So I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while now: why aren’t there more women in comedy?
I have a theory. Google the term “women aren’t funny” (if your computer’s anything like mine, you can just type in “women aren” and Google will take it from there) and the first half-dozen links are articles discussing, in all seriousness, exactly why women aren’t funny. There’s a lot of evo psych in there – it’s because of their brains, see? It’s because women have to raise children, see? In fact, the Vanity Fair article (yes, Vanity Fair, the WOMEN’S MAGAZINE) goes so far as to suggest that the placenta is actually made of brain cells, and that most of those come from the humor center of the brain. It’s on page two, if you really think you can wade that far through that much bullshit. (And don’t give me the Lighten Up, It’s Just A Joke line – that’s not a fucking joke. Jokes are supposed to be funny.)
There’s a lot of misogyny in there, too – ohh, women are the oppressors of the male sex because we police what they wear, and eat, and how their bodies look; we control their access to medical care and legislate what they can and cannot do with their own bodies; we commit horrible violent crimes against them that we then blame on them because they didn’t conform to societal expectations rigorously enough, and…. oh, wait. I think I got my genders backwards. I’m actually not sure how women became the oppressors in this scenario. But apparently humor is a reaction to that situation – which is why women don’t have any.
I think the reason there aren’t more women in comedy is because there are men that just don’t fucking want us there. I went to an open mic night last week. There was a dude there whose entire five-minute set was about his divorce. I’m sure there can be funny material in there, folks. This guy did not find it. He “joked” about how much of a whore his wife is. He “joked” about how she still bosses him around three years after the divorce (because she asked him to spend more quality time with their son). He “joked” about how she makes everyone around her fat.
In five minutes, I knew why his wife left him. It’s because he’s a massive asshole.
I was there that night because I want to get into doing standup. I’ve been told I’m a pretty funny person, and I figure I’ve got an interesting perspective to share. But, fucking hell… I would never want to go up on stage after a set like that guy’s. If all the dudes in the bar were chuckling and guffawing over the horrible things he said about his ex, then I can only imagine they must believe those horrible things about me, too.
I’ll admit, I struggle with being a humorless feminist. I love humor; I love jokes and comedy and making people laugh and being made to laugh. I love it all. And whether a joke is actually funny or just makes me uncomfortable, my first reaction is to giggle anyway. It’s like a compulsion.
So when someone throws up the straw-man of “Well if we have to be PC all the time, what on earth will we ever joke about?!” it gets me thinking. After all, jokes usually have some element of insult to them, do they not? Humor is about finding and pointing out the differences between expectation and reality. Or it’s slapstick, I suppose, and you can only watch a dude get kicked in the nads so many times before it’s just completely lost its appeal. (For me, that number is one.)
What on earth would we ever joke about? We couldn’t tell racist jokes, obviously. Nothing to do with violence or disrespect against women. No political jokes. No religion jokes. No jokes about little people, or disabled people.
My God. It’s almost like we’d have to make jokes about….. ourselves.
I’ve realized that my favorite comics all have one thing loosely in common: they all make fun of themselves, first and foremost. Brian Regan talks about how badly he did in school, and it’s hilarious. Gabriel Iglesias pokes good-natured fun at his own weight, and I’m rolling in the aisles. Wanda Sykes fantasizes about leaving her vagina at home, and I’m right there with her. Eddie Izzard tells us about leaving his makeup in a squirrel hole, which still makes me giggle a good decade after he said it. And he makes fun of Hitler – I think most people can be comfortable with that.
None of the jokes these people tell ever make me go “Oh, that one was bad.” I never feel weird about laughing at their humor. And I think that’s because it’s all self-directed. Contrast that with someone like Tosh or Adam Corolla, who seem to do nothing but sit in a place of supreme privilege and spew hatred down upon anyone different and, thus, inferior to them. That’s not funny – that’s bullying. And society just goes right along with it. They wouldn’t have gotten popular unless there were enough people out there agree with them, who don’t think they’re total assholes, and who are willing to give them money.
Look. It’s hard to self-monitor, I know. I’m sure I’ve made off-color and disrespectful jokes from time to time. The hardest thing about a blind spot is that you don’t know it’s there until it’s too late. That’s why it’s so important to speak up. That’s why it’s so important that the minority be heard and not silenced by the majority. That’s why it’s so important to examine your own privilege when someone says “Hey, that wasn’t cool,” instead of just telling them to stop being so sensitive. Just because it isn’t a big deal to you doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal to someone.
