In ancient and classical theater, comedies were stories about how communities created and healed themselves. Bitter hatreds were purged through blunder and farce and in the end, first act rivals have learned they are both ridiculous and therefore to love each other again. In the fifth act, there is a wave of marriages because everyone is so relieved that the community’s wounds have closed at last. You see this in some form in every comedy Shakespeare or Aristophanes ever wrote and every film an SNL alum ever starred in.
Classical comedy was about communities learning to love each other and move forward together. This is a fun fact to keep in mind when reading how standup comedians interact online.
Evening all - earlier today, my friend Barbara Holm posted an article on sexism in large communities - particularly in standup comedy and the comicbook worlds - to the Huffington Post. I started typing a comment that grew too large, so I sent it privately as a letter. She asked that I make my comments public, which makes sense since sexism is something men should stand against publicly, noisily and often. It hurts us too, fellas - anything we can do to break it even a little is worth doing. So, presented below are public comments that became private, made public again. But make sure you read Barbara’s article! What’s below is just my reaction. (and the final sentence only makes sense if you know Barbara’s act)
Hey, just read your HuffPo piece and instructed the Twitterverse to do the same. What’s below began as a comment in the FB thread but then I couldn’t shut up.
Between comics and comedy, I’m not sure which one I’d peg as the more deeply entrenched boyzone but I do know that it wears on me hard to see it in both cases because I don’t feel these artforms will be all that they can be until they mature and cast off this sexist nonsense that still pervades them. And maybe I’m mistaken, but it seems especially virulent in cartooning and comedy because the fellows we’re talking about here tend to be dorks - that is, dudes who feel like THEY’RE marginalized and therefore are incapable of marginalizing anyone else cuz they’ve, like, been there man. Therefore, sexism in nerd culture is all the more difficult to dislodge because it’s more invisible than usual to the perpetrators.
I get frustrated because these are two artforms that have brought a lot of joy into my life and I would see that joy reach the lives of many others as well, so when the attached subcultures have such ugliness and toxic sexism in there it can be a lot to take. Aside from being immoral and shameful, it’s also straight up bad business to drive women away! Sometimes, this can be explained to fellas but man, then you meet YET ANOTHER dude that needs it explained and you gotta start all over. Sometimes fighting against it feels super Sisyphean. One can lose heart. And I just wanna be able to tell people I do standup and read comics without folks wondering if I’ve got some sorta problem with women because of how the behavior of the subcultures that loving these arts links me to.
All of this is a long way of saying that I admire you for not backing down. My problem as a fella is a bit of embarrassment in a world that welcomes me, your problem can be outright hostility from a world you want to be a part of. You walk in two worlds that can be very difficult for a woman to walk in and you’ve not allowed the uglier substratas of those cultures to drive you away. Hell, in the comedy world, not only are you holding your ground but you’re kicking ass besides. I’m grateful for this, cheered by it. If nerd sexism is to be brought down - and I believe it can be, or at least mortally wounded - brave women will be the point of the spear.
No one needs to squeeze lemon juice on you to know that you’re a badass.
The show was at Jake’s, ten dollars a ticket. It was a variety show but I was there to see a comedian friend. It was well attended - the first few rows were packed so I sat in the back third of the room, where empty chairs were most plentiful. Tim Meadows was sitting to my right, who I knew from school and a couple other old chums sat to my left and in the next row up. Just as Monica was going up, Tim and my other old friends started trying to chat and it got really loud. I shushed them and Tim looked upset.
A short and doughy bouncer but a hand on my shoulder and said something I couldn’t hear because I was straining to hear Monica, who I also couldn’t hear. When he spoke again, all I could make out was “you have two reprimands on your head.” I told him I didn’t say shit and was trying to watch the show. He said that’s three and started trying to kick me out. I got really angry cuz this round shouldered chump couldn’t move me if we wanted and I hadn’t said shit in the first place. He loomed behind me, telling me I had to leave so I told Tim to admit that he was the one making all the noise. Meanwhile, the whole front end of the room was emptying out and streaming out the door. Tim looked at me like we weren’t friends anymore and left. The bouncer looked at me like I’d pulled a fast one and left. Monica got off stage and I hadn’t heard one of her jokes.
