I’m not making a joke; you know me, I take everything so seriously.
—Galileo, by The Indigo Girls
I have a confession to make: my brother and his girlfriend gave me a Cthulhu hat, and once I placed it on my head, the latent spirit of the Old One within it awoke and ate my sense of humor. I have absolutely no sense of humor left now. While you might think that’s a problem for me, I can’t say I miss it. It certainly made things easier on my students, not having to put up with a professor’s lame jokes. All around, I’d say this is a net gain.
It does lead to some puzzlement from time to time, though. Last night, my science-writing friends passed around the link to a piece in Nature entitled “Womanspace”, written by Ed Rybicki. In my humorless state, I found myself wondering what it was all about; the author claims being tongue-in-cheek (odd expression, that), so perhaps I’m just missing the point. See, without a sense of humor, I just can’t see what’s funny about dragging out a bunch of extremely shopworn stereotypes about incompetent and impractical (yet strangely brilliant and clever) men, and magical women with access to arcane knowledge about how to buy mysterious stuff like underwear. Cliches flow about male Hunters and female Gatherers. It’s in Nature, though, so it has to be true.
I’ve heard tell that women are from Venus and men are from Mars, though the last I checked Mars’ atmosphere is rather thin, Venus’ is rather thick, and neither have the right balance of chemistry to allow human breathing. Perhaps that’s another thing a sense of humor is needed to understand. Perhaps even more oddly in light of How Very Different men and women are, it’s surprising how many women and men wrote vehement comments and responses on their own blogs decrying the idea that All Women are like this, and All Men are like that. However, after Rybicki’s piece, the announcement of a new journal from the Nature Publishing Group made perfect sense to me, so I totally can’t understand why my friends think it’s funny.
So I am mystified as I usually am when someone writes a supposedly satirical piece repeating old misogynist tropes, then castigate the people who Aren’t Smart Enough to get that it’s All a Joke. These writers aren’t really sexist and stupid, it’s just that all my friends, like me, lack a sense of humor. I guess it’s a common affliction. Perhaps we should be glad that a respected and venerable publication like Nature has deemed it important to run this profound commentary on gender relations, to enlighten us all.
However, I have a response ready-made for the writer and the editors who chose to run the piece: