The Incredible Shrinking You-Know-What: Southern Women’s Humor

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The Incredible Shrinking You-Know-What: Southern Women’s Humor

by Anne Goodwyn Jones
Southern Cultures, Vol. 1, No. 4: Southern Humor

"'What is that humor, you are wondering? Gentlemen, kindly cover your ears.'"

Southern women’s humor. It sounds like a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron, like southern scrod or southern intellectual history. Men are the ones who tell jokes, after all; you don’t see men fall into confusion in the middle of a story and say, blushing and suddenly shy, “Oh, I just can’t tell a joke.” Men wrote the classic southern humor of the Old Southwest, that eye gouging, lip ripping, nose chewing, bragging, boasting male South of white men on the Alabama and Mississippi frontiers. These are the folks who portrayed themselves as “half-alligator and half cooter,” who defended their honor by mutilating one another’s protuberant parts, and who thought it the height of humor to destroy Mrs. Yardley’s quilting party. Women’s job was to keep men’s humor clean, or keep it out of the house. So Ted Ownby implies in his book Subduing Satan (1990). The southern women’s world of evangelical purity aimed to subdue men and their pleasures, to bring them into the fold. For men this meant, besides cutting out drinking, gambling, cockfighting, and other masculine delights, cleaning up their language and, presumably, laundering their jokes.