There it is, I’ve said it. Was that shocking, or just what you’ve come to expect from a female comedian?
Let’s be real. A four letter word isn’t as threatening as it used to be. Actually, fuck is one of the most underrated words in the English language. Try to name another word that’s a verb, a noun and an exclamation. Now of course, one must use this gem sparingly, lest it become devalued in times of actual need (insert basic supply and demand chart here). But there are times when one seeks to intentionally employ a powerful tool – if tastefully crafted with precise emphasis – to shock an audience and instigate change.
Easy enough, right? We all get the point I’m trying to make: sometimes you’ve got to throw in some gunpowder to light a fire. How else can you quickly and memorably shine a light on what’s wrong with the world – whether it’s political, religious, racial, or gender-related – on a larger scale than just case studies and letters to Congress?
And that’s exactly fucking why comedians are doing what they’re doing today.
Think of your favorite comedian – male, female or otherwise – and recall a powerful joke of theirs. I’ll bet you they said something shocking. Perhaps it wasn’t the f word, but something just as jarring. Now of course, some comedians are known for being “clean,” like Jim Gaffigan, Seinfeld, and Ellen DeGeneres, but just because they don’t curse or mention sex, doesn’t meant they’re not using unexpected comedic ideas to elicit a reaction. Sometimes that response is favorable and manifests as a cultural stepping stone, while other times, it backfires and ironically unites people in anger and outrage.
Case in point: Kathy Griffin.
Kathy Griffin Courtesy of StyleBistro
In case you missed it, comedian Kathy Griffin is in a lot of trouble. In May, she posted provocative photos taken by celebrity photographer Tyler Shields, holding a bloody sculpture resembling Trump’s mutilated head. For the first time in what seems like forever, there was bipartisan agreement: everyone was pissed.
Before we go any further, let’s just get something straight: I don’t think what Kathy did was a good idea. I’m all about freedom of speech, and the right to express your opinions through art, but this took it to an extreme. Alluding to killing someone is pretty serious, especially when things like this are actually happening elsewhere in the world. It’s one thing to post a risque shot with dreams of being an Instagram model, and another to…ok, you get the picture.
I have to say though, I am a bit perplexed about the backlash she’s receiving. Almost instantly after the photos were released, Kathy was punished aggressively: CNN fired her from her annual Co-Host position on the New Year's Eve Countdown, her remaining 7 tour appearances were cancelled by their respective venues, industry peers like Anderson Cooper and fans alike denounced her publicly, she was interviewed by the Secret Service, and was dropped as a marketing spokesperson for Squatty Potty. The last of these punishments was the shittiest, pun intended.
Here’s the thing though – this isn’t the first time she’s been canned or blacklisted for doing something shocking. Throughout her career, Kathy Griffin was also banned from appearances on shows at venues including: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The View, E!’s Red Carpet Award Show Coverage, Hannah Montana, and at the Apollo Theater. This was all due to things she said, people she made fun of, who just couldn’t handle that. For instance, many were outraged at her 2007 Emmy acceptance speech, when she joked, “A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award...no one had less to do with this award than Jesus...suck it, Jesus, this award is my God now!”
The balls this woman must have! Well actually, on the subject of balls...
A few male celebrities were in the news during the same time frame regarding their shocking remarks, but have interestingly been met with different public responses. For example, Bill Maher used a racial slur in his show “Real Time,” Johnny Depp made a Trump joke that alluded to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, and comedian Stephen Colbert made a homoerotic joke about Trump as well.
So what happened when the media heard of their questionable behavior? People were pissed, the men apologized, and that was that. Was Johnny Depp’s career ruined? Not because of this (P.S. please stop making Pirates movies). Was Bill Maher’s show cancelled? No. Oh, and Colbert came right back and ripped Trump apart with a new set of jokes in his monologue the next day (though I can’t say I didn’t love it).
I know it’s not an apples to apples to comparison – words versus severed heads – but Kathy Griffin paid a heftier price for her expressions, which she attributes to it being a “gender thing.”
Bill Maher Courtesy of Wikimedia
She held a press conference apologizing for crossing the line, regretfully admitting that, “I don’t think I’ll have a career after this.”Only time will tell if that’s true, but isn’t it sad and alarming to think that one mistake could reverse all the work this comedy icon had accomplished in the industry, especially for women? After all, Griffin was the first female comedian to debut at the top of the Billboard Top Comedy Albums chart, and broke the Guinness World record for the number of aired TV specials on any network by any comedian in the history of comedy.