When the reaction to dissent is an avalanche of hatred and vitriol, it makes one wonder what, exactly, is being defended. Freedom of speech? As Captain Awkward so deftly put it: “‘Freedom of speech’ means you can’t be locked up by the government for expressing an opinion. It doesn’t mean you can’t be kicked out of a party where you’re peeing on the carpet.” Freedom of speech isn’t the entitlement to thoughtlessly spew whatever vitriol is floating around in your head. Your fist ends where my nose begins. You aren’t free to say anything you want, free of social consequences – you are merely free of legal consequences. That is a massive difference.
I think it’s time we were more sensitive. Why is sensitive a bad thing? Because it’s inclusionary? Because it means asking you to admit you may have done something wrong? Because it means you might have to re-examine your beliefs and attitudes? Because it’s considered a feminine trait?
And if asking you to do that means getting an earful of name-calling and profanity… maybe I’m not the sensitive one, after all.
In rather timely other news, there’s a very funny and talented woman in Seattle who is putting together a female-friendly open mic. You can check it out on the Faceyspaces or here. There will be an open mic performance every Tuesday in April, with half the slots reserved for female (or female-identified) comics. There are also a few spaces left in the workshop next week, if you’d rather be onstage getting laughed at and just don’t know how to get started. Either way, if you are in the Seattle area, I strongly recommend you check it out.
Okay. I know I’ve been over and over this, but I still feel like I haven’t said it right yet. So I’m going to give it one more try.
It was while reading The Fatal Feminist the other day that I think I truly understood what was at the heart of the letter I wrote to my parents. I have gotten several comments on that post claiming that I was being just as intolerant as my parents by asking them to reconsider their religious beliefs. I’ve been called immature and selfish. I’ve read dozens of comments playing the Devil’s Advocate, asking why it’s fair for me to ask them to reconsider their views on homosexuality but not fair for them to ask me to reconsider my lifestyle. Thanks to this post, I think I can finally articulate an answer.
In her post, Nahida points out that the basis of morality in Islam comes from the concept of inalienable rights vs. civil rights. As she explains it:
The way the two spheres are distinguished is that the first does not require consent, and the second does. In other words, if you need consent to carry out an action, then that action is not an inalienable right. Whether or not you require the consent of another person is determined by whether you must involve them at all. If you wish to believe or not believe in a particular religion, that is an inalienable right, because it involves no one else. If you wish to practice a particular religion, that is not (always) an inalienable right. It often requires the consent of others whom you may affect with your practices.
Those who insist that they are practicing an inalienable right to religion when they refuse a woman contraceptives, for example, are by definition incorrect. They have the inalienable right to belief, not to practice, which is a civil right.
To me, this is at the heart of my conflict with my parents. And I think this is the part of the concept that is getting missed by commenters on my letter.
My parents have commanded me not to act upon my attraction to women. They do so because it is against their religion. Using the model quoted above, they (and several of my commenters) believe they are practicing their inalienable right to religion by policing my sexuality and the resulting expression of that sexuality. They cannot police my sexuality without my consent – meaning that, while they retain their inalienable right to religious belief (which, for the most part, does not affect me), they merely have a civil right to religious practice – one which they cannot enforce upon me without my consent.
Similarly, I have an inalienable right to be queer. My queerness does not affect anyone else. I have a civil right to date in a queer manner – provided those I date consent to being in a queer relationship. I do not require my parents’ consent to date in this way – therefore I am not infringing on their inalienable right to religious belief. Who I date does not directly affect what they believe. Again, they have a civil right to religious practice; that right does not override my inalienable right to be in a consensual queer relationship. In essence, they do not have the right to tell me who I can and cannot date.
By writing my letter, I am exercising a civil right: I am asking for my parents to consent to reconsidering their beliefs. I am asking my parents to consent to opening a dialogue on queerness and homosexuality. They are free to give or not give that consent as they see fit. I have a right to ask; they have a right to refuse. I cannot and will not control what they think about my lifestyle. I can only ask in the hopes that we might come to an understanding.
