Women. Am I right?

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“This is a real phenomenon: When women feel like outsiders, they lose interest.”

I read the above quote in an article today, and it struck me dead. In the article, a science student writes about gender bias in the scientific professions, and even though I don’t know my boron from my bunsen burner, I found myself strongly relating to it.

See, the thing is, on Wednesday night I had my first go at stand-up comedy. I entered myself in RAW Comedy, where beginner comedians can compete for a spot in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. I had never set foot onstage at a stand-up gig before, and I don’t mind telling you I was petrified. I had a lively group of friends around me, chattering and laughing and telling me I was going to be fabulous, but every now and then I would just go blank with hot white terror.

Part of my terror came, I think, from the fact that I was one of only four women competing on the night. The other 11 were, as you might imagine, men. That in itself wouldn’t have been that intimidating. After all, I’ve been performing at poetry slams and readings for years now, which are still heavily male-dominated. That wasn’t the issue. It was what the men were saying. Joke after joke about violence against women. Seriously. One guy’s punch line was actually – and I quote – “Wouldn’t it be great to know you fucked a woman to death?” Then he talked about going to her funeral and gloating, saying, “Let that be a lesson to all you other ladies”.

Yes. Let that be a lesson to us. In case we ever forget, we aren’t safe here. Comedy is not a safe space – for anyone, I suppose, but especially for women. One male comedian spent his five minutes extolling his disgust at Julia Gillard, saying she had a penis and she couldn’t arouse the most desperate of men and so on and so on. Textbook misogyny: “a-woman-can’t-be-in-power-without-losing-her-femaleness” with a dash of “if-she-can’t-get-me-off-what’s-the-point-of-her”. Not a word, of course, about her actions as Prime Minister. Another man raged against his ex-wife, calling her a “crazy bitch” at least six times before I tuned out. One young, harmless looking guy, who looked like someone your brother might play Call of Duty with, thanked all the women in the audience for setting their Facebook profiles to ‘public’ so that he could masturbate to them.

I am truly baffled when I see male comedians make demeaning jokes about women, and then chuckle: “Ha ha, all the women in the room hate me right now”. All the women in the room – that’s fifty per cent of your audience, buddy! Too many amateur comedians seem to forget that alienating women means alienating half your potential ticket-paying customers. That comedy isn’t just for the benefit of other men.

By the time it was my turn to perform next, I was feeling sick to the stomach. I waited by the sinks in the ladies’ room, staring up at the posters of upcoming comedy tours. Rows and rows of male faces grinned down at me. I smoothed down my hair, eyeing my outfit. Before I left the house that night, I had pulled a ribbon out of my hair, not wanting the audience to be distracted by my gender. Already, I was “gender priming”, having been told for years that female comedians “just aren’t as funny”.

“Even in areas where actual performance is equal, when a certain group is reminded that they are supposed to be bad at something, their performance weakens.” (S. Wofford, Feminspire)

But I did it. I told some jokes. At the end of my set, I sat down with my friends, shaking like a flippin’ leaf. I had survived. I had even gotten some laughs. I put my head down on the sticky table and tried not to gasp for air. I know public speaking is meant to be scary, but it had never really scared me up until this point. Comedy is such a different beast. You can lose the crowd so quickly. And then you’re dead.

Later that night, after seeing off my friends and dragging myself home, I felt empty. Like all the humour had been sucked out of me. My five minutes up there hadn’t been too bad, I thought, but the other comedians’ various attacks on women had shaken me. I comforted myself that the crowd had liked those jokes as little as I did, with most people shifting uncomfortably in their seats or sitting in stony silence. At least the misogyny wasn’t being openly encouraged. But I wondered. After years of going to comedy nights, I can say that jokes at the expense of women are incredibly common. They’re often aggressive and sometimes violent. Why do these comedians still think these jokes would be an awesome idea?

I found myself thinking, are these the people I want to work alongside? Is this an industry I want to join? If I’m going to have to spend years feeling like a second-class citizen, why would I bother? And then today, I found clarity, staring at me out of that science student’s article. I felt like an outsider, therefore I was losing interest. I was already thinking of opting out of my lifelong dream (my mother says that as an eight-year-old I solemnly informed her, “I want to be a stand-up comedian”) because of some dickheads with microphones. Seems to me that comedy is so male-dominated not because women aren’t as interested in comedy. Rather, I think a lot of women listen to the sexist jokes and see the other female comedians putting themselves down to get laughs, and think, “Fuck this noise”.

Well, I won’t be so easily discouraged. If I cancelled my dreams every time some idiot made me feel inferior for being a girl, I’d never have gone anywhere or done anything. I’m gonna have crack at this comedy thing. And whether I keep working at it or decide it’s not for me, I hope my decision will be based on factors other than my gender.


20 thoughts on “Women. Am I right?