Being a female comic isn’t easy, which has been brought up with another story that’s been floating around recently. Comedian Iliza Shlesinger made a comment in June critiquing today’s female comedians in a Deadline article where she stated, “Everything’s about sex, or how weird I am...I think shock value works well for women, but beyond that, there’s no substance.”
For readers not tapped into the comedy world, you may not have heard about what happened with Iliza – but I couldn’t get away from the headline. I’ve been bombarded by it on podcasts, blogs, and Twitter; it almost broke the internet. I’ll spare you the exploration of what I think Iliza meant by her statement (also because I think she’s a talented comedian who’s come under a lot of fire for it) but after what just happened with Kathy Griffin, it makes me wonder if female comedians feel the need to employ shock value just to survive in a male-dominated industry? Sure. But is that the only trick we have up our sleeves?
Get ready for the joke callback: fuck no. Even triple-threat Amy Schumer has weighed in on whether or not comedians feel pressured to continue to push that envelope, to which she responded, “The most shocking thing is that I am not trying to shock anyone. I feel we should be able to talk about anything. I talk about what interests me. Sex is one of those things. I think it’s shocking that more people don’t talk about it.”
The bottom line is that I think Amy, Iliza, and Kathy are all right. I don’t condone their actions, but I think each woman is correct in having and defending their own artistic expressions and interpretations. As comedians, it’s our job to observe and report life, and deliver our analyses to call attention to issues that are important to us. I think it’s hard to prove that women are susceptible to harsher criticism, but I do think it’s a tougher road for females to pursue their dreams. In turn, this makes success that much sweeter in the end.
I’m just here to remind us why we should fight the good fucking fight.
Victoria's Secret is best known for what it has to offer women. However, a few days ago as I was strolling around the flagship store on Bond Street, I discovered that the store also has a lot to offer men as well. Just not exactly what you'd think.
My experience began like many other shopping excursions, casually browsing for a few practical items. The store was bustling with women who were relaxed but focused on their own purchases. The women in the store all displayed a quiet confidence in knowing what to do and how to do it. My browsing journey took me into another room where I noticed a man behaving quite awkwardly while being guided around by one of the many well-trained twenty-something shop assistants. My first thought was: "Good for him coming in here alone! I imagine it isn't the most comfortable experience for a man." It was clear he felt out of place. His discomfort was obvious by the way he was shuffling around and avoiding eye contact with any women nearby.
This otherwise unremarkable experience sent a spark through my mind. This man was professional and smartly dressed; perhaps he could have worked for one of the many private equity, hedge fund or banking firms in the nearby area. I imagined that he was confident in his own world of work, but in this female haven he was not. He was the only man in the room, and it showed.
This world - that of Victoria's Secret - was not created to make someone like him feel comfortable. In this environment—a store catering to women, filled by women and selling feminine merchandise—the familiar patriarchal dynamics of the world had completely shifted.
This was a world that can transform an otherwise confident professional into an introverted, self-conscious and indecisive man who needed the help of a twenty-something female to make one simple purchase.
I have seen this story play out with the gender roles reversed many times throughout my career in the corporate world. Today, the culture of many companies are built and sustained by men, for men. Traditional male characteristics are still encouraged, rewarded and expected from female professionals, especially if they expect to reach the executive suite. Being the only woman in the room is still an everyday reality for so many women in business; most men do not understand how corrosive this situation can be to a person's confidence.
I have often heard men say that they believe gender inequality is not an issue in their firm. They hire women and now even have some women on their teams. Well, on those terms this man should not have experienced any issue either. There is no sign at the door of Victoria's Secret barring men from entry. Men are allowed to freely enter and buy whatever they choose. No woman in there would tell them to leave or suggest that to get to the front of the queue they must behave in a certain way. So, what was the problem? Why did this man appear so uncomfortable? Why did he suddenly lack the confidence he seemed to have in the outside world?
It's all in the numbers. If that store catered towards the needs of men, or if there were simply more men in the store (either equivalent to or greater than the number of women), then it is likely that man would have felt a greater sense of belonging.
Just because women are allowed into the workplace now, does not mean their experiences are equivalent to those of their male peers. Women, as the minority, simply do not have the same sense of freedom to be their true authentic selves in many corporate environments, even today.
Just like that Victoria's Secret shop assistant guiding the lone man through an ostensibly unwelcoming environment, so, too, do women benefit from the guidance of sponsors, helping them navigate the male dominated corporate world.
Before a man talks about gender parity, perhaps he first needs to take a trip to a lingerie store and experience what it is like to be the only one in the room. Maybe if more men had experiences like this, they may begin to understand what it is to feel so out of place. Maybe they would join us in creating greater gender equality in the workplace.