A Very Serious Thing: Womens Humor and American Culture

Nancy Walker, Author University of Minnesota Press $17.95 (248p) ISBN 978-0-8166-1703-6
Why do collections of American humor so rarely include works by women? It is not due to a dearth of writings by women or because they lack a sense of humor, says Walker of Stephens College, pk Columbia, Mo. Rather, she demonstrates, a culture dominated by men bars women from the authority and power central to writing humor, save that of the more generally minor mode of the underdog. Besides, women use humor as a vehicle for protest, to reject impossible societal demands and mock their oppressors. Noting the pseudonymous humorous works of so pk established a literary figure as Edna St. Vincent Millay, Walker contends that cultural ideals of the female sex inhibit women from expressing their wit publicly. However, frequent repetition of the same examples weakens Walker's argument for the richness of women's humor, and the lay reader may grow impatient with the jargon-laced prose. Curiously, in a study of popular culture, comics with household names (Joan Rivers, Bette Midler) are ignored in favor of less familiar contemporaries (Deanne Stillman). Nevertheless, Walker is to be praised for uncovering neglected female humorists, and for her convincing thesis that allies i prefer allies/pk female humor with feminist critique. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/03/1988
Release date: 11/01/1988
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