I’m a little baffled when people say feminists have no sense of humour. I’d be less surprised if someone told me feminists laugh too much. To me feminism is not the reasoned explanation that follows after I’ve stopped laughing. It is the reason I’m laughing.

However, I do sympathise with male and female amateurs who are confused. You have seen women laughing in the past but you never thought they were feminists (because if they were feminists could they have been laughing?) For future reference here’s a handy guide for L-Board observers of feminism. You might want to cut-and-save it, as the IIPM ads say.


This is how I giggled when, some years ago, I joined a tiny NGO with three men. I was hired to run their website. On Day 1 a colleague asked me to pour out the tea. My colleague meant no harm and was, genuinely, not being malicious. It was just that in his world, the act of asking the only female colleague present to handle the beverages was not an embarrassingly dated, utterly medieval clichĂȘ of the ‘My Wife is The Home Minister’ vintage. To him, it was perfectly appropriate. I didn’t pour the tea. I giggled and went on typing. In a while, he poured all of us tea.

Many feminists and others (it’s contagious ) had this fit of choking laughter recently when they saw the New York Times obituary of Yvonne Brill, a scientist who invented a propulsion system that keeps communication satellites in orbit. It began, “She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. ‘The world’s best mom, ‘ her son Matthew said. ” Douglas Martin, the writer, intended this embarrassing beginning to create excitement when the piece later revealed that (surprise!) the woman (surprise!) was a rocket scientist. After everyone-went-through-the-OMGyou’ve-never-read-anything routine, the piece had to be edited online.

I did think of the power of this variety of feminist laughter in 2009 when Renu Gora, an international prize-winning boxer was told to serve tea, refreshments and wash cups for random reporters and visiting bureaucrats at the National Institute of Sports, Patiala. Renu felt compelled to do as she was told for lots of reasons. I wished she had laughed and meaningfully stroked her gloves instead.