Humour and Gender Hegemony: The Panoptical Role of Ridicule vis-à-vis Gender

  • Author / Creator
    Abedinifard, Mostafa
  • In this dissertation, I read gender humour through the lens of masculinities studies and critical humour studies to contribute to gender studies and humour studies. I engage two crucial problems and propose solutions and possibilities. The first problem concerns the state of the concept of ridicule—as a form/aspect of humour—within gender-related debates and specifically ridicule’s place in challenging and enforcing gender hegemony. In such discussions, ridicule and humour are frequently mentioned as insidious social control strategies through which certain forms of masculinity and femininity are abjected. Despite their recognizing such role of ridicule, however, the above debates never grant the role any theoretical significance. Critically reviewing the related literature, I draw on Michael Billig’s theory of ridicule as a universal reinforcer of the social order to argue that ridicule, as occurring in mainstream gender humour, plays a panoptical role in enforcing inequitable gender relations. As a pervasive disciplinary tool, gendered ridicule causes self-regulation in social agents who then wish to consent to the cultural ascendancy of certain modes of gender performance and the subordination of certain other forms of performing gender. By connecting this fearful consent to debates in gender studies about the role of abjection in the creation of gendered subjectivities, I also hypothesize that ridicule occupies a necessary role in the creation of gendered beings in the first place. I raise my main argument in Chapter One. In Chapters Two to Four, I illustrate the argument by analyzing various types of mainstream gender humour—with a particular emphasis on the genres of canned joke and sitcom—from Iranian and Anglo-American (mainly the U.S. and the U.K.) societies and cultures. The main humour types and/or categories include those targeting women, homosexuals, effeminates as well as bodily non-normative and ethnic/racial femininities and masculinities. For the Anglo-American sections (Chapter Two and parts of Chapter Four), besides related joke cycles, episodes from the sitcoms Two and a Half Men (2003-2015) and Ellen (1994–1998) as well as spots from the Get a Mac Ad campaign (2006-2009) are analyzed. For the Iranian part (Chapter Three and parts of Chapter Four), the main focus is put on the contemporary Qazvini and Rashti joke cycles, the sexual humour of the classical Persian satirist Ubeyd Zakani (d. ca. 1370), and his modern counterparts. My main argument, given humour’s well-known potential for subversion, may arouse the objection that ridicule always exists as a counterhegemonic tool to resist hegemonic gender norms. I tackle this possibility in the last Chapter Five, where I discuss the possibilities and restraints of feminist and in-group lesbian humour as representative categories of fringe or non-mainstream gender humour. I argue that this resistant humour, due to its minimal normalizing power—compared to the heft of mainstream gender humour—apparently cannot offset the latter’s disciplinary power and thus be effectively subversive of patriarchy. The second problem I focus on is the way gender theories inform prevalent textual analyses of gender humour. Examining the pertinent literature, I argue that the critical blind spots need redress and enrichment. While analyzing gender humour, I argue, many humour scholars either resist gender theories or employ theories incapable of explaining intricacies related to gender. To address this insufficiency, I suggest that we use—as I have done throughout—comprehensive theories that not only embrace multiple masculinities and femininities but also heed the intersection of gender and other identity elements. I use Raewyn Connell’s gender hierarchy model as a case in point. In contrast to much work in gender studies that recognizes, yet understates, ridicule’s political force in favour of gender hierarchy, this research contends that the above force is universal and central, and therefore must be foregrounded in gender studies. Within humour studies, too, the research contrasts with exculpatory accounts of humour that downgrade or deny humour’s effect on the social order. My findings indicate that mainstream gender humour, while reflecting the gender order, is most likely to affect that order, too. Finally, unlike much research in feminist humour studies that puts too much hope in seditious functions of fringe or marginal gender humour, I find that such humour cannot find recognition among mainstream audiences unless its underlying assumptions find cultural ascendancy.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2015
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Albert Braz (Modern Languages and Cultural Studies; English and Film Studies)
    • Gary Kelly (Modern Languages and Cultural Studies; English and Film Studies)
    • Sywenky, Irene (Modern Languages and Cultural Studies)
    • Lahoucine Ouzgane (English and Film Studies)
    • Delia Carmela Chiaro (External Reader; Department of Interpreting and Translation, University of Bologna)
    • Mannani, Manijeh (Adjunct Professor; Athabasca University)