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Jan 07 2012

"Shit Girls Say" Isn't Funny

Or, perhaps, it’s only funny if you don’t consider the context.

Check it out:

This is the first episode of the wildly popular web series Shit Girls Say, which draws its humor from portraying stereotypical (white) (middle-/upper class) women in quick bursts of cliched speech. And I can definitely see how many people, even many women, would find it funny.

But let’s deconstruct it a bit.

Why do women talk like this and men don’t? No, seriously, try to answer that question. Is it because they have two X chromosomes? Is it because they have more estrogen? Is it because they have tits? Is it because their bodies produce eggs?*

Or is it something cultural?

Except for those of us who had the most progressive of parents, most of us were raised in a viscous sludge of “boys do this/girls do this/boys don’t do this/girls don’t do this” remarks. As my gender studies professor recently remarked, hang out near a parent with a toddler at a store sometime and you’ll hear a barrage of comments to the tune of “You’re not getting that, that’s for girls!” and “Don’t you want to wear something prettier?”

Right, so. Part of the education that most of us receive is how to properly relate to both same-sex friends and to members of the opposite sex. The basic lesson is, of course, “Boys don’t cry,” which can be extrapolated to mean that girls can cry, if they want to. From this basis, the entire structure of normative ways of interacting develops–women can be very emotional with each other; men cannot.

Eventually, girls who don’t display this “relational” style of behavior come to realize that they’re acting wrong somehow. I would know, because I was once such a girl. From early childhood onward, it was always “You’re so insensitive. Why can’t be you be more considerate? Why can’t you think about someone besides yourself? Why can’t you realize that I need your help? That wasn’t very nice of you to say that to your friend. Have you thought about what present to get her for her birthday? You really think she’d like that? Don’t say things like that, you’ll hurt someone’s feelings.”

I don’t think many little boys are told such things.

What the women in the Shit Girls Say videos are saying are more evolved forms of the things I was expected to say as a little girl. They relate to each other. They ask each others’ opinion. They want to share the details of their lives with each other. They want to commiserate, open up, engage. I could analyze the language of the videos in detail if anyone were interested in hearing it, but I think it will suffice to say that the stereotypical ways in which women behave–the gossiping, the complaining, the requests for help–are all designed to help them connect with each other.

(As for one of the girls’ constant need for help with the computer, I would hope I don’t need to explain how women’s supposed lack of technological expertise is not only a huge overgeneralization, but also entirely attributable to a culture that still values girls who play with dolls over those who tinker with electronics.)

Recently I noted that in our society, women are considered ugly if they don’t maintain their appearance, and vain if they do–unless, of course, they manage to wind up in that magical sweet spot where they always look flawless but make it seem like they haven’t expended any effort to look that way.

Well, this is similar. Our culture trains women to be relational, and then pokes fun at and belittles them for being so. Shit Girls Say succeeds in its comedic endeavors by noting and exaggerating stereotypes about how women behave, but women don’t behave that way because they’re women. They behave that way because they’re taught to behave that way.

You can’t really win as a woman. If you don’t act in a relational way, you’ll be a loner, like I was for many years before I learned how to wear a mask of friendliness and approachability. But if you do act in a relational way, you’ll find yourself the target of jokes about how frivolous women’s conversations supposedly are, how overexcited they are when they see each other, and how they apparently ask their boyfriends to do everything for them (don’t even get me started on the fact that many men still buy into antiquated ideas about how they’re supposed to be the “providers” and whatnot).

So I don’t think Shit Girls Say is funny. Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it sexist or misogynistic. But I would say that it’s ignorant in that it ignores the cultural origins and meanings of women’s behavior, and it’s insensitive in that it disregards the burden placed on women to act in those ways.

Cheap-shot comedy like this favors easy caricatures over meaningful critiques and analysis of our culture. (Try this for a still-funny but socially conscious parody of Shit Girls Say.) Go ahead and laugh–it’s funny in a way–but educate yourself, too.

