by Regina Barreca
When Barreca, now an English professor at the University of Connecticut, was among the first women students at Dartmouth, a male instructor repeatedly called on her to give “a woman’s view.”
Soon Barreca saw the teacher would never ignore her gender. So as a private joke she began prefacing every sentence with a qualifier, as in “As a woman, I think I’ll have meat loaf for dinner.” But what began as a joke turned into a realization that women do perceive some things—including humor—differently.
“For most women, humor is something we aren’t sure how to use, because we’ve been told it’s something we haven’t got,” writes Barreca in this book, her third on women and humor. It tries to prove women do have a sense of humor, and to help them use it. Along the way, she tells good jokes (many off-color), makes trenchant observations (“It is only through comedy that many women can be excessive”) and offers tips on when women should crack wise (“We should delete self-deprecating humor from our repertoire, especially at work”).
Snow White—the title is from Mae West’s line, “They used to call me Snow White, but then I drifted”—reflects Barreca’s grounding in academia and her time in front of a TV set. Thus you get such amusingly schizophrenic sentences as, “Thus, the two characters from The Patty Duke Show [identical cousins Patty and Cathy] illustrate perfectly the split between the Good and Bad Girl.”
Snow White at times seems padded and is afflicted with the cutes, as if Barreca’s editor wanted her to play up to potential Cosmo girl readers.
Mostly, though, it amuses while instructing, as in an anecdote about a woman who, replying to a man’s sexual crack, tells him, “If your mouth is so big, your dick must be real small.” Says Barreca, the woman “worried—honest-to-God—in case he really did have a small dick. Believe me, this is misplaced compassion. When you respond with a bitchy, funny remark, you are not so much being hostile as asserting your right to be heard. You are making sure that you have the last word. And the last laugh.”
In Snow White, Barreca gets hers. (Viking, $18.95)