Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I'm just a Jealous, Fat, Petty, Outrage-Machine

Recently Jezebel (which I am not ashamed to say I read regularly and enjoy) posted an interesting piece on the gender dynamics of The Daily show in the wake of their hiring of Olivia Munn, regulation hottie, to be the first new female correspondent in seven years.

The piece pointed out that while The Daily Show is a fairly left-leaning, often hilarious show whose politics most Jezebel readers would probably agree with, their record on letting women's voices through is pretty dismal. Only something like three or four of almost 20 writers for The Daily Show are women. Counting Munn, the only other female full-time correspondent is Samantha Bee. Munn was chosen after an "exhaustive" search that included several female comedians. In addition to her time hosting Attack of the Show on GTV (which I fully admit I have never seen, but now knowing that she once licked the port of a Wii while her male-cohost told her to "lick it, lick it, put your tongue on it" I think I can safely say that I will never, ever seek it out) Munn has also written a book and is, as I said before, super hot.

Now, the gist of the article was basically this: TDS, which has a kind of progressive outlook, is not progressive in terms of who is involved, and that maybe The Daily Show could increase its already-considerable liberal street cred by, you know, maybe making their demographics reflect the actuality of the human population a little more. That maybe equality of numbers is, you know, a good thing. And that maybe the women who make up more than half of the viewership of late-night television (and the population! of the world!) would appreciate having themselves reflected a little bit more in these shows.

But the women of The Daily Show didn't like this at all. Olivia Munn, in a fit of sisterly feeling, said that

“I never tried to use anything besides my own sweat and blood and talent to get somewhere. I think that anyone who’s out there trying to bring down why any woman would get anywhere, or why we’re different, just needs to f***ing turn her f***ing computer off, take the sandwich out of her mouth and go for a god**mn walk f***ing walk. You know what? Just walk it off, b***h. Just walk it off, b***h.” hollywoodlife via ontd

Her sage advice and opinion is that the writer of the post and the commenters on Jezebel agreeing with it were 1. lame, lonely blogging hermits who 2. need to stop eating, fucking fatty and 3. just get some fucking exercise. Leaving aside the stunning originality of these statements (Really? Feminists are fat? People on blogs are losers who are chained to their computers? WOW) what is even less surprising is that the women of The Daily Show came back today with an open letter to Jezebel and the author of the post that just as staggeringly missed the entire point:

"And so, while it may cause a big stir to seize on the bitter rantings of ex-employees and ignore what current staff say about working at The Daily Show, it's not fair. It's not fair to us, it's not fair to Jon, it's not fair to our wonderful male colleagues, and it's especially not fair to the young women who want to have a career in comedy but are scared they may get swallowed up in what people label as a "boy's club." the daily show
Like, what does that even mean? That by pointing out a gender imbalance, by pointing out that the women at the top of this successful, important, funny, popular show are hugely outnumbered by men is somehow hurting the women who have already made it in the door?

At first, reading the TDS women's rebuttal of the Jezebel piece I felt a little confused. Their arguments seemed pretty valid- women make up 40% of the staff of The Daily Show, they contribute in a lot of ways, Jon Stewart is Totally A Great Guy- but something still didn't sit right with me. I looked at the helpful list they provided at the bottom of the post, with their names and positions and the length of their involvement, and thought, wow, there sure are a lot of assistants on here. Luckily, Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown was there to articulate my feelings of helpless discomfort:

"Yes, women is what we are, and also we work at The Daily Show. We are all sorts of things: Production assistants! Administrative assistants! Writers’ assistants! So many of us women are assisting! Why, we even sometimes get our jokes on the air! But not our names, apparently, in many cases, or our faces, in all but three cases. Just because our names do not appear on the writers’ credits — just because we do not, as the saying goes, “get credit” for our work — this should not imply to you that our work is not valued! We are women! This is enough!" tiger beatdown
Over on Slate, Emily Gould, former writer for Gawker, in a post entitled "Outrage World: How Feminist Blogs like Jezebel gin up their page views by exploiting women's worst tendencies" wrote that the concern over Munn's hiring and the gender balance at The Daily Show was pure, slut-shaming jealousy:
"Paradoxically, in the midst of all the deeply felt concern about women's sexual and professional freedom to look and be however they want, it's considered de rigueur to criticize anyone, like Munn, who dares to seem to want to sexually attract men."
"They're ignited by writers who are pushing readers to feel what the writers claim is righteously indignant rage but which is actually just petty jealousy, cleverly marketed as feminism."
Furthemore, Jezebel commenters who point out the privilege of the white and rich and thin are "bitter." Comment views are accompanied by an ad for Cheetos. The benefits of articles about the problems of body image in mainstream publications are completely nullified when accompanied by a picture of a thin woman. And on, and on, and on.

So what Emily Gould (and Olivia Munn) would like us to take away from this is that:

1. Jezebel writers and those who agree with them are jealous, ugly, fat, lazy bitches, who are just jealous because Olivia Munn is super hot
2. You should be glad that women are employed at the Daily Show in any capacity
3. Worrying about the makeup of the people at the top, their salary breakdown, promotion patterns, etc. is being a jealous hater
4. Oh, and did we mention, you're a fake feminist if you don't support any woman who gets promoted anywhere at any time?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the whole situation makes me sad. Instead of saying "hey, maybe we don't have a good gender breakdown, but here is what we have, and how it affects the writing" the Daily Show issued a self-serving rebuttal saying "Hey everything is fine and also Jon Stewart is awesome." Emily Gould, whose writing I usually admire, turned to the age-old "Those bitches are just jealous" line. People: the numbers matter. Where women are placed in the hierarchy matters. How often they get promoted matters. The titles they have matter. The contributions they make matter. The attitudes they take up in order to get their voices heard matter.

To go at it from another perspective: 18% of plays produced last year in New York were written by women. That means 82% of all the productions in New York, arguably the most important center for theater in the country, were written by men. These. Numbers. Matter. And blithely dismissing concerns about gender parity by saying that the critics are just fat, jealous bitches is only making everything worse.

UPDATE: The NYTimes ArtsBeat blog has joined the conversation.

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