Dear Vermont Cynic Reviewer, what do you want from JK? Love, a confused reader

The world expects too much out of women. We are supposed to be everything, and expected to do everything, and even after this everything, its not enough.

This is the conclusion I reached after reading a student newspaper review of my favourite comedian Jen Kirkman. Overall, the review was positive, describing Kirkman’s recent visit to the local comedy club. Jokes were enjoyed, laughs were had, and basically, it was had a good night. Ultimately, Jen provided a successful set. Within reason, this the job of a touring comic.

Superficially, the review bothered me. It was an unimaginative selection of bland words strung together. Poor writing, while not a crime, is a pet peeve of mine. This shows my snobbery more than anything substantially wrong. Although, a section stuck out to me, because of its message, not its rudimentary vocabulary and sentence structure.

“Maybe this is to be expected from a comedian who doesn’t want to take things too seriously, but nevertheless, I found it disappointing. Louis C.K. did more than tell jokes, he exposed and assaulted women, and I felt the emphasis on what Louis C.K. said inadvertently downplayed what he did.”

Huh? Mate, it’s a comedy show. Now, yes, this is what hacks say – what Louis CK’s defenders say. Maybe, she didn’t do a very good job, maybe she was insensitive to survivors. Within the realm of possible, it is just that. I was not there. It’d be an awfully long way to travel for me. Vermont, where the gig took place, is about 3,000 miles from my house. However, a simple online search would prove Jen Kirkman downplaying survivors very unlikely. One of JK’s most berated sub sections of society is men; how women are scared of them, how they annoy her with their inane questions on public transport and their sexist treatment of her as a comedian. Those critical of comedy’s free pass should rejoice in Kirkman, because she knows context is key. To be unaware of this of context makes your attempt of reviewing automatically a fail, particularity if one views her work through a feminist lens.

My love of Kirkman may create an entrenched bias, however my adoration has led me to obsessively follow all of her public platforms – Twitter, her life affirming podcast I Seem Fun and various media appearances – and on most of these places, Kirkman has called out the actions of Louis CK, and describe the humiliation of being a woman. These calling outs, both direct and not so, have led to backlash for JK, I hate to have to add – but most definitely unfair. The reviewer does know about this, but apparently, STILL there’s more she could do.

“Despite condemning Louis C.K.’s behaviour in a twitter feed, I believe Kirkman as a self-proclaimed feminist should do better at acknowledging the awful behaviour of men, even if they’re her associates”.

Exactly how “she should do better” is a massive cliffhanger. What does she want Jen Kirkman to do? Honestly, what the reviewer demands is not reasonable. Stand up comedy is not a political rally. While, like any art form, comedy has the ability to be political. Some might say art is inherently so, but seriously, what on Earth does she expect? To even begin to take this ludicrous idea seriously, specifics would be nice…

Kirkman dedicating a hot sec of her hour is just a cherry on the cake, one that actually didn’t need to be baked. Speaking out against assault is not a prerequisite to be a feminist. Enabling women to do so ought to be. As feminists, our focus should be on listening, believing and respecting. That last one is key to understanding the inane, cherry picking idiocy of the reviewer’s request,  because we need to allow women to do it on their own terms, to tell their own story, experiences and traumas.

Kirkman, by her own admission, was not sexually assaulted by Louis CK. What gossip she heard was just that; gossip. Sensitivity should be a defining feature of discussing sexual misconduct, something discussing damaging unconfirmed rumours is not. Reckless and irresponsibility would describe any cack handed attempts to discuss serious allegations.

Additionally, the idea that Kirkman ought to devote valuable minutes speaking out against Louis CK just blows my mind. There’s a long list of better candidates – namely the promoters still putting him on the bill, the people who actively covered up his behavior and those who defended him. Roxane Gay wrote a scathing piece in The New York Times about the recent decision to give CK stage time at a comedy club in New York City. The majesty of her words broke my heart.

The main takeaway of this review, after the confusion; does this woman not understand feminism. While, feminism has many different, valid conceptions because guess what, womenkind are half the population. One of my vast annoyances is when discussing with a newbie, or someone probably being deliberately obtuse, people, typically, but not exclusively, men say THE THING WITH YOU FEMINISTS IS THAT YOU NEVER AGREE.

Eye rolls feel the only apt response, because disagreement is the basic tenement of politics, and feminism is just that; a political ideology. Liberals don’t all agree. One of socialism’s biggest failures is that they NEVER agree. But the conflicts within these schools of thought are celebrated – a intellectual byproduct of the majesty of serious debate. However, with feminism its used against us, as a hot iron weapon, a sign of women’s bitchiness. Our failure to unite does not always serve us, but to treat it as surprising, or a moral failing is cheap. The notion that over 3.5 billion women have to agree is wild. Womanhood is diverse, just like manhood. Varying factors intersect; race, age, class. These not provide definitive shapes to our world view, but they outline some deciding factors. Believe it or not, some women are not feminists. Crazy, I know, but it’s a fact of life. I don’t make the rules, another shocking revelation.

