Q: Why do women wear makeup and perfume?
A: Because they're ugly and they stink. 

Why I think this joke is funny and not really all that offensive:

It's obviously meant to be ironic - if you take the obvious meaning (i.e. the joke-teller thinks women are ugly and smelly), you've missed the point completely.

I hear the joke as poking fun at the idea that women must wear makeup and perfume to be beautiful. It is mocking those women who apply makeup with a trowel and airbrush. Of course they need so much makeup and perfume - they are so concerned about their looks that they have become ugly on the inside, nothing but an attractively-painted shell of a person. I believe this joke is saying that true feminine beauty is not, and can never be, the product of makeovers, age-defying moisturizers, exfoliating skin creams, or anything of olay.

This joke is not about degrading but empowering women - Why do you use makeup? It it because you are ugly? OF COURSE NOT. I really believe every woman on god's green earth is a rare and gorgeous creature in her own unique way. And I like this joke because it says "You are beautiful the way you are. Makeup and perfume is for girls that are ugly and stink."

Of course, it only says that to the girls that are willing to listen.

And guys like me, who may or may not have their heads up their asses.

Trying to explain why a joke is funny is a notoriously dangerous occupation. In the study of literature and culture, it is something of an extreme sport, undertaken only by those with little regard for their reputations and/or sanity. In attempting to explicate this particular joke, Cow of Doom exhibits considerable bravery, but I would contend that he has equipped himself with an overlong bungee cord.

In my view, the humour in this joke has nothing to do with beauty, empowerment or even women. It arises out of the simple fact that the second line is a delightfully unexpected answer: it is grammatically and logically perfectly acceptable, but conceptually and socially unacceptable and absurd. It shares its structure with many "offensive" jokes, where the humour is entirely separate from the potentially offensive subject matter. For example:

Why did the girl fall off the swing?
Because she had no arms

How do you make a dead baby float?
Use one scoop of ice cream and two scoops of dead baby...
These jokes cannot be called offensive, in that there is no intention (or indeed possibility, in my view) of offending or belittling any individual or group. The potentially offensive subject matter is used simply to create an absurd and unexpected concept in the listener's mind.

Even this is an overly complex and yet inadequate explication. It's just funny because. Overanalysis inevitably robs the joke of its essential, ineffable power to delight. So why do we bother? Because we're stupid and we smell.

Incidentally, any potential tellers of this joke should take great care to somehow indicate that it is merely a joke; otherwise, the target is likely to start saying something along the lines of "Because media has convinced girls that in order to be worth something as a person they have to make themselves attractive to men yadda yadda yadda", at which point saying "Because they're ugly and they smell bad!" will just fall on its face.


Worth mentioning that once I decided to tell this joke to a friend of mine, and she came up with (in my mind, at least) an equally funny answer. I asked, "Why do girls wear makeup and perfume?" She thought for a moment, and replied: "Because we like to suck cock."

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