Monday, March 26, 2012

Children’s Version of Golden Rule: Do One to Others as they do One to You.

Play with Words
The Washington Post hosts a “Style Invitational,” inviting readers to take any word from the dictionary and alter it by adding, subtracting or changing one letter, and then supply a new definition.

Here are some winning entries:
sarcasm becomes sarchasm
The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the recipient who doesn’t get it

inoculate becomes inoculatte
The taking of coffee intravenously when you are running late

ibido becomes glibido
All talk and no action

From a friend, Bruce Peck:
confide becomes confido
To tell a secret to your dog

decompose becomes decomprose
A rotten style of writing

disconsolate becomes disconsolatte
The sad feeling you get when you run out of coffee

echo becomes echow
A repeated request for food

Another word-play story:
My neighbor found out her dog could hardly hear, so she took it to the vet. He found the problem was hair in its ears and cleaned both ears, and the dog could hear fine. The vet told the lady if she wanted to keep this from reoccurring she should get some “Nair” hair remover and rub it in its ears once a month. The lady went to the drug store to get some. At the register, the druggist tells her, “If you’re going to use Nair under your arms don’t use deodorant for a few days.” The lady says, “I’m not using it under my arms.” The druggist says, “If you’re using it on your legs, don’t shave for a couple of days.” The lady says, “I’m not using it on my legs either, and if you must know I’m using it on my schnauzer.” The druggist looked at her in amusement and cautioned, “Stay off your bicycle for a week.”

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Discuss ideas from these blogs with
other men and women. Explore ways to encourage each other to be funny and to
laugh uncontrollably.
After I shared my research on humor
and gender, Patrick Henry, director of the Ecumenical Institute at St. John’s
University in Collegeville, Minnesota, mentioned his experience of being one of
five men in an audience of 200 women at a conference on women and theology. He
admitted not knowing when to laugh. He shared this with a woman at the
conference who worked primarily with male clergy. She loved the experience. It
was one of the few times she knew when to laugh.

Make a humor date.
Have you ever done that on purpose? You might have fun making a list of
activities for such an occasion. Here are some ideas:

• Go to a magic store and ask the
clerk to demonstrate the products
• Invite a favorite comedian or
funny friend to lunch
• Look for humor at an art museum
• Go for a drive or a walk in
search of humor
• See how many funny stories you
can collect from people you encounter
• Make people laugh
• Go shopping for things that make
each other laugh
• Create your own humor scavenger
• Volunteer together at a daycare
• Invite funny friends to go on a
double date
• List your favorite funny movies;
then rent one

Once you have your list, put the items in a hat and draw one
out. Or schedule a humor date and then create it.
A friend of mine has created a
Valentine tradition. Throughout the year she collects Valentine gifts. At the
party we take turns throwing a pair of dice. When you get a double, you choose
a gift or you can steal one of the gifts already taken. The chocolate gifts are
usually “stolen” most often. A time limit or a certain number of turns
determines the end of the game.
Find out what makes others laugh.
Make it a point to give them something that reflects their humor and not just
yours. We often give away our humor instead of finding out what makes others laugh
and giving them theirs. This is also a great way to discover new sources of
humor. We’ve all heard of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you want them to
do unto you. Have you ever heard of the Platinum Rule? Do unto others as they
want to be done unto. Give others what they want instead of what you want to
give or what you think they should want.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Appreciating Gender Differences

Men and woman look at things
differently, experience humor differently. So, how can we appreciate gender
differences in humor? Is there any hope?
Furthermore, how can humor be an
opportunity to foster a greater understanding between the sexes? Are there
differences that we do not want to appreciate, differences that, in fact, may
be harmful to healthy relationships?
Humor can be a means to become
closer to people, a tool for creating healthy relationships. As a form of
communication, humor can be used constructively to build self-esteem or can be
used to undermine it. It can serve as the road to reconciliation and an
appreciation of the differences between men and women or it can provide
ammunition for the battle of the sexes.
Humor can be a bonding experience,
a sharing of experience, creating a sense of belonging, a sense of partnership.
As a form of self-presentation and expression of cleverness, humor can be a
valuable form of entertainment for the entertainer and the entertainee, a means for laughing, playing, and having fun
together. It also can serve as an expression of love, a building block in the
foundation for fun-loving, passionate, committed relationships.
In the words of the Russian
novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky: “If you wish to glimpse inside a human soul and
get to know someone, don’t bother analyzing their ways of being silent, of
talking, of weeping, or seeing how much they are moved by noble ideas; you’ll
get better results if you just watch them laugh. If they laugh well, they’re
good people” (adapted to inclusive language).
Actor Joanne Woodward has another
take on the importance of humor in relationships: “Sexiness wears thin after a
while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every
day, ah, now that’s a real treat.” Woodward has been married for forty-six
years to my favorite blue-eyed actor, social activist and entrepreneur, Paul

“While attending a marriage seminar
on communication, my husband and I listened to the instructor declare, ‘It is
essential that husbands and wives know the things that are important to each
other.’ He addressed the men. ‘Can you describe your wife’s goals, her dreams?
Do you know her favorite song, her favorite flower?’ My husband leaned over,
touched my arm tenderly and whispered, ‘Pillsbury All-Purpose, isn’t it?’”

