A question that often underlies discussions of humor written by women is the question of feminism. It’s not exactly the politics of eyebrow plucking but more like the politics of making jokes about it.
“Anna Lefler’s ‘Chicktionary’ is a wry celebration of modern femininity. Or an attempt to set feminism back a decade,” reporter Heidi Stevens writes. “It depends on your definition of feminism. Or maybe it depends on your definition of chick. Or is it your definition of funny?”
Erma herself was a lively and enthusiastic participant in these debates and the target of critics who didn’t appreciate the domestic brand of humor she was writing. “I had a member of the women’s liberation movement write to me and say, ‘Lady, you are the problem,’” she once said.
Others came to her defense. Patricia Leigh Brown said, “She made it okay to live in a ranch house with the requisite station wagon and golden retriever, because she could lovingly satirize the cliché.”
Erma could defend herself pretty well, too, of course. After hearing Betty Friedan speak, she said, “These women threw a war for themselves and didn’t invite any of us. That was very wrong of them.”
Those three quotes are all part of a summary of Erma’s life and career on the “New York Times Best Seller List” site, which goes on to describe Erma’s work on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment and her “firmly feminist” household: “Erma was the main breadwinner. Bill Bombeck eventually retired from his job as a school administrator in order to manage his wife’s career; at her peak she made from $500,000 to $1 million a year.”
In the case of the Tribune story about Lefler’s book (which, all kidding aside, is hilarious), maybe the feminism question is just a quick, easy angle for a busy reporter, but the trope comes up so often it’s hard to dismiss so easily. Is the book a “threat to feminism,” as the reporter asks at one point? That’s a term CHICKtionary doesn’t define.