Feminist Friday: Daniel Tosh Inspires Us To Talk About What Is and Isn’t Funny Again


Happy lucky Friday, everyone! As always, we shall get the grodiness out of the way up top and proceed to what is fantastic.

This Week in Arrgh

The excellent folks over at The Jane Dough pointed out that female House staffers make an average of $10,000 less a year than men with equivalent jobs… If they work for Republicans. Democratic women staffers don’t quite have equal pay, but they’re a hell of a lot better off, making about 97 cents to a man’s dollar. The Republicans, if you’ll recall, don’t think there’s any need for the Fair Pay Act.

Were you aware that members of the military who sexually assault their fellow soldiers don’t have to reveal that on their discharge papers? Or that the military doesn’t keep its own registry of sex offenders, which makes it really freaking hard to track repeat offenders? Former Marine Lance Corporal Nicole McCoy was sexually assaulted multiple times while serving her country and was discouraged from reporting it – and told that creating a military database of offenders would be too much trouble. She’s launched a petition on Change.org asking the Department of Defense to take this minimal step in protecting female service members.

I think most people you ask would blithely tell you that nowadays, women in Western nations have no problem getting their ideas out in the world — unless you’re so bold as to have some thoughts about a video game, that is. Readers of this column are familiar with Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency, a pop culture critic who has been on the receiving end of a vile tidal wave of threats and harassment for the crime of thinking about examining the role of women in video games from a feminist gamer’s point of view.

In one of the latest rounds of a subset of male gamers showing that they don’t want women around unless they’re impractically showing half-boob while grave robbing, a charmer named Ben Spurr created a game called “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian.” Players could punch an image of Sarkeesian’s face as it became increasingly bloody and battered. Again, Sarkeesian has not even released any criticism of the video game industry yet. Her crime is intending to think about video games as she plays them. Oh, sorry – Spurr says the game isn’t about punching a woman, “it’s about punching a selfish person.” Totally different and non-creepy!

When political organizer Stephanie Guthrie “sic[ced] the Internet” on Spurr for creating the game, she received death threats. Way to show you’re not misogynist, guys. Sarkeesian’s response to this vile mess takes the high road – and points out that hers is far from an isolated case.

Oh, hey, speaking of saying something vile and either implicitly or explicitly threatening to a woman for having opinions, I’m guessing you heard about Daniel Tosh remarking to a comedy club crowd that it would be hilarious if a woman who heckled him got gang-raped.

For those of you who don’t know his act, Tosh is of the “aren’t I delightfully shocking?” school. He says simply outrageous things with a little smirk on his face, convinced that his boyish naughtiness is so appealing that you won’t be able to resist him. Which, fine. I’m not saying he’s never made me laugh. But repeated, calculated attempts to shock get a little tired to me. If it’s your thing, more power to you.

Tosh was on a tear about rape jokes being funny, and a woman in the audience shouted out that rape jokes are never funny. And Tosh responded by saying that it would be hilarious if she got gang-raped right then.

Here’s the thing that we rarely acknowledge in our internet fights: One person in the situation being wrong or a jerk does not always make the other person right. It is possible for both people to be behaving badly to varying degrees.

A lot of comedians leapt to Tosh’s defense because they don’t like to think about entire categories of jokes being declared off-limits and because they cannot freaking stand hecklers. I’ve never done stand-up, but I’ve done improv and sketch comedy for years. Having someone yell stuff out during your show is immensely frustrating – and that’s including someone who has decided to educate the performers, not just your standard loud drunk.

On the other hand, suggesting – even in jest – that the audience gang-rape someone who is clearly sensitive on that topic is way, way beyond what was called for. I wasn’t there and can’t say with certainty, but it doesn’t sound too many steps away from what the creepier slice of gamers have been trying to do to Sarkeesian. And, again, I wasn’t there to hear Tosh’s routine: Maybe in this case, his heckler had a point.

And even if intimidating his heckler was the furthest thing from Tosh’s mind, there’s something really basic that he doesn’t get: Most women have been really, actually afraid of getting raped – not in the abstract, but right there, right then, right there in the dark parking lot, right there taking that shortcut home, right there at the party with the guy who has pulled you away from the main room and now is “playfully” pinning your hands to show you how strong he is and you aren’t. Most women have hit the moment when they think they might have to fight this out, and too many of them have been correct.

