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"Men Are Funnier Than Women." Right? Wrong.

Culture

When it comes to comedy, the most renowned household names in the business are men. This is partially because of the gender divide and the suffocating patriarchy, but also, because men are funnier, right? Women are a little too serious, a little emotional. They don't appeal, per se, to the wider audience, hence why the men make the big bucks, own the late night show slots and dominate the global comedy stage scene. In fact it would appear that the root cause of all the men's success, is wholly due to the fact that women really just aren't funny, at all.


LOL, JK. Women are absolutely hilarious.

Last year was a significant one for women in the comedy world. Amazon's The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel, a look into the very young female comedy scene in New York in the 50s, was released to critical acclaim and a deluge of awards. Chelsea Handler and Chrissy Teigen made a name for themselves as comedic antidotes to the Trump White House. Oh, and Queen Latifah's Girls Trip received 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. It was a good year for women in comedy.

With the change in gears for women in the workplace at home, there has indeed been a shift in the right direction for females in this industry, very traditionally cherished and centred around, male leads. "It's better than it's ever been," says Felicia Madison, a comedian and owner of Laughing Affairs, a company dedicated to bringing female comedians in front of a female audience, that hosts lunchtime gatherings featuring mostly female comics and a hearty amount of midday martinis.

Madison started her comedy career after she'd had children. A good friend of hers was doing standup, and she decided she wanted to try it. “I used comedy in social settings, with my friends, I was always the joke teller," she remarks. "[Before long], I was hooked. I just love it. I haven't stopped taking classes, and performing 2 or 3 times a week."

Felicia Madison, Laughing Affairs owner, mother and Upper West Side comic who stoically makes fun of all of the UWS ladies and her own family. Photo - Jimi Celeste/PMC

The mother of two, having completed her first round of classes, was instructed to bring some friends to shows she would feature in as part of her course.

"In the beginning you had to bring your friends, and the shows would inevitably be in the evening times, when those mothers would be dealing with their homelife, kids etc," says Madison. "Also the humor didn't suit, it was a lot of young people, at night, downtown. So I wanted to bring comedy to them." With this, Madison came up with the concept of a rolling all-female comedy luncheon which would serve as a comedic break for mothers and Upper West Siders alike looking for an outlet whereby both husbands and kids would be the butt of most jokes. "I decided that lunch time would be a great change of pace from everyday life," says Madison.

Jessica Kirson, a featured comic at Felicia Madison's latest laughercise, and a professional face-maker

With this, the host was then tasked with rounding up female comedians to perform at the lunchtime events, which proved an interesting exercise. "I try to stay away from vulgar comedians and from comedy that I don't think would hit that well with my friends," she remarks. "Being it's daytime comedy, people aren't drunk and rowdy, you need a certain type of comedian, who's upbeat. The dry, rye comedians don't work as well (but are still funny)." She began scouring hours of footage from comics online and rounded up her favorites until she had her first line-up in 2016. Since then she's done 10 similar lunchtime events called Laughercise, with 40 female comedians. "I wanted to keep it just women performing for women. It's such a difficult career for women. They have big families, working all day and all night." To introduce some diversity, there has been a few male warmup acts that have delighted in poking fun at the femme-forward crowd.

Madison hasn't just stopped there however. Outside of Laughercise, she works events, travels, and picks up entertainment gigs as they come. It's during these outings that she's had most interaction with the men of the comedy world, and it's these very occasions that gave her pause to expand on the Laughing Affairs agenda.

"They say semen is anti-aging which is great... Because I'm going to have a very young looking lower back"

- Olga Namer, featured Laughercise comic

When it came time for her to book men for a gig or special she would be working that required a male counterpart, Madison was quick to realize the difference between booking men and booking women on the comedy circuit. The responses to her reaching out to male comics were astronomically different to their female counterparts. Where women on the receiving end of a booking were either indifferent to payment, or would ask only the day before the show if and how much they would be receiving, the men were entirely different in their approach. “When I called the men, [they would say] 'call my manager, call my agent,'" she laughs. "And they're charging like three times the amount as the women, even when the women were equally, if not more established. It's not that the women are less business-savvy, it's just that they're nicer."

With this is mind, Madison has set up a recurring panel for women under the Laughing Affairs umbrella to come chat (and joke) about their experience in the comedy world, be it good, bad, or sensational. Her impetus for the talk? Women aren't talking to one another. "The other big thing that I'm trying to achieve is to get more women to help each other," she comments. "There are some women that are very good at reaching out and helping but I find my personal experience in the business so far, is that men are more willing to be helpful than women. I think that [the business] is more competitive [for women]."

Women not helping women is something that has been highlighted across every industry in recent weeks and months, with mentorship programmes sprouting up across the board. So while that aspect is easier to address once identified, it's a woman's attitude and confidence within a certain field that has proven to be more difficult to rectify. “Men ask for stuff," says the comic. "Men call the booker, they email the booker. Women don't ask. So that was the impetus [for the panel]." Charged by what she's seen over the past two years, Madison hopes to change the overwhelming underestimation female comics are suffering from, and to encourage a more open dialogue about pay, terms of service and industry rules. All indeed, in a day's work, with a little laughter to boot.

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.