*I’m defining “men” and “women” very generally here for the purposes of making a point. Needless to say, I don’t believe that any of the traits I listed are necessary for being a man or a woman.

18 comments

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  1. 1
    Pish Posh

    I agree with you on all your points, and I am so happy you directed us to Shite White Girls Say. I especially agree that society trains or at least reinforces relational behavior in women and simultaneously puts them down for doing it.

    Would you be happier if the video was called Shit Some Girls Say?

    I posted the video on my site, and I was once a gender studies professor that doesn’t mean much other than I understand where you’re coming from, because it is how some girls talk. I am a white girl, and I don’t talk like any of the women in either video except for “listen, listen, listen” and “did I lock the door?”

    I didn’t think the video was offensive because of the context but also because in comedy stereotypes and generalizations are the norm; they have to be. There could be a million videos made about Shit Boys Say that also include asking for help, but it would be more like “where did I put this? have you seen my socks?” and being vain (flexing muscles) and “did you like that? did you finish?” – huge generalizations about gender, and it would be funny too. I am all about studying and discussing cultural norms, normalizing stereotypes, and so forth. But comedy is a release from that – its funny because its true and its also funny because its NOT true. Simultaneously. And this is what provokes the funny, at least in me. I also agree about the toy store/aisle – huge and horrible gender extremes and reinforcement of cultural gender expectations. This is true on television, in movies, all over the place. At some point there are sexual and gender differences and I think that our culture exaggerates and forces some gender distinctions that are harmful. I also think that there are differences between men and women. I don’t know why we are in denial of this. Both extremes are foolhardy. Its when people try to define what those differences are that I get uncomfortable.

    Anyway, I still think its a funny video, but the Shit White Girls say is funnier so thanks :)

    1. 1.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Actually, I don’t think it’d be a different matter if it were called “Shit Some Girls Say.” My main issue isn’t with the fact that the video generalizes this behavior to ALL women, but the fact that it ignores WHY (some) women behave this way.

      I could perhaps qualify my statements by saying that the reason the videos aren’t funny to me is because they remind me of the fact that I can’t ever win–people will find ways to criticize my behavior no matter what I do, and to criticize it specifically in gendered ways.

      Perhaps people who don’t feel this tension but who still understand everything I’ve written here could legitimately find the video funny, though.

      1. 1.1.1
        Yisheng Qingwa

        Word. Also, calling grown women ‘girls’ is infantilizing and sexist as Hell.

  2. 2
    Pish Posh

    No you’re right when I think about it, it is a stupid video. I think I laughed because I saw myself in the “did I lock the door?” thing but I don’t know I think poking fun at stereotypes is funny too. When someone says something critical about my gender performance/quality, they just seem so stupid to me I laugh them off. I mean they’re just showing their own flaws, not mine.

    Have you ever seen the show Portlandia? It pokes fun at stereotypes of Hipsters and is pretty funny to me even though some of those people I’d probably be friends with at some point haha!

    Maybe you could write a post about what an alternate video would look like called “Why Girls Act The Way They Do” or “So You’re Trying to Be A Girl” or something and show things like – me wanting to wear jeans and a shirt as a kid but my mom constantly dressing me in frilly pink dresses. Or women who are told that its attractive to be helpless because it awakens men’s “protective” side. Smart girls who are mocked in the classroom for knowing all the answers. Popular girls who are popular for being dumb. Or fathers, like mine, who always say things like “you gals sure like to talk. women are like that.” Or mothers who think you only got a phd to find a man and now you’re going to give up your career to have babies, or mothers who always criticized the way you look and acted by saying “men won’t like that about you.” I had to build a thick skin and now I really don’t care what they think.

    Thanks for responding, I enjoy your thoughtful and analytical writing!

    1. 2.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Thanks! And that’s a great idea. If I had any film-making skills whatsoever, I’d make a video like that myself, hehe.

