Feminists aren't cute when they're angry.
Nor are they amusing, if this 188-page collection of cartoons, one-liners and short stories is any indication of what tickles the collective funny bone of the women's movement.
"Pulling Our Own Strings," I suspect, was conceived as a public-relations effort to humanize the feminist struggle, to bring comic relief to an otherwise uncomic situation. It doesn't work.
Apart from a few bright spots, (Nora Ephron's delightful "A Few Words About Breasts" and Garry Trudeau's long-suffering Joanie Caucus) the book is a dreary, slightly off-color collection of well-worn cliche's, literary bra-burnings and warmed-over rhetoric which might make even the staunchest supporter of women's rights hunger for Henny Youngman.
One of the "best" and "most popular" examples of feminist humor, the book tells us, is Flo Kennedy's salvo: "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle." Is a man without a woman like a bicycle without a fish? Not exactly.
"It is interesting (but not surprising)," the book goes on to explain, "that many men take this powerful and clever pickup of women to be an indictment of men as both unnecessary and worthless. Rather, it defies a system that tells woman she is singly incomplete . . . It ignores rather than attacks men."
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of this publication. Men are portrayed as potbellied, fanny-pinching, insensitie oafs while women come across as self-righteous saints who -- by some stroke of luck -- were spared the indignity of a penis.
Take menstruation . . . please. Several pages are devoted to the topic with women as bright as Gloria Steinem yukking it up over tampon jokes. In her political fantasy, "If Men Could Menstruate," Steinem says people of the male persuasion would "brag about how long and how much," and buy "Joe Namath's Jock Shields -- For Those Light Bachelor Days."
There are masturbation jokes, breast-envy jokes, Phyllis Schlafly jokes, padded-bra jokes, even rape jokes. My personal favorite is one that no doubt leaves radical lesbians rolling in the aisles: "Anita Bryant was offered a booking in Alaska but she turned it down. She didn't want to bump into a klonDYKE!"
Moving right along, we have wretched graffiti ("I'm drowning in the typing pool"; "Rock the boat -- not the cradle"; "Rape is a male phallacy"), tired T-shirt slogans ("A woman's place is in the House . . . and also in the Senate"), rounded out by the nightclub standup duo Harrison and Tyler, the radical feminist's answer to Abbott and Costello.
Listen to a sample of their stage act:
HARRISON: Thanks for the clap. God knows as women we've had everything else . . .
TYLER: How many of you guys dig make-up ?
(Men applaud )
HARRISON: If you dig it, then why don't you wear it !
After running through a yawn-a-minute routne of four-letter words, male put-downs and angry sisterhood-is-powerful satire, the two entertainers end their act with the following send-off: "If we offended anybody at all, from the bottom of our hearts . . . You needed it!"
Actually, what Harrison and Tyler need are several hours of Hepburn and Tracy's cinematic sparring, the complete works of Dorothy Parker, Lily Tomlin's joke writer, Joan Rivers' angst, Erma Bombeck's experiences and Phyllis Diller's delivery.
Which brings us to the subject of women and comedy. While there are dozens of women represented in this book, there is very little comedy. In fact, the best feminist funnies were contributed by a (yecch) MAN! Garry Trudeau's Joanie Caucus may be the best thing that's happened to the feminist cause since Marabel Morgan's Total Woman.
In one strip, Caucus is surrounded by a group of young girls. "Girls, I'd like to talk to you about growing up to be mommies," she says. "Growing up to be a mommy is one of the most wonderful things a little girl can want to do. BUT . . . there are other things in life she can do as well . . . For instance," Caucus says, her voice rising, "she can work her head off and show all those arrogant boys that she's just as Capable and Intelligent and Creative as any little stud around!"
One of the little girls pipes up, "Your're a 'libbie' aren't you, Ms. Caucus?" Caucus deadpans, "You bet, honey."
Emotion, someone once observed, is the enemy of humor. Trudeau succeeds where the women fail by substituting irony for anger, subtlety for self-righteousness. But in the long run, there's nothing amusing about rape, job discrimination, sexual harassment or any other injustice women have endured for the last zillion years.
I suppose we now have one more cross to bear: books on feminist humor. Now if they can only unclench their teeth . . .