By SARAH RAYMUNDO
The Sociology of Humor makes us understand how a statement or a situation elicits shared laughter from a group of people seeing the situation or the statement unfold. The funny thing about a joke lies in the gap or discord between the statement/situation and social expectations. We laugh at the unexpected, the absurd, the odd, etc. Therefore, humor entails a common definition of the situation for it to be taken as a joke or a funny thing to say and laugh at.
But social convention also distinguishes bad jokes from the good ones.
Senator Tito Sotto, in a moment of reflection had this to say about a “joke” he cracked in the senate as he interviewed DSWD Sec. Judy Taguiwalo: I am sorry she cannot take joke.*
For many whose sensibilities were offended by the senator’s jab on solo parenthood, this subsequent statement is hardly an apology but a reiteration of the joke’s effectivity, an assertion that the joke is actually “a good one.”
Sotto, in his reference to the social convention which frames solo parenthood, highlights the former’s low blow on the matter. That single mothers are the kind of women who would be sexed up and left alone to handle post-coital conditions is what the phrase “naano lang yan” means. The phrase is actually a category, a stereotype of women.
From this proper reading, Sotto’s joke compels us to laugh at two discordant situations:
1) The misfortune of women who were sexed up and left alone to handle the consequences of the bang-bang. This is the discord between the preservation of one’s virginity until marriage and the state of being an unwed mother.
The presumed gap or discord is based on a social convention which restricts women from gaining control over their own bodies. The discord has been overtaken by the history of women’s empowerment and the correct assertion of choice on the matter of women’s bodies and futures. This then strips the joke off of its presumed potency. Impotent jokes sound stupid and can only be cracked in bad taste.
2) The discord between a woman occupying a cabinet position in government and her marital status as a solo parent.
The presumed discord is telling of a social convention imposed upon female leaders in high government offices: that they must observe heteronormativity legitimized by marriage.
“An unfortunate woman got to be the alter-ego of the most powerful person in the land? Bwahahaha!”
Those who might find this funny assume that solo parenthood can only be a matter of misfortune and not of choice. In cases where misfortune might apply, the joke further assumes that women in particular will never recover from it.
Clearly, the joke is on the good senator who now needs to recover from his own misfortune as himself a well known pinoy comedian.
*excerpt from the Senate interview:
Sec Judy: I’ve never had a ‘normal family’, if that’s how you call it, growing up. But it’s a non-issue. I’ve been underground and been to prison. My story is different growing up.
Sotto: Ah kasi in the street language, if you have kids, tapos wala kang asawa ang tawag diyan ‘na-ano lang’. *more laughter*
Sec Judy: Senator, I teach women’s studies in UP. We respect all kinds of families, and that includes solo parents. Thank you.”
Sarah Raymundo is a full-time faculty at the University of the Philippines-Center for International Studies (UP-CIS Diliman) and a member of the National Executive Board of the All U.P. Academic Employees Union. She is the current National Treasurer of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and the External Vice Chair of the Philippine Anti-Imperialist Studies (PAIS). She is also a member of the Editorial Board of Interface: A Journal for Social Movements.