Stand-up comedian Jen Kirkman has announced a Twitter strike until the men around her start expressing their displeasure with sexism. In a Tumblr post she wrote announcing the hiatus, Kirkman explained her anger over the treatment women get for being political, whether it be about gender rights or speaking out against racism. Quite often, the responses she’d get would tell her to stop preaching and start being funny instead. She explains that her male counterparts would often tell her to ignore the trolls, but never have they said these words publicly in a Tweet, opting instead with direct messages, texts or private e-mails to Kirkman.
This revelation is troubling because it seems that as much as these men do not support misogyny, they are too ashamed to say it publicly. It is as if personal stature in the comedy scene is far more important than wanting the best for their female friends and associates, which includes not having to go through half the sexist crap that female comedians go through. Will male comedians announcing their support for feminism or urging trolls to stop being jerks lead to retaliation akin to what Kirkman has gone through? Possibly yes, but the fact is this: fighting against misogyny on the Internet should not just be women’s fight, because there is a mindset to a large number of men that a woman being angry after being told to shut up and be funny instead is just her being “hysterical.” Men could help change the discourse by standing up and demonstrating that sexism isn’t just a woman’s issue, it’s a universal human issue.
Trolls need to understand that following Twitter accounts of comedians doesn’t mean they’ll exclusively be getting jokes in their feed. British comedian Josie Long is a prime example of a woman who continues to be political, Tweeting regularly about her unhappiness with the UK government and sexism, and receiving replies similar to those received by Kirkman, demanding her to start sharing jokes instead. Saturday Night Live writer Christine Nangle also gets the “start being funny” responses, despite a majority of her Tweets being very hilarious jokes.
A Twitter conversation between a misogynist and a woman doesn’t usually end with one Tweet after a female shuts them down, it continues on and on. This not just misogyny, it comes in equal parts Internet bullying. If these trolls are not called out by more people, it encourages them to continue on with this behaviour. It’s easy to take the high road and ignore misogynistic Tweets, but that doesn’t stop the problem. Therefore, men who believe in just treatment for women should also take a part in this by educating their followers about the problems of sexism and understand the struggles women deal with in the comedy world and at large.
Kirkman’s post led to the formation of Men Against Assholes & Misogyny (MA’AM), a Tumblr account written by men educating trolls about misogyny and how not to be an asshole. The content so far has been wonderful and informative, even with laughter to be found here and there. A stand out piece thus far was written by Jake Fogelnest, who offers a better insight into how women are treated in the comedy world by providing metaphor:
If you think things are truly equal between men and women, why does this happen the other night:
A dude at a stand-up show, introduced a comedian by saying, “Alright, are you guys ready for a female comic?”
This blows my mind.
What if that guy said, “Alright, let’s keep the show going! Are you guys ready for a BLACK comic?”
“Hey, coming to the stage right now, it’s a GAY!”
“Are you ready for more show, let me hear you say YEAH! This next Mexican…”
Would any of us let that fly? No. We would think, “That’s the craziest fucking introduction I’ve ever heard.” At least I would.
There are plenty of female comedians coming forward telling their stories of the difficulty of being a woman in the comedy scene, but not enough male who would admit they are feminists or who are willing to help change a system that favours them. This flawed system includes female comedians not getting into panel shows in most UK television shows, or women playing primarily minor, objectified roles in improv troupes. Being a comedy nerd myself, I can only count a small number of male comedians who have openly admitted their annoyance with misogynistic comedians. Meanwhile, there are plenty of male comedians who’d consider themselves “edgy” by constantly using misogynistic and/or racist comedy stylings and still manage to find great success by selling out large venues and being offered television appearances. It is shocking that this behaviour has become widely accepted and is defended by people as “what comedy is about”.
Men have the ability to take part in the feminist conversation too, not just in the comedy entertainment scene, but everywhere. Feminism is not an exclusive movement, it is for everyone. We recognize the problems with racism and know better than to attack people of certain ethnicities with offensive rhetorics, so why are stereotypes of hysterics and PMS so prominent? By having men calling out against misogyny when they see it, maybe the attitude towards sexism in comedy can change, too.
And hey, maybe it’d be easier for women to find success in comedy without their gender being seen as a stigma.
After reading our article, Ms Kirkman asked us to give an update. She ultimately decided not to leave Twitter, but to instead use her online presence to do something bigger to fight sexism.
Thanks for being awesome, Jen!