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Literary Spotlight: “Funny Women”

This online column at The Rumpus seeks works that are both funny and feminist.

An illustrated lemon, drawn with arms and legs and a worried expression, holds a red produce net on a hanger at arm's length.
Art by Annie Daly
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The online magazine The Rumpus includes a humor column titled “Funny Women,” written by women and gender non-conforming writers who blend playful writing with hard-hitting feminist commentary. Recent essays include “Five Types of Fruit Your Body Might Be Shaped Like,” “Women from the POV of Male Creative Writing Undergrads,” and “Introducing Alex, the Male Alexa.”

“I like calling out sexism as often as possible, all day every day, and all the double standards in our society, and the way we stereotype women in order to disempower them,” says editor Elissa Bassist. “I’m interested in pieces that have something to say, essays that are critical of a systemic problem.”

Tone, editorial content

Bassist particularly enjoys pieces that focus on literary feminism. “Maybe they’re parodies of famous heroines, or they’re making fun of writing retreats and writing workshops,” she says. “Or maybe they’re just exquisitely written, and they have a feminist bent.”

She and her assistant editors enjoy the type of silliness that informs Carolina Brettler’s “The Ideal Female Boss” (11/12/20). Brettler writes:

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She commands the room by doing more listening than talking. When men speak over her, she doesn’t speak over them in return – she understands it’s her fault for not making her point more entertaining, so she adapts and next time uses the magical combination of mime, puppetry, and breakdancing to get everyone on board.

“The piece goes outside of what you expect it to make fun of, like the shrilly, bitchy, bossy-boss,” Bassist explains. “It goes above and beyond that and gets really weird. I always love it when pieces are silly, specific, and unexpected. A lot of humor comes from surprise, and we really need to think outside the box to get at that surprise.”

Contributors

Puneet Sandhu has published in “Funny Women,” as have Rupinder Gill, Kristy Eldredge, and Lindsay Hameroff, who wrote a parody of Peggy Parish’s famed children’s book series titled “Amelia Bedelia Takes a COVID Test” (1/14/21). Naomi Birnbach, age 90, contributed an essay titled “Sleep Tips by a 90-Year-Old Insomniac” (10/22/20).

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Charulata Sinha wrote “It’s Me, Dead Girl,” (1/1718) from the point of view of the dead women in police procedural films and TV shows. “She’s always the star – the reason the show exists – yet we never know anything about her life beyond the fact she was murdered,” Bassist says. “I love when we get a side character’s point of view or someone’s point of view that’s been diminished or distorted. There are just so many jokes to make, calling out the genre and the tropes and the sexism.”

Mia Mercado’s popular essay “What Does It Mean When a Girl is Quiet?” (8/21/18) examines the ways in which women stifle themselves and how they’re afraid of their own voices. She writes:

Quiet girls are complicated. Louder girls are complicated, too. All girls are complicated because if you talk to them in person, then they might respond with their own thoughts, feelings, and expectations about appropriate social interactions, etc. And that just gets too hard to follow.

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“Mercado has a very singular voice,” Bassist says. “When I read her work, I can hear her voice inside my head.” She also appreciates Kathryn Nuernberger’s “Medieval Witch Confession or Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory?” (2/25/21). “It’s so smart and so academic,” she says. “It’s calling out sexism and fascism and idiocy. It’s really hard-hitting, criticizing all the correct groups at once.”

As well, she admires Vanessa Golenia’s “Official 2020 Census Letter” (5/21/20). “It’s really smart satire that nails racial injustice and a bias that we don’t often see,” Bassist says. “Pieces that call offenders for their sins against others really speak to me.”

Advice for potential contributors

Bassist appreciates a distinct voice and specific details. “If you write ‘car,’ that’s so uninteresting,” she explains. “But if you write ‘used Prius,’ you’ve caught my attention because I can envision that car and the type of people in that car, and where that car is. Specific details up your game as a writer.”

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She challenges potential contributors to disregard their inner critic and be as absurd as possible in their humor writing. She advocates varied word choice and syntax – tools, she says, that come from reading and taking notes on what you’re reading and watching, and taking notes on other people talking.

“We get stuck in a language rut, and we end up using the same 100 words every day,” she says. “It takes a lot of work to break out of that rut.” She tells writers to read outside of what they normally consume, read works in translation, listen to children talking, and immerse themselves in whatever they want to write. “If you want to write funny nonfiction,” she concludes, “you must read a lot of funny nonfiction.”

 

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“Funny Women” at a glance

“A humor column for womenfolk and gender non-conforming writers.”

Reading Period: Year-round.

Length: 650-1,000 words.

Genres: Humorous nonfiction.

Submission format: Via Submittable online.

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Contact: Editor Elissa Bassist at [email protected]therumpus.net.
therumpus.net/topics/funny-women

 

—Contributing Editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019).Twitter/Instagram: @WildMelissaHart.

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