I’m a feminist in the Chicago comedy scene and it’s been a rough week. I’m worn out. I’m sick of being patient with 20something improv dudes as some of their dumber exemplars relentlessly defend confused notions of free speech. I’m sick of sounding like a broken record as they aggressively abstain from listening and de-rail discussions with a total lack of context and empathy. I’ve discovered some awesome allies through these conversations, but I’m sad to say that they’re a small minority. We pass each other in the halls, or glance across the booth at the bar and share a weary look of solidarity that isn’t nearly enough. We’re up to our tits in douche soup.
It’s been a revelatory experience. I am talked over. My anger is re-framed as “being too close to it.” Pointed questions are dismissed noting that I “obviously have strong feelings.” When I refuse to add passive tags like “I guess that’s just my perspective” to the end of my statements, there are pregnant pauses generously provided as I watch expectant faces turn toward mine. I am a living textbook example of how misogynistic men interact with women when they are afraid of losing power. Perhaps sadder still, I have been shocked to witness the near Stockholm syndrome-like comments offered by some fellow women in comedy.
I’m exhausted, and after a week of discovering an alarming number of my colleagues to be either mean (arguments that seem to boil down to “I’m basically okay with rape/rape culture”) or dumb (arguments that never boil down at all and create an ever-growing web of tangential clichés and straw men) I’m at the end of my rope. I want this to be over. I want to resume looking forward to my classes and rehearsals sans the threat of impromptu overt oppression. I want the feeling back; the one I got when I entered the doors of these incredible institutions before this week– the feeling that I am so lucky to be here – to be included in this amazing community of the smartest most talented people in the world.
And so you know what’s happening now, right? After talking about rape and comedy for a week, now is the part where women are testing the waters in their relationships with their female colleagues in comedy – where we are broaching the subject on our own terms. Now is the part where when a woman discovers an ally, she tells her story. The one she was remembering while sitting silently trying to keep it together at the bar. I have heard stories this week that I will carry with me forever.
In conversations with friends outside of the comedy scene, I try to explain that it’s been a tough time for me and inevitably tears spring to my eyes. I’m worn out and honestly I’m surprised by how much this is affecting my life and work. My friends are uncompromisingly sympathetic. And they supportively suggest that maybe I don’t have to lay myself out like this. Maybe I don’t have to respond to people who almost certainly won’t listen or make a real effort to understand. Maybe I should just ignore these idiots. It doesn’t have to be my job to always get entangled in these conversations, they say. I can just keep my head down, perfect my craft, and show the misogynistic assholes that of course women deserve respect by being unquestionably great, skilled, and hard working.
And then a firework explodes in my mind and the tears start rolling down my cheeks in droves. “Ida.” Suddenly another luxury – the luxury of being quiet – of passing – is a casualty of my motherhood. I do not have the luxury of being quiet because it is my job to raise the best Ida I can for this world, and to make the best world I can for Ida. In no possible “good world” scenario is the idea that a man has a right to threaten a woman with rape, even as a consequence for something as obviously grievous as speaking aloud in public when it wasn’t her turn (commence eye-roll of rage-fuelled sarcasm). Being the mother of a daughter means that I am absolutely going to respond – that my responding is a mandate. I am, without a doubt, going to call anyone out who makes an argument for sexism or misogyny. I am going to be relentless. I am going to try in earnest to change that person’s mind. I will not back down, or couch my arguments in non-threatening passive language.
And if this means that I find the world to be a scarier place than I expected, I can work through that. If it means that I’m going to be tired forever from talking to privileged men devoid of empathy, I can grow stronger to rise to the challenge. If it means I don’t get cast or hired because I’m a “feminist pain in the ass”, fine – your loss, dipshit. What I simply cannot and will not accept is that I should lie down and hope for the best. I cannot make peace with leaving this mess for the women who come after me. Because that’s my daughter. I don’t have that luxury anymore. Two years ago, after 28 hours of awesome labor, I caught the girl that I made out of my own guts as I birthed her, took her into my arms and fed her from my body. I have never felt more powerful in my life. Until now. I’d say, “watch out” but I don’t really give a shit if they’re ready or not. I don’t have time for that anymore.