Connecticut author, professor and entertainer Gina Barreca loves to tell jokes that keep women laughing while focusing on “subversive” topics like gender, feminism, the patriarchy, politics and power.
“When women get together, it takes just 13 seconds for us to start to laugh, but we keep that laugh separate. We’re complicit, we’ve been trained, we’ve been acculturated. We keep it under wraps. We laugh in the back of the ladies room, we laugh in the kitchen, and when men walk by, we stop laughing,” Barreca told CT Examiner in a phone interview.
“Women have kept our universe separate for lots of reasons. What has been considered universal humor is very specifically men’s humor,” she said.
Barreca is a speaker, published author, and TED Talk presenter, and a regular guest on “Oprah,” “The Today Show,” “CNN,” “NPR,” “20/20” and the “BBC.” She earned a Ph.D. from City University of New York – focusing on gender and the difference between men and women’s humor – and has been teaching at UConn since 1987.
Her latest book is “Fast Fallen Women,” an anthology she edited of 75 original flash nonfiction pieces written for the book by well-known authors like Jane Smiley, Bobbie Ann Mason, Caroline Leavitt, Honor Moore and Amy Tan and a number of emerging writers aged 20 to 82.
“It’s people who are realizing that they have talent and that they can have a story to tell and that they want to develop that skill and get what they need to get out into the world,” she said. “And these very distinguished, well known, influential writers are right next to writers who are seeing their work in a book with an ISBN number for the first time.”
The book is the third in Barreca’s series that includes“Fast Funny Women” and “Fast Fierce Women,” all published by Woodhall Press.
“The tagline for the collection is ‘Fast Fallen Women’ give whispered conversations a full voice,” said Barreca. “In the book, there are 75 ways to define fallen.”
In one essay, Ilene Beckerman, author of “Love, Loss and What I Wore,” wrote about losing her virginity at the Dartmouth Winter Carnival. “And it’s hilarious,” said Barreca.
“Other people are writing pretty serious reflective pieces – about adultery, about their responses to taking control of their issues and not letting themselves be intimidated by their families,” Barreca said.
There are a number of essays about family, about women feeling that they have been bad mothers to their children, about women who felt they were bad children to their mothers, Barreca said. There are essays about women choosing not to have children, and about women who are facing infertility and feeling that they’re fallen because they cannot become mothers.
“It covers a range of subjects. People feeling that they were fallen at work, that that they were demoted, that they were diminished and how they took control of that and triumphed,” she said. “They all involve some fear, anxiety, worry, sense of exile and how every one of these women, from 20 to 89 overcame it.”
Barrecca said each piece is under 750 words.
“A lot of us are reading over a cup of coffee that we’re grabbing, while we’re waiting for something, before we fall asleep. It’s a book that makes you feel like you can complete what you started because there’s only three pages. This is satisfaction,” she quipped.
Barreca also talked about how important – and not funny – women’s rights are, particularly in today’s political climate.
“I really want to emphasize that we’re now in a world that I never thought could happen – that Roe v Wade is overturned,” she said. “We lost so many of the rights that we fought so hard for because we took them for granted. So I think that if there’s an increasing awareness of what’s at stake, in terms of the things we can’t take for granted, that’s probably healthy.”
But she sees humor as a conduit toward understanding and collaboration.
“If you can get somebody to laugh, you have reached them. They get it. The fact that somebody laughs It’s an indication that you are sharing a perspective, however briefly. For that moment, you were standing on the same territory and looking at something from the same angle, and that is a sense of community that is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve.”
And will men ever understand women’s humor?
“Absolutely. We have greater hope for the men of the next generation, raised by mothers that could talk to their sons about what their own lives were like – that it wasn’t the sense of vacuuming with pearls on, that it wasn’t the mom from ‘Leave It to Beaver,’” she said. “I think that there is a greater sense that women are actually human beings, which as basic as that sounds, I think it’s a real triumph.”
Upcoming in-person events with Gina Barreca include:
“Celebrating 50 Years of Ms Magazine” on Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. at Athena Books in Greenwich.
The Connecticut Literary Festival in Hartford on Oct. 14 at 10 a.m. RealArtWays.org