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.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."