Why Are There So Few Women Comics?
Andrewducker pointed me at this absolutely phenomenal piece by Bethany Black on why only 10% of stand-up comics are women. It’s a very personal, very insightful piece that seems to tie together so many disparate thoughts I’d had about sexism and the world – triggering some thoughts of my own:
“If any part of comedy is sexist, it’s the audiences.”
This is something we tend to forget on the Internet, because we hang out with our tolerant friends and gravitate towards groups that have a lot of tolerance… But where we are isn’t where most of the mainstream culture is, and we forget that at our peril.
You see that in sitcoms a lot – how can sexist, stale, chewed-up crap like Two And A Half Men be so popular? And the answer is, “Because the audience wants that.” For all of the horror many of us feel at the sitcom traditions of “dopey, put-upon dad, tyrannical wife,” there’s tens of millions of people out there who laugh at that crap because they feel this reflects some fundamental truth about human nature.
And how do you address that without going broke? It’s the comic book problem: yeah, comic books are stupid and sexist. But the core audience that buys comics is stupid and sexist. If you alienate that audience, the entire comics industry might collapse, and there’s no guarantee that your new and enlightened and tolerant comic will attract enough people from outside the industry to make for not selling to the trolls who want submissive women with big tits.
In other words, the people paying your salary are fundamentally bent. And changing their opinions can be done, slowly (we’re making headway in getting gay characters into comedic situations), but it’s a three-steps-forward-two-steps-back kinda thing, and you can’t just ignore them.
That gets worse when you have a lot of people who just don’t give a shit and will hand these people whatever they think they’ll buy.
I remember how many of my liberal friends were aghast by the suggestion that being black might have helped Obama past a certain point in the Democratic primaries. But while being black was certainly a hindrance in the early game, come the late game in the Democratic primary, his race had become a way of making him stand out a lot more. And really, she sums that syndrome up:
“Because there’s fewer of us it’s a double edged sword. If you storm it as a female comic you’re likely to be remembered more than a guy who storms it. But the opposite is also true, if you die you’re more likely to stick in the mind than a guy who died on the same bill. So the trick is not to let promoters see you until you’re more likely to storm it than you are to die.”
“There is also the fact that male comics who are terrible will continue to perform and the open mic level longer than women who are terrible.”
You see that in Magic, too, another chronically overmaled industry. The intense competition of Magic turns a lot of women off (as does, yes, the sexism), but one of the other things that stands out are the number of guys at FNM insisting that this deck is awesome, it beats every deck in today’s Standard gauntlet, they’re totally gonna win tonight.
And they don’t. But this doesn’t dash their spirits. They just brew another deck and keep going, and sometimes they do find a good deck.
I wonder what percentage of men’s dominance in any industry is due to the fact that men are, largely, culturally conditioned to think of themselves as awesome – a delusion that often hurts guys (who can’t realize why they’ve failed, and often blame external sources for blocking them from their tremendous future).
But just as often, this ignorance lets them obliviously keep going past the point that they’re terrible until they actually touch some genuine sort of talent. At which point they begin to thrive.
It’s a weird place. On the one hand, we don’t want to encourage talentless people, do we? On the other hand, some significant percentage of these terrible people keep grinding until they gain talent. So do we a) want to instill in women this feeling that NO YOU’RE SO GREAT YOU’RE GOING TO MAKE IT PAY NO ATTENTION TO REALITY, knowing that this will land a lot of women in this horrid zone where they feel like they should have made it but someone got in their way, and their entire life becomes this boiling jealousy that often erupts in strange violence, or b) try to undercut men’s confidence so they realize they’re shit when they are, thus stopping the folks who might actually get better with a lot more practice?
It’s a strange question to ask.
Anyway, it’s a phenomenally thought-provoking piece. Go read it.