Apparently, Men Don’t Care To Date Funny Women. But, Women Aren’t Funny Anyway, Right?

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Remember that super-depressing study about how men find intelligent women to be less attractive? Well, that downer of a study — along with several other studies, specifically about comedy, given that talented jokesters tend to be smart as well — made an appearance in this lengthy feature at The Atlantic. Here’s the gist: all signs seem to point to heterosexual romance being dead, at least for smart and/or funny women.

There are a variety of interlocking problems here, so let’s go over them with statistics in hand. A 2011 study in the journal Intelligence compared captions on New Yorker cartoons by gender; men’s jokes got rated as funnier on the whole, but in 2010, both men and women cracked up their readers equally.

More interesting, I think, is the data on how men and women rated their own jokes:

Male participants said that, on a scale from one to five, their cartoons were an average of 2.3 in funniness. The women gave themselves a 1.5. Even worse, 89 percent of the women and 94 percent of men responded that men, in general, are funnier.

Ever heard of “stereotype threat“? Here’s how it works: if somebody reminds me that women are bad at math (we’re not, by the way) right before I take a math test, it’s likely that I’ll perform worse on my test than a gal who didn’t get that stereotype reminder before taking her exam. So, every time we say “women aren’t funny,” we send a subconscious message to women that they need not even try.

Why would they bother, anyway, since they seem to get no social reward for success? Case in point:

In a 2007 study that asked 200,000 people in multiple countries to rank their preferred qualities in a mate, women ranked “humor” first. Men ranked it third.

But when men say they want “humor,” they don’t mean they want a lady who dishes out cunning witticisms — they want a gal who laughs at their jokes, say researchers. A woman who’s funny herself can be a turn-off, according to a 1998 study. But, hey, that was 1998! A different study in 2006 said that men don’t care either way if a woman is funny or not. So, uh … things are getting marginally better? Except that even in 2006, men still specified that it was most important that women laugh at their jokes rather than tell their own jokes.

All of this seems very bound up in our antiquated notions about heterosexual dating rituals: the idea of the man as the “performer” who will “win over” a woman, while the woman plays the role of the withholding gatekeeper. Can we really not imagine romance as an equal opportunity impress-me fest? What if the woman is the one performing, showing off her smarts, and winning over the guy? Well … that would be emasculating. Which is a word that still exists in the English language for some reason.

Sigh. Anyway, being aware of this stuff might theoretically allow us all to get over our weird gendered biases, right? Or at least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself.

(via The Atlantic, image via Your Tango)

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Maddy Myers
Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (, and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (