Sexist study makes female comedians the butt of the joke

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The idea that women are all less funny than men due to evolution sounds like nothing short of a bad punchline. 

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what a recent study shared by the BBC claims—that as a rule, men have “higher humour production ability” than women.

This binary, heteronormative generalization of genders isn’t just harmful, but actively false. 

Of the study’s participants, 63 per cent of men were labelled funnier than the average woman. The men and women in the study were asked by researchers to write a funny caption to accompany an image, and independent judges evaluated their humour without being told the author’s gender. 

The researchers claim their findings mirror evolutionary history: men rely on humour to attract their female partners, and women equate humour with smarts, seeking an intelligent partner to reproduce with. 

But this view of funniness is exclusionary. It neglects diversity in gender identity and romantic attraction alike.

The study’s conclusions also fail to account for the role of context and culture in determining whether a joke will land with a particular audience.

Generally speaking, white men are overrepresented in comedy. Much of the successful humour in popular culture—centred around objectifying or belittling women—is influenced by the excess of male perspectives in stand-up and other comedic outlets. 

Humour that doesn’t cater specifically to men or doesn’t adhere to standards of traditional ‘male’ humour may be unfamiliar or challenging to mainstream audiences—but this doesn’t mean it isn’t funny.

Humour is subjective. A panel of judges simply can’t represent everyone’s perspective on comedy, or anticipate what jokes will resonate with a different audience. 

Satire and humour are powerful tools: they’re opportunities to influence political perspective, call attention to otherwise marginalized topics, and forge social commentary. It’s ignorant to shut those who need that humour out of the conversation by labelling them unfunny. 

Bolstering the narrative that women are less funny than men is irresponsible. Studies pitting generalized male versus female humour against one another isn’t just inaccurate: it’s binary and unnecessary. 

Comedy shouldn’t be exclusive. Studies like this discourage female-identifying and non-binary people from engaging in comedy, which is meant to unify and connect everyone. The study shows a blatant disregard for the intersectional experiences that influence what people think is or isn’t funny.

Your ability to tell a good joke isn’t determined by your gender. Humour is for and by everyone, not just the men we see overwhelmingly in stand-up.

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