Laughter, at its most basic, is the physical experience of being surprised. You gasp and then you let the gasp out and there you have it: a laugh. Lots of things accomplish this: puns, Mark Twain, John Cleese, and the bored people who make window displays in charity shops in San Francisco, south of Market, where things are always a little more interesting.
A lot of what surprises and intrigues me has to do with the roles we play in the world, and how those roles are subverted. That’s why this window, the one with the two weirdly medical mannequins made me laugh. It’s a display that calls out for a feminist reading, but all I could do at the stoplight when I saw it was take a picture of it and file it for later thought.
For a long time, feminism was the tool I used to figure out my response to what I was reading, to things I’d see in the media, and to the world of the law I was just entering. I can’t put my finger on when I stopped articulating these ideas and applying them to the things that surprised me. But I do suspect it was when I got tired of being a deadly serious feminist. My work in this area didn’t make me laugh.
I know that sounds frivolous, and maybe it is, but it’s my working theory, so bear with me. It’s just this: if laughter is surprise and maybe even a little delight, then we’re going to stick with things that deliver laughter. I simply never looked for that and so never found it in feminist thinking. It’s not that it isn’t there to be found, and it’s not the case that feminism must be deadly serious, without any wit or playfulness. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the image of the deadly serious, scary feminist is one that deserves to be picked up, and looked at and given a good, healthy shake. I think what I’d find is that this image is there to make you stop thinking.
When Emily recently dropped the anvil on Abercrombie & Fitch, my response was “what she said.” Not much more than that — I’ve gotten out of practice seeing the world through this lens.
But then Emily proposed a kind of group blog, a notebook really, for people to record their thoughts about 21st century feminism. And I realized how much fun that might be. It’s a place to put pictures of mannequins, and don’t you think the world needs something like that? Litlove, and Dorothy, and Courtney and the Hobgoblin were there for that conversation, so they’re going to be posting some things, along with Emily and me. I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to say.
It’s called What We Said: Reflections on 21st Century Feminism. It’s not meant to be a weighty project for anyone — it’s a notebook, a place for anything anyone has to say about feminism. If you want in, email me or leave a comment here. I’ll add you to the site and it will become your very own moleskine also. Or come by and comment at some point. We’ll see what happens. I’m pretty sure, at a minimum, there will be things said that surprise all of us.