Posts by Gina Barreca
July 14, 2009, 02:55 PM ET
Humor by women breaches the “wall of utterance, the wall of origin, the wall of ownership” Barthes claimed as the problem of modern writing — insofar as conventional modern writing takes issue with the notion of discourse against a “classical” language.
If women appear unlaughing at conventional, masculinist humor (“whatsa matter honey, can’t ya take a joke?”) it might in part be because the directive to find something amusing is as inappropriate, even impossible, as the inverted directive not to find something funny. Charges of unlaughing and laughing inappropriately have been leveled at women, as we have seen, since women began to participate in the creation of literary works. These charges have also been brought against the female audience, of course expected to laugh at humor often based on the degradation and debasement of their sex. “The admonition to be happy,” writes...Read More
July 12, 2009, 01:43 PM ET
“Judy, you don’t know nothin’ about the South. You don’t even know the difference between the North and the South.”
I said, “Oh yes I do. In the North, there’s a cut-off age for sleeping with your parents.”
Making a spectacle out of oneself seemed a specifically feminine danger. The danger was of exposure. Men, I learned somewhat later in life, “exposed themselves,” but that operation was quite deliberate and circumscribed. For a woman, making a spectacle out of herself had more to do with inadvertency and loss of boundaries: the possessors of large, aging, and dimpled thighs displayed at the public beach, of overly rouged cheeks, of a voice shrill with laughter, or out of sliding bra strap — a loose, dingy bra strap especially — were at once caught out by fate and blameworthy … anyone, any woman, could make a spectacle out of herself if she was not ...Read More
July 9, 2009, 10:01 AM ET
Last night my husband and I had pizza for dinner. I’m on a deadline, he’s starting a new project, and we’d both worked pretty hard all day. Neither of us wanted to cook.
We had a pizza.
It wasn’t as if we had a choice.
I miss New York.
I feel like Eva Gabor about to launch into her “Green Acres” lament: “New York is where I’d rather stay/I get allergic, smelling hay/I just adore a penthouse view/Darling, I love you, but give me Park Avenue.”
It’s true that I adore cities and all they offer. I like the wide boulevards and tall buildings. I like fine couture and vintage clothing stores. I like fascinating galleries and elegant gatherings.
Mostly, though, what I like about visiting cities is going to restaurants where “pepperoni” is not regarded as the pinnacle of foodstuffs and used as part of side dishes, served as accoutrements du salade, and offered as a dessert topping. ...Read More
July 6, 2009, 08:36 AM ET
The typical Delicate Flower case goes something like this: Your colleague never completes her projects on time but inevitably gets an extension because she sighs gently in a chair’s office about the pressures of being the new member of the department, team, project, or committee (or sighs about the pressures of being a senior member of the team — but since that’s less conventionally pretty, it works less well).
You, on the other hand, have often stayed in the office until dawn to complete your work but you get it in on time and have never missed a deadline. In order to do this, you promise the baby sitter your new car if she’ll stay until you get home.
Your colleague, in contrast, can’t make her deadline because she’s having an emotional day or a tough time in her relationship or she’s finishing a poem= or attending a friend’s screening.
Are you congratulated ...Read More
July 2, 2009, 08:06 PM ET
Okay, I’ll admit it: sisterhood is powerful, but it isn’t all powerful.
There’s one kind of broad I just can’t stand. You know the type: she’s a delicate flower. (N.B.: Yes, I know: Some men do it, too. But the culture congratulates women on helplessness while it punishes men — at least publicly. More about this in another post.)
What characterizes the delicate flower? She can’t wear anything except eighteen-carat-gold jewelry without getting a rash; she can only have silk next to the skin (or pima cotton if she’s really slumming it). She absolutely must have organically grown, hand-picked, hand-squeezed grapefruit juice and she would drop down dead if you applied anything but fresh tarragon to her chicken. She requires an office with a big window because she gets sad on long winter days but she pines for specially treated glass because she doesn’t like to work in direct...Read More
June 28, 2009, 05:40 PM ET
When Mae West said, “What a tragedy for a man, what an opportunity for a woman,” she summed up one of the ways in which women’s comedy differs from men’s — in some cases, women can see possibilities for comedy and humor where men can only see failure.
