herald

Thursday 16 August 2018

Meet the women with attitude

It's a chick-flick alright . . . but not as we know it. Sure, the designer handbags, heart-warming girlie friendships, toxic bachelors and Cosmopolitan clinking are all present in Bridesmaids, yet amid the taffeta and lace, there are also fart jokes, salty non-sequiturs and more double entendres than you can shake a (cocktail) stick at: the film has been dubbed 'The Hangover in high heels'.

No-one expected Bridesmaids to be a phenomenon -- much less a feminist call to arms -- at the US box office last month. Yet $100m in receipts later, that's exactly what happened. And it's released in Irish cinemas next week. The bawdy, bolshie yin to the vapid, saccharine yang of Sex & the City 2, Bridesmaids has been dubbed a must-see. A US critic wrote: "Hallelujah . . . at long last, we have a smart comedy with dumb jokes -- a giddy feminist manifesto that responds to the perennially circulated head-scratcher 'Can women really be funny?' with a whoopee-cushion fart . . ."

The belching, puking and guffawing of Kristen Wiig and her cohorts seem to indicate that they can. Or at least get people into the cinema. But the question remains; when it comes to life beyond the looking-glass world of a Hollywood rom-com, is being a girl with a sense of bolshie humour a help or a hindrance?

I was out with a friend recently and came upon two starchy, stiff-upper-lip English types. Now, this friend and I are fond of outdoing each other on the bawdiness front, to the point that our conversation sounds like the running track to a fistfight between Mae West and the Marx brothers (or perhaps more accurately, the Farrelly brothers). We bring out the best and worst of each other.

Amid our verbal sparring, I noticed our two gentlemen companions wore the expressions of men who had just been cornered by a very large Doberman. Oblivious, my mate and I carried on with our double act . . . until the two merely backed off in that no-sudden-movements-lest-we-rouse-the-beast way. They didn't even make their excuses, and there was nary a polite farewell. Not that we would have heard it over our cackling and exultations of 'scarleh for yisser maaaas' anyway. Oh dear.

In light of this, it strikes me as unfortunate that funny women are the 'nice guys' of the dating pool. Men will pay all sorts of lip service to the fact that they look for what dating ads call a 'GSOH'.

Yet make wisecracks in front of a new male acquaintance, and they start to look panicked. Cold, hard research states that men find female wits a turn-off. When it comes to a long-term companion they do not want a partner who will fire a stream of witty repartee at them. They'd rather a girlfriend who found them funny. They'd rather drown in arm candy than be laughed into bed; to them, that's what Flight Of The Conchords DVDs are for.

Regardless of their physical appearance, male comedians are always insanely popular with women; in fact the more gnarled and hobbit-y looking, the better. However, female comedians are generally not recipients of the same treatment.

Sarah Silverman is not considered a sex symbol, yet Jessica Alba -- who spends her days saying words someone else made up for her -- very much is.

Is it because being funny is seen by some blinkered types as a 'male' trait? Maybe women see men with a sense of humour as dangerous and sexy, while men see it as threatening. Crucially, men tend to use humour to compete with other men, while women tend to use humour to bond with others.

Anne-Marie Cussen, co-owner of Dublin introductions agency It's Just Lunch, admits that any single woman with a rude, lewd streak faces an uphill battle on the dating front.

"To be very honest, men don't like humour," she affirms. "I've interviewed a lot of men, and they want their women to look, act and behave like women. They like women to be intelligent and smart, but they really don't like the ladette thing. They do like someone to showcase their humour in a subtle, witty way. Anything bawdy doesn't go down well."

Bawdy

Somewhat dispiritingly, the fragile male ego comes into play here: "Men are used to a certain amount of attention, and if a woman wants to be the centre of attention in a social situation they won't find that attractive," says Anne-Marie. "They feel as though a woman is trying to go one up on them. The feedback that clients give us from their dates is that they don't want a woman who tends to steal the show.

"Studies I've done show that women will pull back to let a man win a game, or succeed in a social situation. It's how they've been brought up. And men like this, as they like to feel needed."

Bawdy birds may be freshly anointed with power in Hollywood, but what hope has she back in the real world when it comes to looking for her own happy ever after?

"A woman with that sense of humour is best off with someone who is quiet, but they won't want someone that quiet as a match," says Anne-Marie.

"Will these girls find meeting someone a problem? The good news is there's probably someone for everyone."

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