If my parents do not consent to reconsidering their beliefs – as is their right to do – then I have a right to exclude them from my life in order to protect myself. I am under no obligation to associate with anyone. My parents are a part of my life by my consent, and I have a right to withdraw that consent at any time and for any reason. There is nothing wrong with setting boundaries around my interactions with anyone, including my parents; if a person cannot be accepting toward my sexuality, then that person does not need to be included in my life.
This is not coercion, as some have suggested. This is merely cause and effect. If my parents decide that their religious beliefs are more important to them than sharing in the life of their daughter, then I will accept that decision. They are under no obligation to accept me, much as I may wish they would; I am under no obligation to remain closeted around them, much as they may wish I would. Cutting ties with my family is not a threat to get them to do what I want; it is a boundary they must accept as a response to their continued homophobia.
Ultimately, my reasons for asking my parents to open a dialogue about their beliefs on homosexuality are my own. If it is something I feel a need to do, then I am going to do it – regardless of what strangers on the internet may say. My parents’ opinion of me matters, whether it should or not. I have a rosy dream, in my head, of a world where my parents and I talk, and I get to have a voice and be heard and explain to them the life I live. In this dream they realize that the hateful and judgemental things they’ve said about LGBTQIA people over the years were not only hurtful to me personally, but also not actually in keeping with their religion’s teachings of love and acceptance for all walks of life. We come to an understanding, we start to build a trust between us… and when we talk, I no longer have to hide everything I think they won’t approve of. Our conversations will be about more than the weather, my pets, and my husband. We’ll have the kind of friendship I have yearned for ever since I was a child. We’ll have honesty, trust, understanding, and mutual love between us.
I know that dream is, in all probability, just a dream. I know that, in reality, it is likely that I will ask my parents to open a dialogue on this matter and they will either outright refuse, or I will say my piece and they will reject me, or we’ll get into a fight and leave each other worse for wear. I know it’s likely that I will come away from that conversation feeling like I haven’t explained myself well enough – feeling powerless, helpless, unloved by my family and unwanted. But if that were the case… I would be empowered to make sure it was the last time I felt that way at the hands of my family, a group that society tells me is supposed to love me no matter what. At the end of that conversation, painful and heart-rending as it may be, I could at least tell myself that I’d done all I could do. I could give myself permission to let go of that dream. I could create some much-needed distance between my broken heart and the people who don’t even understand how they’ve broken it.
None of this is up for anyone’s review. I deeply appreciate the support my original post has garnered, and I thank each and every one of you for your positive comments. And looking at it objectively, I have received far more support for my letter than criticism. However, the handful of negative comments I have received – some of which were hateful enough that I chose not to allow them to be published – have hit me hard and left me feeling powerless and inadequate. This is a difficult crossroads to face, and the last thing I need right now is to doubt and second-guess myself. As of today, I am closing comments on my letter and moving on in my writing. I ask that you, as my community, move on with me.
I want you.
This wanting is an ember
I grip between my thighs,
a slow heat, creeping
sneaking upward, gripping my lungs, my heart
until I cannot breathe and so
It is a quiet current
beneath the surface of a deep river
carrying strange secrets
inviting me to dip my fingers
beneath the surface.
Inviting me to drown.
This wanting is
a dark and wondrous thunderhead
building tall and silent, embracing the dry hills.
Waiting for a lightning strike,
the first drop of rain,
like kisses on my skin.
It has been decades since my last confession.
I am afraid to hold you close,
afraid I’ll fan the coals
and burn us both to the ground.
I dare not speak
for fear the gates will break
and you and I will be swept away
on that mighty river.
I watch the horizon with worried eyes,
waiting for the forest fire.
Waiting for the flood.
In my hands, my blood composes songs of you
until my fingertips want to cry.
The melody is so perfect
because it is unsung.
It rushes through my core,
whispering your name.
I want you.
Greta Christina wrote this amazing post a few days ago on how she re-organizes her priorities to manage her depression. It’s a great read, and I think her strategies are spot-on. Self-care is so incredibly important in a lot of ways, and doubly so when you’re dealing with big difficult shit. So it hit me right in the feels when, at the end of the post, she talked about how she second-guesses this strategy of re-prioritizing: how she feels like the people around her probably expect more out of her but she can’t tell if they actually think that or if it’s just the depression talking. She talks about how she doesn’t have a reliable barometer for judging that; how she doesn’t have a clear sense of which expectations are external and which ones are internal.
