This op-ed piece was written by ORANGE Editor Jane Claire Hervey after she sat in to hear writer Lindy West speak at UT’s Gender and Sexuality Center’s National Young Women’s Day of Action Luncheon about her experience fighting rape culture in the comedy industry.
“Lindy West is a writer and performer based in Seattle, Washington. After seven years as a film reviewer and editor for The Stranger (Seattle’s alternative newsweekly), she signed on as a Staff Writer/full-time moral scold at Jezebel, where she attempts to make social justice palatable by disguising it as entertainment. She specializes in angry, (hopefully) hilarious polemics on racism, sexism, and human bodies. Her work has also appeared in Slate, GQ, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the New York Daily News, Vulture, Gawker, Deadspin, Cracked, msnbc, and some other places she can’t remember right now.”
By Jane Claire Hervey
Writer’s Note: The following editorial includes strong language and a reference to words that may trigger emotional reactions from some. I apologize in advance if this make anyone who is/has been a victim of rape culture uncomfortable.
“I mean, if you’re a dick, I’m going to call you a dick,” she says and laughs a big, bright red smile that pays homage to the scarlet tones of her dress. The room, although at first hesitant, follows suit, because this place feels safe. This place feels like the kind of place a woman can take her shoes off in — heels or sneakers — maybe let down her hair — if it’s long; if it’s short, she’s got to be a man, or worse, a lesbian, right? — maybe forget that her “too sexy” and “never sexy enough” are deservingly “slutty” and worth about as much as a cheap pack of condoms. This is the kind of place a woman can laugh loud enough, without worrying what the world may think and whom she may offend, that the sound travels up to her own ears, carrying “yes, you are important” in synapses through the auditory nerve in her brain.
On the third floor of the Student Activity Center, Lindy West stands at the front of the conference-room-gone-makeshift-sanctuary and she looks out at her audience of radical, man-hating female dogs. Excuse me, I just thought I would use society’s definition of the word “feminist.” I should have been more correct and used the real one, you know, the one that says a feminist is a person (i.e. woman/man/anyone) who asks for equal opportunity and rights between men and women, but who am I kidding? The latter is just too nice and accurate and definitely far too inclusive (some people might actually admit they’re a feminist if I used the latter; wouldn’t want that).
Or maybe I should have used the word humanist? That makes more sense, because women are human, and to be a humanist means you’re an activist of love and all things good in the world, and you are definitely not a raging, bra-burning feminist. But I guess I just sort of thought that definition and blanket term would collapse in on itself, considering that some humanists won’t call themselves “feminists,” per say (and a feminist is —let me repeat myself — someone who asks for equal opportunity and rights between men and women). But wait, if you don’t agree with what feminism stands for, what does that raw and beautiful humanist part of you think of women? If you’re not a feminist, but you are a humanist, I’m sort of confused. Women aren’t human?
Ah, that’s where we meet the fork in the road, my friend. Unfortunately, I am a feminist and also a humanist, because they are essentially the same thing, and I will unapologetically use both terms, until humanists accept the fact that they are also feminists, despite the differing connotations of those two words in conversation. You’re welcome.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. Lindy West was encouraging her army of hairy armpits and noticeable nipples.
She starts by telling what must be a dishonest autobiography about her experience as a female comedian taking a stance against jokes that propagate rape culture. Because women are societally and culturally equal to men, I just find it hard to believe that anyone would ever challenge West about whether or not raping women is something to laugh about. No one has EVER, in the entire history of humanity (in which women have always been equally respected; heck, women have always secretly had the right to vote, too), said anything along the lines of that. I mean, saying “Yeah, dude, you just got raped,” or, “She had it coming, dude. She was asking for it,” is totally not a normal thing. At all. There is just no way that anyone would ever exploit a hate crime like that. I’m starting to think it’s all a lie. You know what else? West even states the unthinkable: “The way that we speak affects the way we behave.”
Hold up. Lady, I have freedom of speech. Oh… wait. You’re trying to tell me that the words that come out of my mouth actually mean something? You mean, by joking about rape and cracking demeaning jokes about women, I’m actually joking about rape and cracking demeaning jokes about women? I didn’t know. It’s really funny, I promise, because, like, no one is ever raped and women are treated just the same as men. “It’s safe to believe that nothing is sacred when you’re not threatened,” she says. Huh. So, even though I have never been raped, it happens to other people? So, what I think is funny might actually hurt other people? You have got to be kidding.
She says that after she publicly voiced her opposition to jokes about rape, she received a lot of hate mail — hate mail that mostly included conclusions about the obvious: Lindy West was just jealous she had never been raped before and would probably never be raped in the future. “That’s how they tried to prove to me that comedy doesn’t have a misogyny problem,” she says. So, naturally, being the raging, pessimist feminist West is, she posted a video reading some of these comments to prove a point that misogyny exists. How dare she! And people actually watched it! How dare they! And people actually cared! Ridiculous.
Suddenly, people were on West’s side (what misguided, bandwagon-ing losers, right?). And you will not believe what happens next, friend, people who were in support of rape jokes started saying that maybe, just maybe they were a bit insensitive. People like Jim Norton even issued public statements that West sort of had a point (but only sort of, thank God). “Then, it was over. I won. HA. HA,” West says.
What an insane story. It’s almost crazy to think that a woman, a humorless feminist comedian at that, could change people’s minds. But how manipulative of her. She put a human face (her own) on the bashing of women and feminism as the butt of rape jokes. And women aren’t human, right, so that’s just entirely absurd and radical. I mean, one can only hope that something like this never happens again, because something like that has the potential to threaten everything we believe about women and men and where they belong. I don’t know, it’s just scary, and I would rather not think about it and just forget it.
Ha, but I can’t, because I am a human before I am a female, and I deserve the same things men deserve, because they are also human before they are male, and I inherently know that. I have been trained to believe it isn’t true, but I cannot ignore the facts. So, I write things like this that are mildly offensive, because I am hoping to offend. I am hoping to shake the settled sand at the bottom of your beach bucket where you keep all of the fish you caught in your net that day, and I hope you can no longer see the female fish as different from the male fish as they swim in your plastic container, and I hope you start counting the fish in your bucket for what they are — fish — because the water has been so disturbed that to do otherwise would be impossible.
“Activism is so discouraging and so exhausting. The victories are in such slow motion,” West explains. So, if you didn’t like this, I accomplished my goal. If this confused you, I’m glad. I may not see the trees, but I hope I have planted the seeds.