OK, hypothetical situation time:
Let's say a female co-worker is talking about returning to work
after her maternity leave. A male colleague says, "What are you
planning to do, set up a nursery in your office?" Wink-wink,
Your reaction to that comment may depend on your gender, of
course. But how do you think our pregnant professional should
respond to the guy who posed the question?
A. "Don't be rude. I have day care all arranged."
B. "I suppose you think that women belong at home with their
C. "Actually, your office is a little more spacious; I thought
I might set up the nursery in there."
Barbara Mackoff, author of "What Mona Lisa Knew," favors C.
Response A means you've "taken the bait and you sound both
aggressive and silly," Mackoff writes. Option B is too defensive.
However, the third response "satirizes the situation and
demonstrates your confidence about returning to work."
And the entire scenario demonstrates the difference between
male and female humor.
"Men's humor can be like a Hollywood Friars Club roast - all
playful insults and mock-hostile slapstick," Mackoff writes.
Women's humor tends to be more consoling, she says. Rather than
goading each other, women tend to "make small comedies out of
In workplaces all across America, women and men are adjusting
to each other's humor. Typically, though, women are the ones doing
most of the adjusting because they're the ones who read all the
self-help books - including those on humor.
To summarize the self-help books: The best way for women to
deal with the male approach to humor is to make fun of the
situation rather than counterattacking the jokester. Our
hypothetical exchange above is a prime example.
Despite our differing humor styles, communications experts say,
men and women are laughing at more of the same things.
"Generally speaking, the gap is closing both in response to
humor and in the humor itself," says Edgar B. Wycoff, an associate
professor of communication at the University of Central Florida in
Wycoff teaches a course called Humor in Communication. As part
of the class, students prepare and deliver comedy routines - and
their material is growing more alike.
"The whole world is coming together" through the media and the
workplace, Wycoff says. As a result of all this gender mixing, men
and women are having more common experiences - including those
related to humor.
"It used to be that men used put-down humor, men sparred,"
Wycoff says. Research showed that women viewed such sparring
behavior as hostile. But recent studies indicate that women's
attitudes are changing, Wycoff says.
Stand-up comics have noticed the trend toward unisex humor,
too. But they say differences definitely remain.
For example, women still don't find degrading humor aimed at
them amusing. …