Although, this reviewer clearly believes herself to be a feminist. She probably has got other more worthwhile, less insane expectations of herself, and the sisterhood. However, this one is madness. Any form of feminism that forces someone discuss the wrongdoings of a man is worthless. Any notion of women telling other women, who are clearly out there, doing their practical bit to dismantle the patriarchy we are all suffocated by, how to communicate about an abuser in her comedy show. Abuse isn’t funny. It’s also not what Jen Kirkman wanted to talk about. Guess what, it was her show, with her jokes. If the reviewer wants to talk about it; grab a bringer and go to an open mic night. Seriously, I cannot imagine Vermont is lacking in creative expression.

Perhaps, she is sensitive to the role white women have historically played in the upkeep of patriarchy. Although, to use critiques founded in the efforts to increase feminism’s intersectionality is limited in this case. Nothing is added through that prism regarding the instance of Louis CK. The 2017 revamp of the Me Too movement has been charred by its co opting of Tanara Burke, a woman of colour’s earlier efforts, but still its insufficient. As said before, and cannot be said enough, the Me Too movement scope has been limited by men; the assailants and the support system that protects.

Jen Kirkman is no Tarantino. She isn’t even a Georgina Chapman, wife of alleged serial rapist Harvey Weinstein, who arguably built her career with assistance with her bullish husband’s ways; he demanded Marchesa, a fashion house in which Chapman is co-creative director, grew a cult following through the bullying tactics of Weinstein. He demanded their clothes be worn to high profile events by starlets. An interview in Vogue was speculated to serve as mea culpa for both her and Anna Wintour, exonerating her of connections to her husband’s many crimes.

However, the focus on his wife, and her responsibility in his crimes, seems a little futile. Unless, they were the Myra Hyndley and Ian Brady of casting couch culture, this really ought to be treated sensitively. A nuanced debate about her profits from his power should happen, but to forget the complicated dynamic of blaming a spouse is wrong.

Perhaps, it purely highlights a misunderstanding of comedy. If so, this girl could really do with learning from Aunt Jen.

 

Jen Kirkman’s Netflix comedy special Just Keep Living is now available for download on iTunes or anywhere one can download albums.

Advertisements

Lise Meitner – women and their roles

“Behind every great man is a woman hovering in the shadows” is a frequently uttered statement. This is not a phrase used to describe Lise Meitner. The sun shone directly on her. Otto Hahn’s winning the Nobel prize for their work on nuclear fission shoved her under an umbrella. Lise Meitner’s rich life follows the long tradition of women being thrown to the wayside, their contributions to great works discounted.

This story made me think of Meg Woltizer’s 2003 book The Wife. A fictionalised version of the Nobel Prize for Literature is won by Joe Castleman, a man who would be nothing without his wife Joan, a woman once, decades ago, captured by his apparent genius as a well to do WASP princess studying at Smith College in the 1950s, with his Brooklyn accented James Joyce quoting ways. A budding writer herself, she was warned of the irrelevant, unread fate she was to expect. More about their marriage is unwrapped as the story progresses, and secrets revealed shake the certification of his creativity. Their story appears, on the surface, a product of their time,

but the book haunted me because of how untrue that notion is. Growing up, and still now, I have witnessed bright, articulate and cruelly underdeveloped women forgo their full potential for men. Maintaining the domestic sphere is still a responsibility for women. Despite the trails left blazing, Joan’s full contribution is blanked by the establishment, just like Lise’s. Of course, their situations are different so are the reasons why, but each figure faces a institutional, entrenched kind of gendered ignorance.

Although, embarrassingly enough, as a promising young woman myself, finding her way, I get the appeal of Joan’s presented role: the idea of finding a man, who’ll pluck you out of the crowd, cite you as his muse, devote his entire acceptance speech to you. Realising this, fumes of self-disgust choke me. To be this kind of woman, to be a care giver, a support system or a playmaker, is not a failing. Often, they are a necessity. Personally, I have reaped benefit, comfort from these figures. For the sake of ease and circumstance, my mother took on traditional feminine roles, thus enabling my father to peak professionally. Perhaps, due to knowing nothing else, I cannot attest to an alternative, but my mother’s delay in intellectual development seems to have benefitted mine.

While this soliloquy may seem like an almighty digression, as Lise Meitner’s story is not that of an aspiring suburbanite, as a case study, there exist parallels. Both hold varying truths about the systemic erasure of women, a failure to be fully visible, a complex human in all her glory. However, the variety of blockages are vast and complicated. These are highly private, personal choices, and require nuanced cultural overhaul. Dialogues have been taking place for centuries concerning this. But liberation from the pale, male and stale order of business is not going to be simple, to pretend otherwise is another injustice. This fight is not new; shields waving in battle. Each generation contributing their own plan of attack.

In Lise’s situation, the frustration is heightened because gender seems to be her only real, quantifiable barrier. Yes, one could attribute the lack of recognition to sociopolitical factors. Aggression against Jews was reaching its violent peak across Europe. Austrian anti-Semitism forced her to flee to Sweden, a place she adopted as her new home. But, in the end, as other forgotten female figures in history, there was a man blocking her view.