Hsyteric Women: Deconstructing Menstrual Humor
Humour is often associated with laughter and comedy, but it was not always so. Philosophers have found little to no essays on the subject of Humor, other than some lesser-known thinkers such as Frances Hutcheson and James Beattie. Until the 20th century, humor was assumed to be malicious and with the intent of scorn. Famous Greek Thinker Plato had several objections to humor and even said it should be tightly controlled. Aristotle, although taught by Plato, believed wit to be an essential and integral part of conversations.
Subsequently, laughter, Descartes said, was accompanied by at least three of six emotions: wonder, love, (mild) hatred, desire, joy, and sadness, thus giving rise to the first theory of humor - The Superiority Theory. This theory simply states that laughter expresses a feeling of superiority over others or a former state of self. While some laughter explicitly deals with comparisons with others, there are other cases in which no personal comparisons are involved.
The emergence of Relief Theory and Incongruity theory weakened earlier narratives. While the Relief Theory said laughter is a nervous release within an individual that mostly arises during uncomfortable situations, The Incongruity Theory said humor is a perception that violates mental patterns and expectations. The strain stems from a beginning that does not match the ending and leaves the individual wanting more.
The event, Hysteric women: Deconstructing Menstrual Humor, was held on the 29th January 2021 at 6:00 PM. With ten active participants, the discussion ranged from everyday ‘jokes’ that we hear to the offensive nature menstrual humor has assumed through stereotypes and existing power structures.
A fun segment in the event was to identify which meme was offensive and which was not. The segment titled - Offensive or Not: Do you meme it? showed a series of memes ranging from period pain, PMS, and even Menopause. The memes largely collected from social media were illustrated by both menstruators and non-menstruators and evoked discussions on the importance of power structures in humor.
Some of the participants were clear on the memes they liked based mostly on relatability and anything that was exaggerated was left unacknowledged. Some memes, however, elicited mixed responses with some looking at it solely through the lens of humor and some looking for relatable content.
Three important questions were discussed during the event, and responses from participants have been summarised below -
1. Do you use humor to deal with Menstrual, Premenstrual, and Reproductive disorders?
Humour is an excellent coping mechanism when it involves talking about Menstrual, Premenstrual, and Reproductive disorders with others who share the same experiences. However, when the humor is taken out of context and used by someone who does not share in the same way, it then takes the shape of mockery. A coping mechanism can also be a way to talk about menstruation in public to fear that others will be uncomfortable.
Stereotyping menstruators based on assumptions and misinformation leads to increasing the already present stigma and taboo surrounding menstruation.
2. Do you think ‘jokes’ discourage health-seeking behavior by stereotyping ‘Hysteric Women?'
In an already stigmatized space, talking about menstruation and seeking health care for menstrual, premenstrual, and reproductive disorders is lacking. ‘Jokes’ and labeling women ‘hysterical’ delegitimize experiences and hinder health-seeking behavior. A large contributor to the spread of misinformation surrounding PMS has stemmed from ‘jokes and memes’ made every day and through social media, catering to existing stereotypes.
Extreme forms of PMS and disorders like PMDD remain under/undiagnosed. Menopausal symptoms are rarely addressed and dismissed as expected after a certain age and hinder the quality of life of several.
3. When is menstrual humor funny to you?
Menstrual humor is funny when we remember who is making the jokes, what the joke itself is about, and at whose expense the joke is being made. When the target of the joke made by you - is you, it can be acceptable. Power roles play an important part in how menstrual humor can be defined as ‘funny.’ A lot of jokes that non-menstruating comics crack around womxn’s experiences usually leave the viewer with a general feeling of distaste. There is an incongruence between the initial buildup and the concluding statement.
Polimeni, J., & Reiss, J. P. (2006). The First Joke: Exploring the Evolutionary Origins of Humor. Evolutionary Psychology, 4(1), 147470490600400. https://doi.org/10.1177/147470490600400129
Morreall, J. (2020). Philosophy of Humor. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available at: https://plato.stanford.edu/cgi-bin/encyclopedia/archinfo.cgi?entry=humor