**Trigger warning - contains retelling of abusive language & rape “jokes”**
A few days ago I wrote a post about my experiences with misogyny in comedy. It received a lot of support on Tumblr as well as through pals on Facebook, and has generally been received well by all kinds of people, friends and strangers alike.
Unsurprisingly, there has been a very real and thorough backlash as a result of making this post. Luckily enough, I used the very same opportunity to make it clear I’m out of the stand up game, at least temporarily. This has helped to keep some of the most vile reactions from troubling me too terribly much. While I have still been out and about on the local Toronto comedy scene, supporting my friends and projects I believe in, the cowardly sorts have mostly kept to themselves…at least in person.
I have received an outpouring of love, support and well-wishes from a wide-reaching range of people. Some of them have surprised me, but they all mean a lot. To all the people who’ve sent a thoughtful message, or shared my post, or encouraged me to stay in the game: thank you.
However, I’ve also had any number of straight males pipe up with the usual complaints that I am painting them all with the same brush, as it were. And while I can understand that to guys who are perfectly pleasant, normal, non-creeps, it may seem unfair for me to have used the words “hetero males”, I have a few bones to pick with this line of complaint.
First off - if the main takeaway message you have to a report of virulent misogyny within your own circles is to complain “Hey - NOT ALL MEN are like that”? The point, sir - you’ve missed it, it’s way over there.
Secondly - Oh, it hurts you to be lumped in by a set of characteristics based solely on your gender? Welcome to womanhood, my dears. It only gets worse from here. You are not responsible or representative of every male who commits an act of misogyny, no. However, your silence does not equal neutrality. Your unwillingness to get involved does not make you apolitical. Sitting around letting the worst dudes treat women in your community like this does not mean you’re off the hook. Nor does forgiving and forgetting when your pals in the scene slip and act like assholes. It means that yes, you are a part of it, whether directly or indirectly.
Some comedians would like to shift this to being a debate about being “PC”, or censorship, or quotas, or working hard, or any other number of arguments that are easier to make. It’s not. And it’s not about giving women a red carpet into being a comic - comedy IS hard work after all, and not for the faint of heart (I am a perfect example of this…I have come to the conclusion that I simply do not have the temperament to exist in this climate).
Additionally, supporting some women in the community does not get you off the hook - you SHOULD support women and that doesn’t make you special or deserving of extra love and attention. Honestly, even being a woman in the community doesn’t get you off the hook - we are rife with female misogyny over here, everyone. Because in a misogynistic environment, even women play a part. Is your mind blown yet?
Some examples of misogynistic acts (can be done by people of any gender):
- openly hostile / insensitive / sexualizing intros for female comics
- Almost never booking women or only booking a few “exceptional” women as compared to a wider, rotating array of men
- judging new female comics more harshly / with less patience / allowing for no learning curve
- spreading rumors about a female comic’s sexuality / alleged sexual dalliances
- trying to screw up a female comic’s set by heckling her, derailing or cutting her off mid-joke
- only booking / being supportive of the female comics you are friends with / you’re dating
- only welcoming in female comics you want to date / sleep with
- talking onstage / publicly about sexual experiences with a female comic in order to humiliate her
- favoring female comics based on their age / looks / body type / singleness rather than on their skill as a performer
- vetting women comics by being extra offensive in front of them to gauge their reaction aka “how cool they are”
- losing interest in a female comic the second she mentions being queer / having a partner or not being interested in dating comics
- doling out kindness, spots, attention or praise but only to the women you are interested in, and ignoring the others
- not bothering to make friends / book new female comics since “they probably won’t stick around”
- hearing fellow comics harass, harshly critique, or otherwise be hurtful to a female comic and ignoring it completely because it’s not your problem
- rolling your eyes, staring at her chest, sighing while they’re onstage, or other microaggressions which show your displeasure at female comics
- insisting female comics “have it easier”
- using misogynistic language / jokes whether directed towards female comics or not
- using misogynistic language to deride women in the scene, including bookers, producers, agents and other professionals
In some ways, I am sure my last post will cause problems for female comics in this community, especially those closest to me. Some have, wisely, distanced themselves from what they see as a big red target for vitriol from the ‘angry dudes’. Some truly haven’t experienced any harassment, through luck or through their relationships and alliances within the scene. Some believe themselves to be ‘exceptional women’ who are somehow different than the rest of us. All I can say to these women is, recognize that you don’t represent all women any more than I do. I do not claim to represent your experiences, only my own and those that have been reported to me. If some women in your community are facing these negative circumstances, you should not get to be the “cool girl” who sits back and insists that since it hasn’t happened to you, it doesn’t exist. I hope your good fortune goes on forever but at the very least try to remember that not everyone is in your lucky shoes of getting to hang with the dudes.
And while this tweet was made before I put up the blog post in question (it was actually a part of a daylong tantrum about my LGBT/Women’s Open Mic and how it’s “discriminatory”), I think you can see here exactly what happens in a community full of invisible lines. This tweet received an enormous negative response, yet for me it doesn’t really represent the worst behavior I’ve faced. It only represents a perpetrator who’s been rewarded time and time again onstage for being hurtful, disgusting and violent with his words, doing what comes naturally:
Guys like this one are rewarded with spots, attention, and praise when their hateful jokes aren’t directed at any one individual. And we’re talking the works - their jokes are full of misogyny, racism, homophobia, ableism. They are given so much positive feedback for such hateful stuff that it might even be surprising to them that anyone would mind when they do use it as a weapon in a one-on-one confrontation. But again - the misogyny in this community is happening behind closed doors. Yes, people are mad at him for doing this, but I guarantee such anger mainly serves to silence a very real example of the type of attitude/personalities we’re dealing with in comedy. Silencing one person does not make the problem go away, it only hides it in the dark to fester and grow.
Many men in the community have said,
"Why don’t you tell me when this stuff happens"
"Give me names"
"I’ll take care of it, just tell me who to yell at"
This is so far from the point, almost to be absurd. I don’t need a set of bouncers who take me on as their personal cause. And if I reported every time a male comic did something shitty to a female comic, well…I’d have to start yet another Tumblr. The only direct action I want any of you to take is to pledge that you will keep your eyes open in the future, and stand up for people who haven’t been given as much respect or power as yourselves. Who you associate with matters. Who you book matters. Supporting guys who behave poorly is only going to make matters worse.
We can all pretend to be a big, happy, loving and warm community. And that guys like this are outliers that just don’t know how to behave. But your “warm happy community” is only available to a select and privileged few. The rest of us are out in the cold. So before you tell me not to quit, why don’t you go back through the list of female and queer and people of color comedians you’ve seen start and quit. Imagine for just a second that it’s not because they are weak, or bad at comedy, or not as good as you. Think about how the majority of you are so male, so straight, so white. Think about why those comics quit in the first place, how the power structure is set up within the community. Whose voices matter the most? Whose are mostly ignored? If you’re sitting back, complacently watching this happen, and enjoying your status as an established performer - well, have fun in your fucking country club, bro. But don’t you dare pretend it’s anything else.
Shameless plug: WRITE CLUB TORONTO - THE GARRISON - 8pm tonight (Tues)