A few years ago, my daughter and I were talking about something she found funny, and I commented that it wasn’t really my thing, and she said, “You don’t really like any female comedians, do you?” Because, of course, what she was laughing at was a bit by a female comedian.
Of course I do! was my immediate, spluttering thought. Why I like … uh. Well. Uh.
Now, strictly speaking, it was true that I liked female comedians. But it was also true that I was dismissive of a lot more female comedians. This wasn’t some conscious act of indifference or malice. It was just … a default, Ye Olde Male Privilege in action. Women are funny, of course—I knew that. But since my default idea of “comedian” is “a man,” women had to work harder to earn my laugh. Which was ridiculous and unfair.
But I’m lucky. I have a smart daughter who will call her dad out on his bullshit. I’m glad she did, though it’s unfortunate that she had to. Ideally, I would figure out on my own what assumptions I need to examine and, likely, exorcise. But that’s the pernicious thing about privilege. When you’re soaking it, it just feels normal. The water’s fine!
But not only do I love my daughter, because she’s awesome, but I also admire and respect her. So I took her question to heart. I asked myself why I seemed to be indifferent to so many female comedians. Was it them, or was it me? (It was me.) Was I biased? (Yes.) Was I letting my bias affect my view of who and what is funny? (Yes.) Was I a dick? (Yes.)
So I set out to listen, really listen, to women in comedy. And, over time, I came to realize I was missing out on a lot of great work. Not just funny, but smart and subversive and necessary.
It’s easy to stick with the default. But it’s also very limiting. The world is so much larger and richer than White American Man-dom. So much I take for granted is held out of reach of too many. Not just comedy. There’s a wide range of lived experience it’s all too easy for someone like me to be oblivious to. When my daughter called me out, she helped me begin to understand what I was missing, and also to better understand at least one way I was contributing to a toxic status quo which harmed not only women but so many other marginalized people.
It doesn’t have to be that way. I can choose to do nothing and be a part of the oppressive status quo, or I can choose to open myself up to and celebrate the lives and art and work of those who deserve all the things I take for granted.
And so today, I happily join Courtney Summers in sending a message to girls everywhere. This is my pledge.
And, P.S.: Read All the Rage by Courtney Summers. It’s amazing.