So, Greta, this is what I think. (Since you asked.)
Depression loves to make you second-guess yourself. Depression loves to convince you that you can’t make good decisions for yourself. There’s nothing Depression enjoys more than reminding you of all the ways you screwed up and what a mess you are.
For instance, when I ask myself, “What should I do today?” Depression answers:
Well, you need to get some writing done, you’re out of backup posts. You were supposed to keep on top of this and always have your writing done a week in advance. It’s been a busy week? Oh, yeah, sooo busy volunteering for extra hours at your part-time job, and going shopping with your friends and going out to dinner even though you can’t afford it. You lazy ass. If you were any good as a writer this wouldn’t be a problem. Plus, it’s not like you’re breaking any new ground – you just read other blog posts and spend 2378 words saying some variation of “Yeah, what she said.” You never have anything good to say, and you’ll probably just end up surfing Facebook anyway. What, you want to knit? Oh, yeah, because knitting is totally a great way to achieve your goals and make money and pull yourself out of this pit you’re in. What a waste of your fucking time. Plus, I know you want to knit yourself a new scarf but you promised your co-worker you’d knit him a plushie, and I’m pretty sure your friend is still waiting on that sweater you told her you’d make for her birthday, and weren’t you going to knit a blanket for that one friend’s wedding? Oh, yeah, good idea, maybe you should just read all day. That’s productive. You should be cleaning the bathroom, you failure.
Depression makes you doubt yourself. It tells you that you’re not good enough. It tells you that if you’re not doing The Most Important And Fulfilling Thing That Also Changes The World, then you’re being frivolous and stupid. Depression is the ultimate manipulator: it makes you doubt your reality. It convinces you that you’re lying to yourself. Someone complimented your outfit? Psh, they were just being nice. Someone tells you they love you? Huh, they must want something from you. Someone recognizes your work in a meaningful way? Eh, it wasn’t that good, they just have really low standards. They don’t really know what they’re talking about, it’s not like they’re an expert in the industry.
Depression is also really good at making you believe you can’t live without it. It reminds you that you should be humble, that you shouldn’t toot your own horn, that there will always be people who are better than you at everything. It tells you that people don’t really like you; they just act like it because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. It tells you that you shouldn’t ask people for what they need, because then you’ll be sooo needy and pathetic and gross and everyone will hate you. Depression convinces you it’s your only friend. Depression likes to separate you from your friends and family; the people in your life who support you and love you. It convinces you that they don’t really care about you. It convinces you that they only want to take from you; that they’re not willing to give. Depression tells you it’s wrong and selfish to ask your girlfriend to remind you that you’re important to her. It tells you that your friends are busy and don’t want you bugging them just to talk because you’re feeling down. It tells you you’re lazy and horrible for asking your husband to make lunch for you. Depression tells you not to eat the sandwich.
Depression will always try to convince you that your self-care is meaningless and frivolous. That‘s because Depression is a big nasty jerk manipulator who knows that if you start feeling better, you’ll kick it out of the house. It knows that if you spend some time cheering yourself up, you won’t hang out with it anymore and it will have to go find someone else to suck the life out of. So it does everything in its power to convince you that even when you’re doing something that feels good, you should feel bad about it.
Sometimes it’s important to do unimportant things. Sometimes it’s important to waste time. When Depression hits you and starts calling you names, you are right to re-prioritize your life in ways that make it stop. Does it make you feel good? Then do it. Does it shut Depression up for a bit? Then it’s important. Depression is an asshole, an abuser and a manipulator, and let’s be totally honest here: it would kill you if it thought it could. Sure, getting a manicure might not be The Most Important And Fulfilling Thing That Also Changes The World… but it might be A Small Step Toward Saving Your Life.
And that? That is important. It’s not the act itself – the getting of the manicure, the walking forty minutes for a loaf of bread, the going outside or the calling a friend… it’s the significance of the act. It’s the walking forty minutes for a loaf of bread because the walking cheers you up and the bread will be a nice treat. It’s the going outside because outside, it’s harder to believe that you are isolated and miserable and going nowhere with your life. It’s the getting the manicure because that manicure means you are allowing someone else to take care of you in a small way, a way that you maybe can’t take care of yourself. None of these acts are intrinsically important or vital to survival… but they are important in the context of interrupting the cycle of depression. And that makes them worthwhile.