  3. 3
    Heather

    Well, I thought the video was hilarious, but your breakdown makes great sense. Funny that my natural reaction is to guffaw like a big oaf instead of using my brain. I guess I just don’t use my brain when it comes to comedy. And, well, I’ll probably laugh at the next installment, and then I’ll get a good dose of your blog to straighten my head out.

    1. 3.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Haha, well, as I said, there’s nothing wrong with laughing. But I’m glad you agree with my analysis of it. :)

  4. 4
    Autumn

    THANK YOU for this. I actually hadn’t watched any of it before because just from the name of it I knew I’d be annoyed, but it’s everywhere so I’m glad I took a second, in the context you present here, to do so. It just screams misogyny, even as parts of it DO strike a chord. I’m almost always annoyed whenever men play women for comic effect, as though to point out that our requests for men to keep noise down after we’ve gone to bed is just stupid and annoying instead of…us trying to get some goddamn sleep.

    1. 4.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Huh, somehow I didn’t even think to talk about the whole “can you turn it down” thing. I don’t understand why that’s “shit girls say.” Shit people say, maybe, but last I checked, people need sleep regardless of gender.

  5. 5
    Ruth

    I also am having a hard time with the fact that the ‘girl’ is played by a dude. It seems like this somehow makes it even more troubling, in the “look, you know what’s really funny? a MAN “doing” a WOMAN, geez, haha, because who else acts so silly about this stuff. Not MEN.” Sort of plagiarizing Eileen Myles here because I’m having trouble remembering my relevant Women’s Studies coursework.

  6. 6
    Titfortat

    Im curious, in general, is this funny because its generally like many women? ;)

    1. 6.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      I’m not sure. I think the humor comes from the fact that most people can relate to getting annoyed when they hear girls constantly talking that way. I mean, I’ve definitely been there. I just try to remember how people learn how to interact with each other.

      1. 6.1.1
        Titfortat

        But arent we learning behaviours that typically may be fairly(generally) accurate to a gender?

        1. 6.1.1.1
          Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

          I’m not sure what you mean. Care to elaborate?

          1. Titfortat

            We say things are cultural but arent our cultural values determined by the people in it and not the other way. So if certain tendencies are related to certain genders couldnt it very well be that generally those genders act like it. :)

          2. Yisheng Qingwa

            Ignore this d00d, he’s an MRA troll. And, he doesn’t know what the Hell he’s talking about. You can find some of his ‘sentiments’ about women in the comments over at Manboobz.

  7. 7
    Plop

    It’s a humor of repetition, showing how ridiculous the women behave. I think it’s sane to have such comedy, because they tell us to watch our own comportment and reconsider it. We have the same little films showing an accumulation of sexist messages.
    The problem is more that we are actually ENCOURAGEd to act in this way, by media showing screaming girls, by peers, by pseudo-feminine magasines, etc. It doesn’t challenge the source of the behaviour.

  8. 8
    Jennifer M.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who didn’t find these videos funny in the least. I didn’t find them offensive really, just… weird. And confusing, since everything he said was pretty spot on with how girls I know talk… only it didn’t have a sarcastic, over-the-top feeling to it… so it felt just like we were watching girls talk…. which is not funny… just normal.

    I guess the fact that it was a GUY saying these things was supposed to be the offensive (funny?) part, but that just made it slightly creepy. And like I said, her (his?) tone of voice wasn’t sarcastic or abnormal (for a girl, anyway) so it didn’t come across as being particularly humorous or like it was trying to make fun of itself. I kept feeling like it should be feeling more like an SNL skit, only it wasn’t… so… it just came across like we were watching a girl say all the normal things that girls say, and… why is that funny? Still not sure.

    I think you are pretty spot on with your observations though. It’s supposed to be pointing out that MEN wouldn’t say those (apparently dumb and “girly”) things. Which is probably true. How much is bred into us and how much is just how women are is debatable. But I think you’re probably right that we get a lot of it drilled into us as children — I certainly see a lot of this teaching behavior in the mothers of young children that I know!

    Overall… just a weird video and I hope this trend dies soon.

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