Saturday, April 21, 2012

Gender And Humor In Children's Books--Do We Ever Hear About This?

We frequently hear that boys and girls read different things. Certainly there is the old story that girls will read books about boys but that boys won't read books about girls. Children's books are definitely marketed to different genders, with sports books being considered boy books and princess stories being considered girl books. Though, personally, I'd get a kick out of seeing someone mess with those stereotypes.

But what about humor? I thought of this yesterday because I read another op-ed piece by Gina Barreca, whose academic turf is supposed to be both feminism and humor. She's been writing columns for The Hartford Courant for years. I rarely read them because she does a lot of woman vs. man stuff, which I consider so 1970s. However, her piece Stooges Funny? Don't Make Me Laugh (which is how the title appeared in print) caught my eye because, yeah, the Stooges don't make me laugh, either.

I don't know that that's necessarily because I'm a woman, as Barreca would contend. I do agree with her that there is humor that's built around jokes and humor that's built around stories. I do the story type of humor in my writing. That's why it's often hard for me to do funny readings from my books. The whole story might be threaded through a big section of a novel. The big joke in Saving the Planet & Stuff takes place in a restaurant scene toward the end of the book. You have to have pretty much read all the character development to understand why it's funny. Barreca would tell you that I write my humor through stories because I'm a woman. I can't be sure that that's the case, either.

Barreca gives Erma Bombeck as her example of an anti-Stooge story-telling female humorist. Here's the thing--I'm not a big fan of Bombeck's, either. I am totally respectful of her achievements. She was hugely successful when there were few, if any, other female humor writers. Her first book of housewife humor is supposed to have been groundbreaking, I've read, because no one else was doing it. No one else found the humor in a housewife's life. Perhaps no one else even noticed them. But it seemed to me that she eventually became pretty much a caricature of herself, writing the same kinds of things over and over again.

Isn't that what happens in Three Stooges movies?

Anyway, you do see these kinds of articles and discussions about humor and gender in relation to adults. Is anyone interested in humor and gender in relation to children's books? Are there really that many third- or fourth-grade girls who won't laugh at a fart joke? At what point do females stop thinking farting is funny? Or do they?

Of course, in children's and YA literature, we don't get a lot of nonfiction humor. I'm not aware of a lot of Erma Bombecks or Dave Barrys writing straight humor essays for younger readers. I'm wondering now, why not? Could it be done? And, if it were done, would it be humor written along gender lines?

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