One thing feminism has long taught me is that women, especially of the feminist persuasion, always get it coming and going. For example: humor. Women are routinely held, most notably by the late Christopher Hitchens and unfunny hacks, to be incapable of it. So if feminists promote the cause with earnest pleas for fairness, we immediately get castigated for our humorlessness. But if feminists tell funny jokes to slay the opposition, we’re mean girls.
Katie Roiphe tackled the latter type of feminist strategy yesterday here at Slate, painting the new generation of snarking feminists (of which I am a member in good standing) as the snobby cool girls sneering at the plebes:
The tone is less urgent and more queenly. It contains the idea that feminism is cool, and that it will mock you like a cool and impressive girl at the lunch table if you are in violation of its principles. The idea is to make fun of your enemies, not preach at them.
Roiphe’s not necessarily critical characterization of these new feminists as “snobby” and “queenly” made many of my feminist comrades and friends irritable on Twitter yesterday, but I for one found it delightful. Being damned if you do and damned if you don’t is remarkably freeing. Since you can’t win, you might as well just do what you please. Liberated from the worry that there will ever be an acceptable way to “do” feminism, I can just have my laughs where I can get them and be serious when I wanna be. It’s a gift, really.
Also, I actually agree with Roiphe’s general premise. While it is true that second wave feminists made good use of humor, the tone of feminism in the 21st century is much more ironic and mocking. But I don’t really think that says anything about feminism. While many pretend it’s not so, feminism is simply part of a larger culture, and it’s unsurprising that as the culture shifts, so does the language of feminism. The second wave reflects the larger tone of the youth-in-revolt movement from the ‘60s that it was born out of, one that had plenty of humor but often—and for good reason—was deadly serious. But the generation of feminists Katie points to, represented by Tina Fey and Caitlin Moran, are members of Generation X, or as I like to call us, the Sarcasm Generation. This is the era of The Daily Show and cringe comedies like Louie instead of heart-warmers like The Cosby Show. The reason feminists are more sarcastic these days is that everyone is more sarcastic these days.
Which of course just demonstrates the truth of one of the many principles that feminists are always touting, which is that women really aren’t a different species. Just as men, we change with the times and adapt our ideas to the new social mores. To quote Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a feminist who didn’t let being born in the 19th century keep her from cracking jokes, “There is no female mind. The brain is not an organ of sex. Might as well speak of a female liver.”