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

During my time in Studium (2002 to
2003), a residential scholars’ program of the Sisters of Saint Benedict, I
discovered I was living in a laugh laboratory. Where else could I find a better
reflection of women’s humor than in a women’s monastery? My experience at
monastery meals confirms the research; amusing stories of daily living are
shared and everyone participates. Sometimes two or three people tell an
anecdote together. You often hear words of encouragement: “Sister, tell the one
about . . .” Here are two of my favorites:

When the sister known for her
social justice work was speeding across Montana, a patrolman pulled her over.
He asked, “Didn’t you see me on the side of the road?” She said, “Yes.” The
officer asked why she didn’t slow down. She innocently and honestly replied, “I
thought it would be hypocritical.”
Reprinted with permission

While assigning research topics, a
sister theology professor announced, “Sexual intercourse hasn’t been chosen;
anyone interested in this topic, please see me in my office.” Reprinted with permission

Finally, although women are seldom
included in standard anthologies of American humor, there are numerous
anthologies of women’s humor available. We have a richer written heritage than
we may realize. Besides the books mentioned above, other favorites include: They Used to Call Me Snow White But I
Drifted, In Stitches, Pulling Our Strings, Women’s Comic Visions, Women’s Comic
Fiction, and Redressing the Balance.

How many have heard of best-selling
writer, Marietta Holley? Holley wrote more than twenty books from 1873 to 1914.
She was enormously popular and entertained as many people as Mark Twain.
Through the wit and gentle satire of her main character, Samantha, wife of
Josiah Allen, she challenged the status quo of social and political realities,
especially concerning women’s rights. For example, “Samantha cannot understand
why men are trying so hard to protect women from the effort it takes to walk to
the polling booth and slip a piece of paper in a box. She has noticed that
these same protective instincts do not apply to churning butter, baking bread,
and washing clothes, which she observes take considerably more effort.”

Monday, March 5, 2012

Humor and Gender Continued

Beyond the differences in joke preferences between the sexes, Dr. Nancy Walker, a professor of women’s studies and author of A Very Serious Thing, suggests that women don’t particularly like jokes. In her study of women’s literature, she found that women tend to be storytellers rather than joke tellers. For women, humor functions as a means of communication rather than as a means of self-presentation, a sharing of experience rather than a demonstration of cleverness. Women more often prefer the spontaneous humor of everyday life, amusing stories, and anecdotes. They are more participatory. Walker identified the following common characteristics of women’s written humor: it embodies a we/they attitude, reveals a collective consciousness, and makes clear that a group other than ourselves has made the rules by which we must live.
The late Erma Bombeck’s writing exemplifies these characteristics. When women’s lives were centered in the home, that was the primary source of humor for them. Erma Bombeck capitalized on it, and women loved her column. Men, whose lives were centered outside the home, didn’t get Bombeck’s humor. Males who have assumed more responsibility in the home now have a finer appreciation for her writing.
“The harder a woman works, the more things go wrong,” Bombeck said about the perils of being a mother and a homemaker. According to Nancy Walker, Bombeck’s humor created a sense of community for women, building women’s confidence and identifying a social system that “makes women solely responsible for the functioning of the household and sets impossibly high standards for their performance.”
Bombeck simply used humor to point out some of the same cultural incongruities and inequities that scholars were trying to expose. For example, in Honey Hush: An Anthology of African American Women’s Humor, editor Daryl Cumber Dance presents dozens of examples of the characteristics Walker identifies: the we/ they attitude, the collective consciousness, and the notion that a group other than African American women has made the rules by which they must live. She writes,

Humor hasn’t been for us so much the cute, the whimsical, and the delightfully funny. Humor for us has rather been a means of surviving as we struggled. We haven’t been laughing so much because things tickle us. We laugh, as the old blues line declares, to keep from crying. We laugh to keep from dying. We laugh to keep from killing. We laugh to hide our pain, to walk gently around the wound too painful to actually touch. We laugh to shield our shame. We use our humor to speak the unspeak- able, to mask the attack, to get a tricky subject on the table, to warn of lines not to be crossed, to strike out at enemies and the hateful acts of friends and family, to camouflage sensitivity, to tease, to compliment, to berate, to brag, to flirt, to speculate, to gossip, to educate, to correct the lies people tell on us, to bring about change.
How many people know what it’s like to be the only person in a relationship?
—Linda Moakes, comedian

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sexuality, Society, and Feminism

In an article on humor in Sexuality, Society, and Feminism,
Michael Mulkay examined the representation of women in men’s sexual humor by
analyzing dirty jokes collected by folklore researchers and comic routines in
British pubs observed by ethnographers. He identified four basic themes in this
male sexual humor:

1) The primacy of intercourse—all men want is sex.
2) The availability of women—all women are sexually
available to all men even when they pretend not to be.
3) The objectification of women—women exist to meet men’s
needs, and are, or should be, passive.
4) The subordination of women’s discourse—women must be

These themes articulate why this
type of sexual humor is offensive and hurtful to women personally and also
detrimental to healthy relationships between men and women. I want to be
careful not to over-generalize from the two studies listed above, which reflect
a fairly small segment of English-speaking males. However, the fact is that
there is an over-abundance of jokes that reflect these themes. I will not
provide examples here, and I assume you don’t need to be convinced of the harm
this kind of humor can do to relationships.
Nevertheless, we have to remember
that some sexual humor can be healthy and appropriate. In the United States
there seems to be a tendency to label humor either dirty or clean, with
anything sexual belonging to the dirty category, thus perpetuating the
unfortunate notion that sex is dirty. I am not opposed to humor with sexual
innuendos, as long as it doesn’t use the themes outlined above. Mulkay’s
identification of these themes can be useful in distinguishing between sexual
humor that is harmful and that which is healthy.

There were three engineers discussing
the design of the human body. The mechanical engineer insisted that it must
have been a mechanical engineer who designed it since without the skeletal
structure we would be like jellyfish. The electrical engineer claimed that an
electrical engineer designed the body, given the importance of the brain and
the nervous system. The civil engineer said, “No, no, no! It had to be a civil
engineer. Who else would put a waste-water treatment facility in the middle of
a recreational area?