How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb? - RSA

How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?


Having ranged over social segregation in Northern Ireland, climate change and poverty this week I want today to discuss the vital issue of jokes and gender (don’t worry I wrote this blog in my own time!).

Excuse the generalisation, but women are less enthusiastic than men about jokes.

Despite having a Monkhousian memory for jokes, I tend to be with the women on this one. Too often jokes are an alternative to wit. Joke tellers break up and dominate conversation rather than letting it flow and develop. A well told, well-timed joke is a minor art form. It can create a bond of subversive intimacy between teller and hearer. It can be a harmless release from constraints of identity and taboo. The exchange of jokes can be a special form of gift in which you keep the gift you give and appreciate it even more. Also, in a fascinating way I can’t explain, jokes seem to have an independent life cycle; even the best joke stops being funny when it has been told too many times, while some are like desert flowers blooming for a few days before shrinking away again for years.

This is the subtle theory but too rarely the clunking practice. Let’s be honest, most jokes aren’t very funny (if you want proof think of a subject and then Google ‘jokes about x’). Also, which may be what women sense, there is often an underlying aggression in both the content and form of the joke, the implication that anyone who doesn’t ‘get‘ it is inadequate.

Having shown how right–on I am empathising with a feminist critique of joke telling, let me now make a sexist  assertion. Some of my favourite jokes are what might be called anti-jokes, and generally I find that women don’t get them.

By an anti-joke I mean one that derives its humour from in some way subverting the joke form. This might be its sheer silliness. As in

A white horse walks into a pub.

The barman says ‘how funny, we’ve got a drink named after you’

‘What,’ says the horse ‘Norman?’

Or it might be that they lack a conventional joke device or punch line. As in the famous bees joke:

Two beekeepers are chatting. One says to the other, ‘ So how many bees

do you have then?’

The second beekeeper answers, ‘Oh about twenty thousand’.

The first says, ‘Twenty thousand, eh? Right. And so how many hives do

you have?’

The second answers, ‘ Ten hives’.

The first says, ‘Ten? Hmmm, twenty thousand bees, ten hives. Hmmm.’ He

nods approvingly.

The second beekeeper asks, ‘So how many bees do you have?’

The first says, ‘Me? Oh, I’ve got about a million.’

The second beekeeper looks surprised. ‘A million! Holy cow, how many

hives do you have?’

The first answers ‘Oh just the one hive’.

The second is astonished. ‘A million bees and only one hive???’

The first pauses and thinks, realising the gravity of the situation.

He says ‘Yeah well. Sod  ‘em, they’re only bees…’   

Anyway, I’ve had this theory for a while and this week I got to test it. Last Tuesday a friend told me what I though was a great joke (ironically, provided to him by his daughter). Since then I have told the joke to twenty people – 12 men and 8 women. So far only one woman liked it, and she had heard it already, while four men thought it was funny.

Now, I realise that the most obvious conclusion to draw from a positive response rate of only 25% is that the joke is simply not funny. But it could also be taken as evidence of my gender analysis. So here is the joke (which I fear may be even less successful in written form). I am asking my readers to give it a mark out of ten so I can then undertake a rigorous gender analysis and on that basis either abandon or reassert my theory:

A man walks into a pub. He has an orange for a head.

The perplexed barman says ‘Sorry mate but I can’t help noticing you’ve got an orange for a head. How did that happen?’   

‘Ah’ the man says ‘it all started when I bought a brass lamp from an antique shop. When I cleaned it a genie appeared and said he would grant me three wishes’  

‘Oh, I see,’ says the barman ’and what was the first wish?’

‘The first wish’ said the guy ‘was that I be always surrounded by attractive women’. Saying this, he clicks his fingers and he is immediately surrounded by attractive women

‘But what about the orange for a head?’ says the barman

‘Ah well’ says the man ‘my second wish was for my wallet always to be filled with fifty pound notes’. Saying this, he produces his wallet which is indeed filled with fifty pound notes        

‘But what about the orange for a head?’ says the barman

‘Yes, I’m coming to that’ says the man ’it was all because of my third wish’

‘Yes?’ says the barman leaning forward in anticipation ’and what was that?’

‘Well’ says the man ‘I wished I had an orange for a head ‘  

PS the answer to the joke in the title is, of course (and possibly appropriately), ‘that’s not very funny’

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