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A joke I don’t get

I overslept and thus came in at the end of the panel at DLD on women in the industry. The room was packed. A man in the audience (was it Ben Hammersley??) followed up on a panelist’s claim that an EU requirement that 30%of some government body (sorry to be vague; I couldn’t hear so well) made a real difference. The man asked for some examples of the difference this had made in policies.

In the course of her answer, the woman in her perfect English said that she didn’t think women were more peaceful than men. Germany has female fighter pilots, she said, and “Condoleeza Rice was a woman.” Even before she realized her mistake and corrected herself, the audience tittered.

Not a big deal. But I’m curious about why the crowd found this funny, or why it made the crowd anxious. Had the panelist made some other small mistake in English — “Rice are a woman,” “Rice a woman is” — no one would have laughed. It would have been rude to. It was the content of her mistake that caused the laugh, as if the very possibility of changing gender makes us nervous. Or possibly it was because we think power could turn a woman into a man. I don’t know.

Or maybe I’m just a little cranky from a late night, a fantastic dinner, and just a little more wine than I should have had.

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