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Females, The F Word, And Fighting The Good Fight

Lifestyle

Fuck.


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.

Culture

A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.


Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.