The next act was some sort of dance / animation number but I couldn’t seem to get a good view or hear shit. I moved seats and my cousin was sitting to my right and he wouldn’t shut up, plus he kept poking at me. There was some sort of churning music and a flickering projection on a screen, but I couldn’t make out what was happening. I moved again into the newly empty front rows and the dancers were all exiting. Somewhere in the back rows, I could hear the bouncer harrassing someone else about having two reprimands on their head and I deepy, deeply wanted to kick his ass but the show was still going on. The projection screen kept flickering, the only image that held was the same as that of a poster on my bedroom wall. Even sitting this close, I could not hear.
The music rose and rose until I couldn’t hear the bouncer anymore. The dancers all exited. I woke up, facing the poster that had flickered on the screen. And that’s the first dream I’ve remembered in months and months.
Hey Fellas -
Can we talk for a minute? Because I understand that you’re frustrated with how this country works and am indeed quite frustrated myself. Our two party political system is corrupt, crony ridden and barely functional. In 2008, many of us cast our votes for Barack Obama in the hope that a relatively young President with a true youth movement behind him might provide the sort of leadership we have long hungered for and in 2009, many of us began to feel that hope bleeding away as the administration rolled over for big banking, negotiated away the public health care option and escalated drone warfare throughout the Middle East. The rising disillusionment was palpable - we could feel it in the air between our faces and our laptop screens as we read story upon story about yet another of our hopes compromised and warped. It was grueling and depressing and, no small wonder, enough to drive many of us to disconnect entirely.
Now, as another Presidential election approaches, I’m hearing a troubling refrain from young, politically aware men all over the country. In protest of a broken political system and outcomes that do not match their ideals, many a man has declared that they will not vote for anyone this November. Even in Washington State I am hearing this, where voting requires no more effort than affixing a stamp to an envelope - “I will not vote.” Because of the drones, because of the bailouts, because of the abuses of one acronymed agency or another, “I will not vote.” Because both parties are in bed with the overclass, because they see no material difference between Romney and Obama, because even five minutes of C-SPAN is enough to give one a migraine, “I will not vote.”
Gentlemen, I grant every point you make about your disappointment in Obama. Furthermore, I agree full well that our political system is a complete nightmare that is rigged against everyone but the overclass. Further still, I grant that Obama and Romney are both such mushy centrists that I plan on using the debates as sedatives when they happen. However, even in full acknowledgement of all of these very important points, I now must call out each and every one of you who intends to skip voting this November. I must ask whether or not you would have history remember you as ain’t-shit punks who let something horrible happen because they wanted to prove a point. Though Romney and Obama do indeed have entirely too much overlap on matters economic and military, there is one issue on which the differences between them are screamingly, glaringly, urgently obvious and that is the difference between what an Obama and a Romney administration would mean for American women.
There is no understating this, fellows: A Romney win in November would be an absolute disaster for women - that is, an absolute disaster for your mothers, your sisters, your lovers, your colleagues and your friends. If you were paying any attention at all during the GOP primaries, you saw a party that straight up adopted misogyny as part of their platform. Today’s Republican voter is someone who reads The Handmaid’s Tale and thinks “sounds good to me!” Today’s Republican voter watches Mad Men and wonders why those gender mores ever had to change. The Republican party has made zero effort to hide their utter contempt for women who choose to be anything other than an obedient wife and broodmare. Romney and Ryan ascending to the executive branch would be an absolute catastrophe for women and if you stay home with your blank ballot and your wounded idealism this November, it’s a catastrophe that you yourself let happen, that you yourself could have resisted and chose not to. What shall I call you if you fail to stand up for the women in your lives, my friends? Somehow, “men” would not sound quite right to me.
Leave aside for a moment Romney’s repeated promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act if elected, a piece of legislation that is even as we speak providing affordable birth control and health care to the women in your lives on an unprecedented level. Forget that Romney would allow insurers to again charge women more than men because to the insurer’s mind, uterus ownership is a costly preexisting condition. The Affordable Care Act shut this nonsense down. Halting this progress and this real, tangible change is only the beginning of the Romney / Ryan nightmare. Romney himself has promised to “get rid of” Planned Parenthood, a move that would instantly deprive 2.9 million women of healthcare. However, since Romney has no national legislative record to speak of, let us turn our attention to his running mate, Paul Ryan, and what his selection says about the Romney campaign’s priorities.