  1. To Woman. Am I Right…”be yourself…i would have walked out on those idiotic men who feel the only jokes (if you can call them funny in any sense) are against women or violating women. Unfortunately, I would have missed out on your comedic performance”… It is not only in 3rd world countries where women are raped or violated…it is happening in many forms elsewhere..Bravo for having your say!…lesley

  2. Onya, Kaitlyn, and well-written, too. Keep at it.

    I can’t help thinking that if you and a few other female — or male, but intelligent — comedians were performing in a competing venue, putting on a way better show, all the women and two-thirds of the men (the ones who actually get laid sometimes) would go there instead and leave the unenlightened losers to spit their spite at a three-quarters-empty room.

    1. “leave the unenlightened losers to spit their spite” — Janet, even when writing a blog comment you are the consummate poet! I think you’re right, as all of the men I know are also put off by such base humour. I think we all appreciate comedians who don’t need to crush someone else to be funny.

  3. YEAH!!! That’s the spirit! After all, who knows where Comedy will be in another 10, 20, 30 years when there ARE women like you actively doing what you’re good at and changing the perceived set of standards for humour.
    Hopefully society can see through the cheap jokes and only pay for tickets to quality humour – I mean, that’s why these guys are still at RAW and not the MICF…
    Best wishes!!! You’re doing it for all the girls!

  4.  Hey Kaitlyn, 
    I found the link to this blog on Tamara’s wall, and was also there on the night of this raw heat. 

    I’ve been on the open mic scene for a little while, so am obviously not any kind of expert, but just wanted to offer you a slightly different opinion on this. 

    Raw Comedy, as you say, is for amateur comedians. Not even comedians, anyone and everyone can enter. So you’re going to ( typically) be in the hands of the unskilled and inexperienced.  

    I would argue that men AND women can equally be idiots (ooo articulate!) when it comes to amateur comedy because, at the start, they have no idea what they’re doing. That’s why we’re not getting “ticket paying customers” yet… It’s like doing work experience until you’re good enough for the actual job. 

    Whether it’s because they’re imitating a favourite comedian or trying to be offensive…most comedians starting out struggle to properly contextualise a joke so… it just doesn’t work. I still struggle with that. 

    For example, the Julia Gillard stuff is just poor, lazy, unskilled writing. Perhaps in the same vein as if a woman said, “Tony Abbott isn’t very fuckable is he?” or made jokes about Julia’s partner being a hairdresser. Not exactly genius material, but it’s people attempting to get better. 

    Men play certain roles (Cue: poorly set up jokes about women)  and women play certain roles (“Sooo I’m single… But I’ve got a vibrator! Am I right?”) its my belief that most starting out, have no idea  how to voice what is actually reflective of them, and therefore the funniest.  Then you just have weirdos who will never get laughs anywhere cos it’s not their thing. 

    Yes, there are fewer women then men on the scene. Other industries are female dominated.  So what? Just focus on your act and making it the funniest you can. 

    1. Hi Michelle, thanks for your reply! I wrote this piece to open a discussion, and I’m glad to have the voice of someone on the comedy scene added to it.
      I agree with you that comedians tend to fall into certain “roles” when they’re starting out, before they’ve figured out who they are as a comic. The question I am raising is, why do so many male comedians take on this “role” of aggressor against women? In the context of a national discussion about rape culture, I would like to know why these amateurs think rape jokes are the way to go. I don’t think it’s enough to say “they’re idiots”. I want to know why they’re being such a specific type of idiot.
      As to your comment that some industries are dominated by women, I feel it would take a whole other blog post to answer your question of “So what?” And I may just write it.
      Thanks again for your comments, you have raised some important points. 🙂

  5. If male commedians made those kind of comments in Camada most of the women AND men would get up and leave or boo him off the stage. I’ve lived in Oz- women are harder on women there than the men are– ateast in North America we know that women have nalls– two big ones on our chests. Austealian women should be ashamed of themselves for tolerating that for themselves, their sidters, and their daughters. I’m embarassed for you.

      1. Ha, no worries Deb. 🙂

        Interesting to get an international perspective. Cheers for your comments. 🙂

    1. Sorry, are you saying women should be ashamed for the sexist culture in Australia? Because that is ridiculous victim blaming. We don’t what your pity and embarrassment, we need your support. There are many thousands of us fighting the misogynistic culture in our country every day at not little person risk and your condescending comment is a big ‘fuck you’ to all of us.

  6. I love hearing women being funny and fabulous in public. It’s SO HARD for you, but please, please keep the faith. I specifically select female comedy to listen to, female artists of all types, and I even have a female gardener (although my cleaner is male!). There is a desperate need for people like you so my children can see that women really can be successful in their chosen area. Rock on, you!

  7. I suspect if I heard comedians of this you’re, I’d be frozen in horror and uncertainty, thinking “Surely this is a setup for a twist and some deep insights into respect and empowerment? Because it’s hard to believe they seriously think this is okay.”
    And if they didn’t redeem themselves by three end of the set, I’d be thinking about how to express my disapproval. “Boo” isn’t adequate.

    1. I think the best way to express your disapproval is with a big empty silent room. If you yell at them they can feed off it, use it to bounce off of, turn it into a ‘haters gonna hate/I’m so edgy’ sentiment. But doing an entire set in silence says ‘mate, you’re not funny’. And these guys might not care about women, but I guarantee they care about being funny.

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