My six-year-old daughter is a funny girl. She makes silly faces, she does wacky voices, she improvises goofy songs. She learned a knock-knock joke recently and told it to me during breakfast one morning. It’s an old one that you’ve probably heard before:
“Lettuce in, it’s cold outside!”
I laughed, of course, because that’s what you do when a kid tells a joke. She laughed too, and then she tried to write her own knock-knock joke on the spot. Here’s what she came up with:
“Lettuce in, there’s a butt outside!”
That time I laughed for real. I mean, that’s a funny joke, whether or not she fully understood why.
Yes, sometimes her jokes involve butts. Sometimes they involve farts, too. She’s six, so whatever. I don’t tell her to stop, and you know why? Because she’s funny, and she needs to know that funny girls are awesome.
If you have a daughter, I hope you encourage her to do funny, goofy, silly stuff as well. You might be opposed to the word butt, and that’s fine. But if you’re opposed to your daughter saying it, then I hope you’d be opposed to your son saying it, too. And I really hope that, when your daughter is acting silly, your response is to encourage her and not shut her down.
When I was a kid, it always seemed like boys were allowed to be loud. Girls, though, were supposed to act like ladies, and being loud doesn’t fit that mold. That’s why we need to encourage funny girls. They might need some help breaking that mold, and they don’t get much encouragement elsewhere. Look at any Disney movie. The boys can be funny. The girls are princesses.
A 2016 study showed that the vast majority of dialogue in Disney movies belongs to male characters. Aladdin leads the pack, with 90% of the dialogue coming from male characters. In Pocahontas, despite its female title character, 76% of the dialogue belonged to male characters. Even Frozen, with its two female leads and its healthy message of sisterly love, had 57% male dialogue.
There are several reasons for this imbalance, but let’s focus on one reason for now. Set aside the lead characters, the romantic interests, and the villains.
In every Disney movie I can think of, what do all the comic relief characters have in common? They’re all male.
And comic relief characters never shut up. Pumbaa and Timon from The Lion King. Iago and the Genie from Aladdin. Scuttle from The Little Mermaid. Lefou from Beauty and the Beast. Sure, Anna and Elsa are strong, independent, well-rounded women capable of both tenderness and adventure, but it’s Olaf who gets the laughs.
So let’s double down on making our daughters know it’s good for girls to be goofy. Some fools will tell you women aren’t funny, but don’t listen to them. I’ve worked in comedy my entire adult life. I’ve been learning, performing, and teaching improv since 1992, and I’ve known lots of funny women. I’ve performed with funny women. I married a funny woman. For years, millions of people everywhere have laughed at Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Gilda Radner, all of The Golden Girls, Ellen DeGeneres, Wanda Sykes, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Amy Schumer, Ellie Kemper, Tiffany Haddish, and more funny women who I can’t list because I’m reaching my word limit.