Tosh jokes about rape as an abstract, so-horrible-it’s-unreal thing that he doesn’t think about much – something that’s guaranteed to be shocking that he can pull out of his bag of tricks. He does not understand that trying not to get raped is something that most women think about on a fairly regular basis. And, let’s face it, Tosh is unlikely to make the effort, because that would not be impishly darling, so let’s sigh and briskly walk away from him.

Thanks to my friend Dan Telfer, a hilarious stand-up, for pointing the way to a genuinely funny routine by Ever Mainard, who actually takes the risk of talking about real and specific fears.

This Week in Ladybits

Texas, Land of Bold ideas, would like to stop health care providers from even talking about abortion.

But wait! We have some actual good news for ladybits freedom this week! Missouri’s Governor Jay Nixon vetoed a bill that would have allowed employers to stop covering birth control on their insurance plans on religious grounds and Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic will stay open — for now.

As usual, Rachel Maddow and her hardworking producers have been doing stellar work covering your ladybits. Thursday night, Rachel looked at the political gamesmanship behind (unconstitutional) abortion bans after 20 weeks.

This Week in Not Helping

Really? Two female governors screwing it up hard this week? Are they trying to celebrate a woman’s right to be just as enraging as a man? Because I feel like that’s one we can move lower on our list of priorities. Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer (R) hates giving health care to same-sex couples so much that she’s taking it to the Supreme Court and South Carolina’s Governor Nikki Haley cut $453,000 from the state’s rape crisis centers because they “distract from the agency’s broader mission of protecting South Carolina’s public health.” I don’t even know what to say to that. Is Nikki Haley one of those women who doesn’t have female friends? Because if you exist, girl posse of Ms. Haley, that thing where you all take her out to dinner and yell “What the freak is wrong with you?!” is long overdue. Do the crying and hugging part at the end only if she shapes up.

This Week in Things to Think About

Save the Children released its yearly State of the World’s Mothers report. You can download a pdf, or if you prefer to interpret things visually, the National Post created a handy infographic ranking the best places to be a woman on down. (Hat tip to FastCoexist.com for the link.) The U.S. ranked 19th. Since one of the factors in quality of life for women is access to modern contraception, we can expect to drop down the list in the next few years. Other factors included life expectancy at birth, the number of years women stay in school, government seats held by women, and ratio of female to male income. Rock on, Norway.

Feminist Outlawz published a suicide prevention guide for the queer community.

Washington Monthly wondered where all the female policy wonks are.

For the first time, women outnumber men on the U.S. Olympic team. And Saudi Arabia will allow two women on its team after all.

This Week in Terrific Mothers and Daughters

Dr. Barbara King is an anthropologist and writer. (She’s also, incidentally, one of my all-time favorite professors. Loved ones who wonder why I have trouble shutting up about apes can, in part, blame Barbara.) This week’s NPR blog was one that I didn’t expect: She and her daughter Sarah wrote together about Sarah’s struggle with cutting. The piece will leave you with some interesting insights and resources for getting help.

And the wonderful Susie Bright just alerted me to the existence of the book Mother-Daughter Sex Advice, which she co-wrote with her daughter Aretha. Once you get out of the fetal position that the phrase “Mother-Daughted Sex Advice” induced, go on over and read this charming interview with them. Have I mentioned that if Bright is speaking anywhere near you, you really, really, really should go? You will not be sorry.

This Week in Awesome

Txnologist has a fantastic essay on the heroic fight of microbiologist Alice C. Evans, a woman of serious moxie. It’s fascinating, because in part it is a story of powerful industry lobbyists trying to force policy that flew in the face of science and gravely endangered public health and safety. Not that such a thing could happen today.

The New York Times ran a great piece on feminist (and excellent Twitter follow) Zerlina Maxwell. Congratulations, Zerlina! Seriously, follow her. She’s sharp, fun, and I’ve never regretted clicking on one of her links.

Photo from Zerlina’s Twitter

This video of Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris shouting (and gesturing) over the boys in Parliament will do your heart good, even if you’re not sure why. (Via BoingBoing and @Maddow.)

Showtime executive Pearlena Igbokwe is NBC’s new top drama honcho.

And real-life feminist bad-ass Lucy Lawless reminded us that she is also funny.

Have a great weekend. Get out there and show off your many skills as well.

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