Monday, August 29, 2016

Shrill by Lindy West. (Part 2)

I should have taken the time to sit down and write about Shrill properly when it was fresh in my mind. Instead, I did other things.

If you haven’t read the Part 1 of my review, please do.

She says a lot of poignant things throughout the book:
Women matter. Women are half of us. When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time - that moves the rudder of the word. It steers humanity toward conservatism and walls and the narrow interests of men, and it keeps us adrift in waters where women's safety and humanity are secondary to men’s pleasure and convenience. (Page 19)
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The book is great, but the part that really jived with me was her experiences with comedy and stand-up and feeling “othered” by it - feeling outward hostility. Stand-up and comedy has really helped me through some dark times, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t also had a lot of shitty experiences with it.

I feel like when I was in my teens and early 20's it was very much about being a girl that could hang. Amy Schumer had a great bit about this on her show. It's about being "cool" with the dick jokes and the sexist stuff because their sexism or objectifying you isn't the problem, your just a girl that "can't hang" with the dudes.

I remember the first time I saw stand-up that really dug at my guts. I’d always watched sitcoms and SNL, but it was the George Carlin bit on “stuff” that blew my mind. I was both laughing and thinking “man that’s so true,” while also feeling deeply existential. I was about 11 or 12 at the time, I remember it vividly.

But it’s hard to love stand-up when you’re a girl. I was the chubby girl. The girl who talks back. The girl who takes charge. I was bossy. The feminist. Then I was “the fat girl,” the “we gotta go girl” the shrew who cock-blocks. I have been all those women. The douche-bro telling the joke is not telling that joke for me, he’s talking about me. About women I'm friends with. About amazing women. I'm the chum. He isn’t talking about drunk-culture or bro problems, he’s ripping up the girls who don’t wanna sleep with him, and think he’s a joke (already). Fuck the girls who see that. Fuck women, he's saying.

It's not just being the butt of the joke, it's the anger with which this jokes are told. The really deep-seated disdain for these women.

The racist stand-up, whose jokes you don't laugh at and who then calls you out - how aggressive and misogynistic some spaces are, Lindy spoke to all of that.

And though there have definitely been nods to it from other comics, a lot of the women whose work I like are also deeply part of the culture, and have had to be the "women who can hang" in order to even be let into the space.

We're seeing some of this come to light now, through veiled stories about prominent comics being "known creeps." I'm sure there's a shit-storm of stories out there, I can't imagine.

In West's case, she’s a writer who frequents those circles, she’s friends with Hari Kondabolu (who is great, and whose new podcast is great) and she’s worked with known editors and personalities. She’s in the zeitgeist. She’s of it.

In my case, I’m just someone who appreciates the work.Could I be a comedy writer? Maybe, if I had more ambition and less crippling depression / bad life skills. Maybe I'm only a comedian for myself. I'm okay with that. But I feel tied to comedians. The process, the insight, the instinct.

I still take it personally. I still see creative spaces and comedy spaces as mine. I could be there. I do haunt them, through astral projection.

There has been a shift though. It’s been nice, being able to watch the TV shows centred around feminist (openly!), female comedians, (Inside Amy Schumer, Broad City, The Mindy Project) watch great stand-up (Again, Schumer, Sarah Silverman, Tig Notaro, Ali Wong, Chelsea Peretti) and see all of this represented in popular culture.

Tig Notaro has a show coming out (One Mississippi) as does Cameron Espisito (Take My Wife) and both shows, feature lesbian comedians and their relationships! If you know anything about television you know lesbians usually don't do so well (Tara on Buffy, Lexa on The 100, see more here) so having not one but two shows have lesbian main characters in actual relationships is a big step.

That’s not even mentioning Maria Bamford, who represents both mental illness and stand-up comedy, and just a general level of genius and originality I can barely really grasp.

SNL’s cast right now is female dominant, with Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Cecily Strong and Vanessa Bayer being my everything. I try and watch anything Paula Pell does.

I like being able to buy tickets to Jenny Slate’s Obvious Child (a comedy about stand-up and abortion!) and see Ghostbusters feature my favourite female comedians while also supporting a film that makes men’s rights activists shit/cry. Spy was brilliant. Melissa McCarthy is fantastic and game. She’s a fat, hilarious woman and I love that I can support her and her work. I can see Bridesmaids. I can see Trainwreck. I can see movies written by and starring people I like and can actually relate to. 

But that's only lately. Some of my favourite comedians have had shitty opinions or been rumoured to be fucking assholes and I can no longer enjoy their work. Sex crimes happen. Assault happens. So yes, when West discusses the way stand-up comedy has also hurt her, I get it.

The misogyny and trolling she faces is incomprehensible to me. The insanely personal attacks she’s had to endure is just batshit insane. BAT. SHIT. INSANE.

The vitriol she must get - and that she faces with charm, grace and (gasp) humour is just inspiring.

She’s got backbone. And talent. And I know it must get overwhelming and I hope she’s well surrounded and really hopes she gets good things and kind things to counteract the crap things.

Lindy West,

Thank you for Shrill.

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