What’s that squawking you hear in the wind? It’s not a flock of geese, but actually the sound of women laughing, cackling, just letting it all out. And boy, did we need it. It’s been a long few centuries of politely smiling and daintily giggling when what we really want to do is guffaw. So why are we laughing? Because it’s an amazing time in comedy for women right now! Menstrual jokes, cat calling jokes, Real Housewife jokes, antiquated beauty standard jokes, age jokes — they’re all fair game to women now. And by golly, a couple of women even get to make them on the TV! Women like Amy Schumer, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Chelsea Peretti, Ilana Glazer, and Abbi Jacobson can actually say things on television programs that aren’t direct references to men! What a time to be alive!
Or not, actually. Many women are really tired of hearing people say that somehow, it’s a great time to be a woman in the entertainment industry just because we’ve made a few strides here and there. Women like the aforementioned Tina Fey, in fact, who recently aired some grievances with the comedy and entertainment world in an interview with Town & Country:
Which is to say, the success of the above listed women and their colleagues is quite the boon to the future of women in comedy, but much as it is with most issues of equality, the refrain “we’re not there yet,” is woefully understated, something I recently experienced first hand.
A little background: I’ve been a writer for a long time, shilling out sometimes sarcastic, sometimes serious cultural commentary across the net. I often inject doses of humor into my entertainment and culture writing, because it’s 2016 and most cultural critique is sandwiched between posts about the Kardashians or animals doing weird things. I decided to supplement my writing degree with something that would make people raise their eyebrows at me and go “Oooh…cool,” and in 2014 graduated from UCBLA’s comedy training program. That in NO way makes me an expert, a professional comedian, or even good at what I do, for that matter. But I’m just saying that I didn’t just have an epiphany on the drive home from a 9-5 at a software company and think, “I’m always making Janet laugh by the water cooler, maybe it’s time I change paths!” — I’ve been working in the creative arts for a long time, and doing stand up has been a natural evolution for me.
So flash forward to a show I headlined recently at one of Nashville’s biggest venues, a multi-level drinking playground for tourists and locals alike. I did my usual thing, which is a combination of vagina jokes, wine jokes, sex jokes, dad references, all delivered with a spoonful of feminism, because Mary Poppins was underpaid, so we need more than sugar nowadays. No, my set isn’t necessarily for everyone, but I figure for all the years that women have had to listen to the Jeff Foxworthys and the Dane Cooks of the world make tractor jokes, that I can mention my vagina without the men in the audience needing a fainting couch. No one has to think my jokes are funny, but at the very least, they could respect my right to make them, and for them to not need to be inclusive to anyone, especially men.
But never underestimate the systematic brainwashing of the patriarchy — not a full drink after getting off stage, I started hearing multiple mutterings by male audience members that my act was too “female-oriented,” or “just about girl stuff.” And you know what, that’s fine. The person in me who wears the social justice warrior badge with pride was cheering happily that for just one moment in time, I’d made privileged white males as uncomfortable as all women are in their day-to-day hopscotch of office sexual harassment, cat calls, rape culture, slut-shaming, and so forth.
But on the other hand, it also made me really mad. Mad that men are capable of feats of such insulting irony. The comedy world is still a buffet that women are only allowed to eat at once the men are finished. It’s still very hard to break through and be taken seriously as a female comedian. And even if you do, within the industry there’s still an overwhelming amount of internal sexism. Just take Jen Kirkman’s story of being sexually assaulted by a “very famous comic.” The comedy world is so male-dominated and misogynistic that Kirkman can’t even just say what happened. She waited until years later to vaguely describe the incident on her podcast, and didn’t even name her attacker. The internet rumor mill then went wild with accusations, due to clues in the story and other similar stories that are linked to a comedy heavy weight, so she then took the episode down. That’s a really sad story, if I’ve ever heard one. (You can read about the incident in more detail here.)
There’s this notion that things that are male oriented are universal, neutral, common ground, and that things that are female oriented are therefore “other,” or feminist or girly. This is one of the reasons I still wholeheartedly believe we need feminism, and that our culture has continued to relentlessly prosper in a male-favored direction, is that people see one woman do something, and all of a sudden click their heels and proclaim, “Society, it’s fixed!” They see the inundation of entertainment with Amy Schumer, and think “Any woman can be a comic now, how cool!” They see Rachel Maddow’s show and think that queer women must no longer be discriminated against. They know one woman who’s had an abortion and think, “All women must be able to do that easily and safely!” And it’s just not the truth. And especially when it comes to something as light-hearted, and unserious in the face of other injustices, it’s time men move over for the ladies and learn how to take a joke.
You can see the video from the night in question below, and judge for yourself!