“By the way, folks, yes, I am an unconventional candidate and, yes, I do have a sense of humour – some people have a problem with that.”
– U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain, addressing accusations that he sexually harassed employees
It’s an accusation that plagues women: that we don't have a sense of humour.
That we, as a sex, consistently miss the joke is the first line of defence when a man is accused of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. And, yes, this can give women something like libel chill – call it accusation-of-humourlessness chill.
Women will mull over a deeply unpleasant encounter for hours and run it by friends: “Would this have been a joke in his native country? Quick, someone run it through Google Translate, then run it back the other way again. Now try saying it with a funny wig and glasses on, because maybe the area manager’s a prop comic, but his stuff was in the car. Could this possibly, conceivably, be a joke that I didn’t get?”
Basically, half the people on the planet are wandering around in a state of hyper-“was that a joke?”-awareness. Some self-preservation instinct kicks in if you ask a woman what time it is: She'll unconsciously parse your query for clever puns, and possibly smile weakly just in case you've made a witty movie reference she's missed. Ask a woman if she'd like to see a menu and she'll end up scanning it for hilarious double entendres. This is why it takes us so long to order.
Ever since Herman Cain predictably hauled out that line in response to serious allegations of sexual harassment, I've been wondering how women might resolve the issue once and for all.
It's distracting. It hurts our productivity. Some of us will now sit in a meeting with a man, listening to him talk about, say, life-threatening safety violations in our own workplace, and be wondering if he thinks he's doing a Seth Rogen impression and when in his speech we're meant to start laughing. Sometimes we do start laughing. It's a defensive move. We look insane! But insane is okay. Just never let it be said that we don't have a sense of humour.
Our humourlessness is wrecking everything! Why, as U.S. Senator Rand Paul said last week in Mr. Cain's defence, “There are people now who hesitate to tell a joke to a woman in the workplace, any kind of joke, because it could be interpreted incorrectly. I don't. I'm very cautious.” And since Mr. Paul is no doubt the Noel Coward of his generation, we should act quickly – some of his jokes may be topical!
So here's my proposal: Women, we need to start finding sexual harassment a lot funnier.
The next time one of your superiors presses his pelvic area against your bottom as he passes behind you at the photocopier, burst out laughing loudly.
Turn and say, “That's hilarious! Hey, everyone, get this! Mike from Legal just touched my ass with his penis! While I was working! I barely know him! He is hysterical.” Lighten the hell up, girls. We need this.
If someone sends you an e-mail hinting that your chances of promotion are contingent upon his access to your breasts, change the font to comic-sans and forward it to everyone in the company. Maybe add a picture of a kitten hanging by its paws!
And if a superior at your office Christmas party whispers to you that he has a hotel room and an enormous penis, laugh! Lighten up and laugh with him! Let everyone see your amusement. Say, “Jon, you're a riot! That's so funny! Someone should totally book you to do children's parties!”
Share your amusement with the crowd: Yell, “Ha! Jon just told me he has a hotel room and an enormous penis! Hey, Jon, that's a good one! Did you hear that one somewhere else? You should totally write that bit up as a ‘Shouts & Murmurs' and send it to The New Yorker. That is gold. Do you have an agent? Because with lines like that, sir, you are wasted in Human Resources.”
No, I don't understand why some men want us to find anything involving their penises so funny. But work with me, womankind, lest it ever be said again that we can't take a joke.