Paul Ryan has voted against women’s reproductive rights 59 times. 59! So here we have another conservative willing rail on and on about “personal freedoms” unless that person is a woman who would prefer not to be pregnant. Indeed, Ryan believes abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape or incest. Ryan is vehemently anticontraception and has repeatedly stated he would like to see Title X funding for birth control and cancer screenings done away with. He’s one of these guys who think life begins at conception, you see, and would like to grant zygotes legal personhood - and to accomplish that, all one must do is transfer away a little bit of personhood from the actual grown adult carrying and sustaining that zygote. To a churl like Paul Ryan, this is not a bizarre contradiction but a viable policy position. Ryan also voted against the Lizzy Ledbetter Act because a nation where women are paid unfairly and discriminated against in the workplace does not trouble him at all. Indeed, as you begin to dig down in Republican rhetoric, it becomes apparent that they’re not so sure we need women in the workplace at all.
This is also why you cannot comfort yourselves with Romney’s relatively decent record on women’s issues as Governor of Massachusetts. What has become undeniably clear throughout this campaign is that Romney is willing to mouth and even act upon what’s important to the people propping him up, that he’s willing to say absolutely anything to get elected. In MA, an antiwoman gubanatorial candidate is dead in the water so guess what? Romney supports women for as long as he has to. A modern national Republican candidate however is required to be a misogynist so guess what? Romney can be relied upon to sign whatever insane legislation the Republicans send him. And let us never, ever forget what this party has become. This is the party that would decide on women’s health with no women in the room, that indeed bans them from speaking on these very issues. This is the party that, when a woman speaks on the clear and present need for available birth control, says nothing when its attack pundits smear her as a “slut” and “prostitute” in the national media. Romney believes this misogynist mob will carry him to the Presidency and will therefore say or do whatever he must to keep them happy and engaged. If this does not deeply trouble you, I’m not sure I understand you at all.
Idealism is a wonderful thing, gentlemen, I truly believe that - wonderful and, furthermore, necessary. However, part of adulthood is understanding when your idealism must be tempered with pragmatism. You’re disillusioned, I get it. Obama wasn’t perfect, I get it. The entire system is fucked up, believe me I get it but it’s also the system we have to work with right now and I absolutely refuse to sacrifice the health, safety and dignity of the women in my life just to make some petty statement about that political system. I will not have it. Perhaps the issues I enumerated above have no direct impact on your own lives fellas, but to the women you claim to love they are very real and very dangerous.
The women in your lives are counting on you to do something about this. They cannot defeat Romney and Ryan without you. If you hold their health, safety and dignity at aught, you absolutely must vote and vote Democrat this November, straight down the ticket. Send Romney packing and clear Congress of the frothing misogynists currently occupying it - at this moment in history, any Republican with power is dangerous for women. Don’t piss your vote away on some grandstanding hopeless third party jerkoff and don’t leave your ballot blank because you can’t be bothered. Because make no mistake, this disillusionment of yours, this disengagement, this sullen apathy? Romney is counting on it. Indeed, his party is doing everything it can to make voting difficult for you. If you stay out of the fight, you are playing right into his hands and it’ll be the women in your life that pay for your cowardice.
Leave aside for a moment that everything you hate about Obama you’ll get ten times as much of from Romney and focus on those differences between the candidates that are sharp and clear and obvious: women would suffer under a Romney presidency, full stop. If they mean anything to you at all, you will resist. If you let them down, you cannot be called a man - it really is that simple. I charge you, each and every last goddamn one of you, to be worthy of the faith the women in your life have in you and to stand up for them.
Show them what you’re made of this November. Be a man and vote.
Fresh off a breakup that I’m feeling worse about daily, I am presently idly browsing OKC. Least sexy username I’ve encountered thereupon? “Passion4anime,” followed close upon by “WifyType.” Guh.