When Funny Women Try To Get Serious
1:40 pm, November 30th | by Colette McIntyre
Everyone get their Internet Biohazard suits on; Comedian Jen Kirkman dropped so many truth bombs on Tumblr the other day that I fear there is still some radioactivity rippling through the web. Kirkman, who you may know from Chelsea Lately or her hilariously messy appearances on the YouTube series “Drunk History”, has declared a Twitter strike. In a post titled “Twitter Hiatus Until The Men I Know Get Loud“, she writes about an online atmosphere that she believes is sexist, aggressive, and utterly unsupportive of female comics.
I am so sick of the way men on Twitter treat lady comics. And my male friends always DM me or text me or email me or talk to me about how they hate it too but they never speak up…I am talking about on the web, when I write things about the plight of women in Saudi Arabia or how the ERA never passed, dudes write back that I should be funny, stop being political, shut up, stop complaining and all that.
Kirkman shares just a day’s worth of the type of tweets that are provoking her hiatus and the world these 140-character rants suggest is both grim and grammatically depressing.
One reads “SOMEONE SHOULD TELL @JenKirkman TO MAN UP…Uh wait. Breaking my own rule there…BREAKING IT WITH FUNNY.”
It seems downright gentlemanly compared to “@RobbieSTL,” ever the white knight, who offers Kirkman the seminal olive branch of “I’d do ya.”
With a barrage of similarly caps-locked and utterly unfunny variations on the above flooding her Twitter feed everyday, the comedian has declared that she will return to Twitter when she feels that she is not “the only voice constantly using her feed to interrupt her regularly scheduled funniness to try to teach young guys not to objectify women, tell them to shut up, correct their jokes, mansplain to them, etc.” She has also started a separate Tumblr called “MA’AM,” or “Men Against Assholes And Misogyny.”
Kirkman points out that her male Twitter followers mostly remain civil when she tweets about issues of racism and homophobia, but before she can even finish typing “Lily Ledbetter”, boxer briefs across the nation get more knotted than the expired Twisted Tea in a frat house fridge. Instead of being seen as the political activists and brave feminists that they are, Kirkman, and many other women who attempt to discuss gender politics in public spaces, are dismissed as wet blankets.
Sexism and misogyny are so deeply ingrained in society, so oftentimes ignored or not pointed out, that they have become essentially invisible — especially in comedy. It’s the only way I can explain how pervasive and uncensored the word “bitch” has become, how Michael Richards said something horrible and racist and rightfully suffered a ton of bad PR, how Daniel Tosh made a rape joke and gained a new TV show. Women can vote now (thanks!) and are CEOs and Senate majority leaders. Their fight for equality is seen as already won, making further complaints seem ridiculous. Thus even the most liberal, grassroots-organizing, Fair Trade supporting, eco-friendly men can start to feel put-upon when they are criticized for finding rape jokes funny. After all, facing your privilege can be a real bitch sometimes.
Being an outspoken feminist can be even more difficult for a female comedian. Though I am in no way comparing my forays into the comedy scene to Jen Kirkman’s successful career, I will say that the most antagonism I receive in that world comes from men who resent me for starting to get serious. It is as if I betrayed them — like I walked into their lives or comedy troupes under the guise of being “really funny” and “totally chill” only to reveal myself as a Womyn-In-Funny-Girl’s clothing. I’ll never forget the look of horror one of my guy friends gave me when I told him that a soliloquy he delivered on “hot chicks” was problematic. I almost wanted to console him, to let him know that while, yes, I thought raunchy jokes were great, that didn’t mean that I was down with wage discrimination or thought feminist issues had no place in comedy. I could be a funny woman and still be seriously concerned about inequality.
In many ways, this whole “be cool” argument is the problem, especially in the comedy world. Having a woman hanging out in the boy’s club is not ideal but as long as she is silent enough, self-effacing, and acts just like one of the guys, then maybe an exception can be made. When Daniel Tosh made that lazy rape joke at the Laugh Factory, there was only one female audience member who stood up and reminded him that rape jokes weren’t funny. Everyone else laughed, men and women alike. I wonder if other women in the club that night agreed with the heckler’s point but were unwilling to add their voices because they wanted to “be cool”.
That attitude is why Kirkman is infuriated not only by the anonymous menfolk who have stopped posting Groupon deals for Buffalo Wild Wings on the “Shut up and make me a sandwich women” Facebook page long enough to tweet at her, but also by male comedians’ choice to sit this fight out, to try to hush and placate her as if she were a child throwing a tantrum in a library. Coming out against harassment of a female comedian just proves that you also “don’t get it”, that you’re also “a bummer”, that you have fallen into line with the womyn army that will soon rise out of the silk chiffon-lined Middle Earth and castrate every man in the world. Yet the fact that so many men — and women — are reluctant to join forces with Kirkman or speak out against an unfunny rape joke proves that there is still work to be done.