Tactical frivolity

Is it me, or is there a ridiculous level of horrible news stories lately? My usual reaction is to feel outrage, which I will defend: Outrage is an honest and legitimate feeling. But then I read an article about Mary Numair, who single handedly broke up an anti-choice protest in front of a Planned Parenthood. How? By standing beside them yelling “Yeast infection!” and holding a sign thanking Planned Parenthood for helping her with that particular issue. Her description of how the protesters reacted is hilarious.

Photo courtesy of Mary Numair
Photo courtesy of Mary Numair

I love her use of humor (maybe fueled by some internal outrage) in this protest. Turns out there’s a term for this: tactical frivolity. Finding levity in tough situations makes space for us to contemplate them in a way that rage and indignation do not. And using humor can lower defenses and resonate with people in a different way than being confronted with anger or even charts and facts.

Mary Numair’s story was a beautifully timed reminder of this amid a tsunami of heart breaking news. She literally created a safer space for others in a way that was light, funny, and in no way harmful to the other protesters. She sent a loud-and-clear message about an issue that was important to her and it resonated far beyond her community. Fantastic!

I’m going to keep feeling outrage. I need that in my work to end violence against women and girls. But I’m also feeling inspired to figure out some new ways to engage with people. I mean, we all know violence isn’t funny, but perhaps there’s a way to use humor to make the topic more approachable that would ultimately make us more effective. Maybe I’ll ask Mary if she has any ideas.