Elizabeth Bird (librarian, author, blogger) asked me to contribute to her upcoming anthology FUNNY GIRL. For the announcement, she wanted me to write a sentence or two about being funny and being a girl and a writer or whatever, and yeah, I got carried away. Here’s the stuff I sent her that was obv too long for her announcement article.
While there are moments of humor in my first two books (Goose Girl & Enna Burning), no one would rightly call these comedies. When I was writing Princess Academy, I remember going to NYC for something and having a meeting with my editor and publicist. They'd read an early draft of Princess Academy. They both said, "We've been talking about how funny you are in person but how that doesn't come out in your books. Is there room for humor in this book? Is Miri funny?" And I thought, well, yeah, she is. She would totally use humor to defuse tension. So why hadn't I written that? The truth is I think I'd bought into the idea that "girls aren't funny." I heard that hundreds of times growing up. And again as adults, with regards to movies especially: "women aren't funny." I'd swallowed the party line without realizing it. But I was beginning to question it. Are we really not funny? Not as funny as the guys? Or do people assume we're not so don't notice when we are? The answer is clearly yes since I’m hysterical.
Ten of my twenty published books could be considered comedies, and yet I've never heard myself referred to as a comedic writer. TEN BOOKS. Never been invited on a humor book panel (those are for man writers). And the books that I co-write with my husband (Rapunzel's Revenge, Princess in Black) people always assume the funny parts are his. Hundreds of times people have pointed out parts that made them laugh and then asked, "Did Dean write that?" And most of the time, I had. Make no mistake, he is very funny and witty and clever. Too.
Here's a little story. Fifteen years ago when Dean and I were getting married, we made a wedding website. One night at a get together with our old group of friends:
Mike: "Dean, I loved your wedding website. It was really funny. I kept laughing out loud."
Me: "Well, you know, he built the site but I wrote the content."
Mike: nods "You typed it?"
Me: "I wrote it."
Mike: "You typed it up for him?"
Me: "No. I wrote it."
Mike: "You helped him write it?"
Me: "No, I came up with the words and put them together in sentences and wrote them down."
He was still so stumped. It took several more exchanges for him to get it. Later he returned.
Mike: "I guess I've just always thought of Dean as the writer."
Me: "I just received my MFA in Creative Writing."
He returned later yet again.
Mike: "I guess with couples, we're used to just thinking that one of them is the funny one."
Me: "You and I were in an improv comedy troupe together."
Mike is a wonderful human being and open-minded and a feminist and we're still very close. And believe me, he's been teased about this mercilessly by all of us for over a decade. But this is how deep the "girls aren't funny" idea runs. Even when presented with direct evidence, so many people can't see it! They keep seeing what they've been taught to believe.
So why does it matter? Why do kids need to see/hear/read women being funny? And hear adults acknowledging that they are funny? Because stereotypes shut down possibilities. The "class clown" is a boy. The actually truly funny girls in class are just "obnoxious" or "attention-seekers." Boys who are funny are encouraged, laughed, cheered. Girls who are funny are told to behave, shush, sit down. Comedy is a gift to humanity. How sad and pointless life would be without good laughs. We need to see girls being funny, encourage them to develop their sense of humor, reward them for the cleverness and intelligence it takes to make jokes. They'll be happier, more fulfilled human beings. And so will we. The more comedy the better!