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When a man laughs

Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest cave system. This birthplace of thousands of years of anthropological history is a national park, UNESCO World Heritage Site and, most importantly, the place where a man laughed at my joke. 

Last semester, my geology lab took a caving field trip. I don’t remember whether the walls were lined with gypsum or epsomite nor my comment of comedic genius, but I can still hear my classmate Ryan’s laughter echoing through the lightless void.

When a man laughs at a woman’s joke, she grows to meet his height. She might not grow much because he lies about how tall he is, but she rises as she releases the weight of the allegations that women aren’t funny. But, when a man laughs at a woman’s joke, she also rises to look down upon her unbecoming sisters.  

When a man laughs at a woman’s joke, she is equal. When a man laughs, feminism dies. 

I wish I could say feminism died because it was no longer needed once equality was met, but, truthfully, it died because inequality is what leads to my validation. 

Sure, I feel good about myself when a woman finds amusement in my quips, but when a man laughs? Screw feminism.

Because Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan and all the other founding mothers of feminism are rolling in their graves, I figure I must do some reflecting on why I become a bad feminist when a man laughs. 

The issue isn’t the allegation that women aren’t funny. The problem is that women aren’t supposed to be. 

One study suggests that men care less about female romantic partners being funny than they care about their partners being receptive to their own humor. Researcher Dr. Rod Martin explains that “men see being funny as a male thing.” 

However, American author Fran Lebowitz shows that women also view humor as a masculine quality: “for a woman to say a man is funny is the equivalent of a man saying that a woman is pretty. Also, humor is largely aggressive and pre-emptive, and what’s more male than that?” 

It seems women need to be breathtakingly beautiful (and capable of laughing) while a man can just be kinda funky looking as long as he has jokes. If you think I’m wrong, take a moment to consider Pete Davidson and the women he’s dated

If a woman considers being funny to be a requirement of men, she unconsciously makes them the high-court judges of humor. Because of this, the woman faces self-imposed inequality where equality only arises from a man’s laughter in the court of comedy. 

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I am not trying to place blame upon the woman for the creation of this jocular disparity (that’s what would really make me a bad feminist). Truthfully, I don’t even understand where the whole notion of men being funny came from. However, the cultural assignment of humor as an inherently masculine trait implies that for a woman, humor is a labor where she still isn’t getting equal pay. 

I’m sure Freud would have a field day with this, but when a man laughs, I experience a little gender envy. I desire to be perceived as funny without proving myself worthy of the title. I wish when a man laughs at my jokes I can just feel funny – not funny for a girl. 

Feminist author Margaret Atwood wrote, “You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.” Paradoxically, maybe that man is why I am self-sanctioned to the demand of comedic validation, but until the feminist in me becomes strong enough to kill that internal chauvinist, I hold onto Mammoth Cave as the place where I made a man laugh. 

Lilly McClelland is a first-year honors student majoring in diplomacy and global politics with an environmental science co-major and a French minor. She is a contributor to the opinion section of The Student and a very bad feminist, but she’s trying her best.