I’m not only thinking about governors, of course. But I’m not not thinking about them.
When things fall apart, women’s comedy comes into ascendency. Women are often their funniest after their worst experiences.
Women use comedy to narrate their experience and so diffuse the pain.
If you’re a woman, how many times have you called your best friend in the middle of the night, woken her up from a sound sleep to tell her the most horrible story about being abandoned at a party, being set up on the world’s worst blind date, about being fired, about being embarrassed, beginning the conversation with tears of anger or depression and end...Read More
June 24, 2009, 12:13 AM ET
In one of the most popular novels depicting the “masculine mystique” of the 1950s, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, we hear one of the main characters worry about the difference between the fantasy of marriage and actual married life.
Sloan Wilson’s 1955 novel describes a “typical” family living for “seven years in the little house on Greentree Avenue in Westport, Connecticut,” which husband and wife both “detest,” for “many reasons, none of them logical, but all of them compelling.” The crux of Wilson’s argument seems to be summed up by the line “Nothing’s wrong with our marriage, or at least nothing permanen. t. . . We can’t be like a couple of children . . . playing house forever.” By telling themselves that they can’t expect to play house forever, the couple in Sloan’s novel is trying to account for the loss of pleasure they experienced after the first few years of marriage...Read More
June 18, 2009, 03:57 PM ET
“Have you ever voted against someone’s tenure because you didn’t think that person was a good teacher?”
One of my former graduate students, now an associate professor at another university, asked me this question recently. Let’s call him Rick — not his name — and say he teaches at Wombat State College. He’s been at Wombat for nine years and is fairly happy, despite the fact that he originally considered Wombat a “first job” sort of place and expected to have moved on by now. But he found a partner in another department and they bought a house together and have a child. Getting tenure right on time, so far Rick has published one book and three strong articles, is head of the Honors Program, and teaches a three-quarter load.
He’s considered a good guy by most of his 18 colleagues; the six untenured members of his department regard him as supportive and encouraging.
But there’s one...Read More
June 15, 2009, 08:49 PM ET
All right, I’ll admit it. The mistress joke made me laugh.
Don’t hate me.
It’s not like it’s my favorite joke in the whole world.
And I certainly know better than to defend the politics of it.
But simply because the politics of the jokes are indefensible doesn’t mean the joke itself is not funny.
That’s part of the problem with jokes.
Even as we speak, people are now flying to the International Society for Humor Studies’ annual conference. At this wonderful yearly conference, hundreds of people, very few of whom will be wearing red clown noses, will spend days discussing the psychological, emotional, spiritual and, god help us, intellectual bases of every kind of funny you can imagine — and several kinds that you’ve never thought of, or at least never though of sober.
I’ve spent some time dealing with humor as an academic. I wrote They Used to Call me Snow White, but...Read More
June 10, 2009, 08:15 AM ET
Question for my esteemed readers: Do you like this one?
Why or why not?
I’d love to know. I’ll write a piece in response after I hear from you.
Ready? Here goes:
A husband and wife were having dinner at a very fine restaurant when this absolutely stunning young woman comes over to their table, gives the husband a big french kiss, then says she’ll see him later and walks away.
The wife glares at her husband and says, “Who the hell was that?”
“Oh,” replies the husband, “she’s my mistress.”
“Well, that’s the last straw,” says the wife. “I’ve had enough. I want a divorce!”
“I can understand that,” replies her husband, “but remember, if we get a divorce it will mean no more shopping trips to Paris, no more wintering in Barbados, no more summers in Tuscany, no more Infiniti or Lexus in the garage, and no more yacht club. But the decision is yours.”
Just then, a mutual friend...Read More