did it stop the male panellists from sneering at teenage girls’ horse love (whereas car love etc is considered perfectly normal)

    But this reminds me of another debate I’d love to be pointed to – ‘chick flicks’ are often stereotyped and sappy, and yet it annoys me to see male film critics casually and routinely sneer at them. Even though it’s a stereotyped ‘female culture’, it’s still annoying to see it routinely diminished.

    • says

      To make it even worse with the horses, I found out that for a long long time, due to Freud being insane, psychologists taught that the reason girls wanted horses at twelve and thirteen especially badly was that horses were a replacement penis. The men on that show (and the women) are just the right age to have been hearing that in their psych 101 classes. Let’s make fun of girls and any sexual desire they might have.

      • Azzy says

        With Freud, though, EVERYTHING came back to penises eventually. It reminds me of a comic strip I once saw. A character fell asleep in class and when he woke up he told his friend: “I had a really weird dream.” “You want to sleep with your mother,” his friend replied. “I didn’t even tell you what the dream was about!” “It doesn’t make much difference to Freud.”

        Dude was seriously messed up.

        Though, this is the first time I’ve ever heard of the horse theory.

        • says

          Good God was he ever. Though it’s complicated by the fact that most of his female patients were parental sexual abuse victims, and told him graphic stories about it. when he told the scientific establishment, they told him no one did that to their children, and he chalked it all up to the women’s fantasy lives.

          Though on a side note, anyone who has dealt with small children will testify to oedipal and electra complexes. He thinks for some reason electra complexes develop for an entirely different reasons from oedipal ones though. Whut.

        • says

          Somehow a girl wanting a pet was to be about men. How could I forget the females of the species don’t do anything for a reason that doesn’t have to do with men.

      • Casey says

        OMG. I remember walking through a Class E. Professor store a year or two ago with a friend; we were looking through a large shelf of toy horses/farm stuffs and he mentioned to me that he read somewhere that the reason little girls love horses so much is because they serve as a male replacement. I replied, “I never really thought of a horse as a placeholder for a man, I just liked ‘em ‘cuz they’re big and you can ride ‘em….OH WAIT.”

        Suffice it to say, as infuriating as that Freudian theory is, we had a good laugh at what I said. :P

  21. Demonhype says

    This is so true. I remember in Catholic school that the girls were just as brutal to an assertive girl like me as the boys were–when the boys weren’t around to do it for them, that is. Mostly, though, the boys would retaliate against me for opening my mouth while the girls would stand in the shadows behind them, out of the way, giggling as if to say “she’ll NEVER get a husband if she keeps that up!”

    In my case, though, I was fully aware that for some reason a girl who didn’t act like an inferior airhead had some kind of penis-shriveling quality. I just DIDN’T CARE. And I still don’t. Maybe I just would rather have a man who is man enough not to be pathetically intimidated by a strong, assertive woman–or, God forbid, might actually find strength to be an attractive quality in a woman?

    You missed one other thing from school: Any girl who wasn’t properly meek and deferential to the male>female equation was A TOTAL LESBIAN. Didn’t really matter if she wasn’t, it was an automatic label used as a further retaliation against assertive girls. Yes, I got that one, no, I am not a lesbian, and no, I don’t consider “lesbian” to be an insult so it didn’t have the intended effect on me.

    But this is also one that cuts both ways. Guys have been getting uglier and nastier, because for a guy to be well-groomed or make any effort to look good, or to make any effort to listen or be sensitive to another’s needs (unless it’s for sex with a cute girl) is to be GAY. So straight men who might otherwise have not been pigs run screaming from anything more than a shave, shower and clean shirt for fear of being seen as “queer”, while straight women who have plenty of good things to say stay in the shadows for fear of being seen as “lesbian”. For some reason, society has used the hysterical fear of being seen as homosexual as a bludgeon to keep men and women firmly in their traditionally appointed roles.

    And, naturally, it benefits men more than women. They get to be ungroomed loudmouthed pigs while expecting women to be quiet and obedient supermodels, then make the erroneous claim that “this is nature, baby, take it or leave it”.

    BTW, I had some ass on youtube tell me that women have lower IQ’s than men so therefore if women had been in charge all these thousands of years we’d still be living in caves hurling our filth at one another, and only through the superiority of the Penis-Guided Mind could we have achieved our world.

    Geez, jackass, did you ever think that if girls show lower IQ’s, that that might have something to do with internalized social expectation? Nope, jackass just wants to believe that the playing field is Totally Equal now, and that women have just lost the argument that they can do as good as a guy, and we’re just man-hating monsters if we refuse to admit defeat and slink back to the kitchen like good little girls.

    There’s a reason I’m celibate, you know.

  22. Jason says

    You know… This sparked something off in my brain. I think it’s where you said that you occasionally still struggle with the… Yeah, you know. That line.

    From a completely different direction… So do I. I’m a FtM (Female-to-Male) transsexual. So I was raised as a female, and subjected to female social conditioning. But I identify- and now live- as male.
    And yet, I sometimes stop and wonder if I’m talking too much. If the other person (almost only when they’re male) doesn’t want to hear it. If I should be quiet and polite and just sit there and not say anything because, at the end of the day, that’s how I was TAUGHT to be.

    And even now, after all this time, after being in a situation where nobody expects that of me any more, even though people expect me to speak up like men in general do, I still wrestle with these thoughts which were drilled into me from such a young age- that I should just sit down and shut up and let the menz do the talking.

    It’s pretty jarring, to live and be accepted as male, but to find that I’m still carrying the baggage which came from being “conditioned” to be a socially acceptable female. Just thought I’d share.

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