Recently, Iliza Shlesinger, a talented and funny comedian with her own show on Freeform, caused a controversy through statements in an interview with Deadline. When asked about the status of women in comedy, she commented, "I could walk into The Improv, close my eyes, and I can't tell one girl's act apart from another. That's not saying that 30-something white guys don't all sound the same sometimes, but I'm banging my head against the wall because women want to be treated as equals, and we want feminism to be a thing, but it's really difficult when every woman makes the same point about her vagina, over and over. I think I'm the only woman out there that has a joke about World War II in my set." She goes on to say, "I'm appalled by what is expected of women, and what women offer in response in that."
Roughly translated, this reads: "Hello, fellow women in comedy. Have you met my friend, the underside of a 16-wheeler?" Her claim is that women in comedy are falling short because all they do is vagina jokes. And if you walk into a comedy club, you will drown in a tempestuous sea of vagina jokes, reaching for a lifesaver, only to find that it too is made of vagina jokes. Gasping for air, you drag yourself onto land, but as you kiss the sand in your fingers, you find to your horror that each tiny grain is a vagina joke. Also, no other woman comedian has ever made a World War II joke, and that's why feminism is broken.
The good people of Twitter have already thoroughly roasted Shlesinger, offering salient critiques and jokes that I'm too good to simply copy and paste here, so instead I'll post screenshots:
Not only is it untrue that most other women in comedy just make vagina jokes, but vagina jokes can also be smart and funny. Honestly, if you're upset about crude humor, that's the state of comedy in general, not simply a specific quirk of women. And it's certainly not the reason women have a hard time being treated as equals in comedy. This point is the most important, because it gets at what is so irritating about Shlesinger's remarks, and why I totally get where she's coming from. When I was about 12, I came to the shocking realization that becoming a woman wasn't going to be super fun, and I reacted to it in the same, completely wrong way. So hold onto your Lip Smackers, because here comes a middle school flashback.
When I was in the seventh grade, people kept reminding me that I was going through a transformation into womanhood, like some kind of terrifying were-woman. This sounded awful, because at the time I thought that kissing and makeup would give me Ebola. I wasn't interested in dating yet, I didn't like shopping, I liked video games and weird insects. I thought that it was because of these things that I didn't quite fit in. And when I would get made fun of by girls for being shy, and made fun of by boys for having a flat chest and not knowing about sex, instead of coming to the conclusion "Hey, these people are jerks," I thought I'd found the problem: Being a girl sucks. I bought into the idea that middle-school girls are universally mean (despite the fact that I was bullied by boys as well), and that the reason I liked video games and hated Titanic was that I was different from all other girls.
I wasn't fitting the stereotypical mold of what "girl" meant, and instead of questioning the mold, I tried to separate myself from my fellow girls. "I'm not like other girls," I told myself. And when people made fun of women or demeaned them, that didn't include me because I wasn't like them. I still had friends who were girls, but I convinced myself that they were also somehow exceptions to the rule. And I "got along better" with boys, even though I had no evidence of that, as boys would hurt my feelings as often as girls. I thought I'd escaped a bear trap by chewing off my own leg, but I gnawed off the untrapped leg by mistake.
Then I met a couple of girls who loved pink with such a fierce passion, and it broke my brain. They wore cute matching outfits. Their earrings were loud pink stars and hearts. Their makeup was impeccable and neon. They were unapologetically "girly," and were a couple of the nicest, smartest people at my school. In math class, they sat next to me, asking me about myself, expressing a genuine interest in who I was. But because I had become leader of the charge against everything girly, I couldn't believe they were actually cool people who wanted to be my friends. It was less of a stretch to me to think they were setting me up for an elaborate Carrie-like prank, and all that pink was to mask all the pig's blood. I placed my own feelings of insecurity onto them, like some kind of device that takes a picture and displays it upon another surface.
It's on the tip of my tongue ...
We went to the same high school, and they continued to be nice, smart, and interesting people. It was baffling. Every time they complimented me, I thought, "This is it, they're about to Regina George me." But that day never came, and I realized the real bamboozle was the idea that there was a right way to be a girl. You can wear heels, you can wear hoodies, you can show off your makeup or your temporary Alf tattoo. You can even love Titanic and be smart, though Titanic is objectively a bad movie. It was all fine, there was no wrong way to girl -- and later I also realized, no wrong way to woman.
My POV (point of vagina) is that there's no wrong way to be a woman in comedy. There is, however, a wrong way to be a person in comedy, and that includes using your position of success to demean your fellow comediennes. Punching down within your own guild is always self-defeating. Though you may be coming from a place of being hurt because of your gender, the blame does not lie with your fellow women, but with an unfair system that we can overcome together.
Also: Iliza, you once dressed up as a vagina, so seriously, come on. Join us.
Katie Goldin's Twitter is 100 percent vagina jokes, all day every day.
For more, check out 5 Ignorant Jokes From the Last Comedians You'd Expect and 4 Ways We're Programmed to Think Women Aren't Funny.
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