There is still 12 minutes left before International Women’s Day ends. After that I will have to make it seem like my aim has been to write for an audience in the west of Greenwich Mean Time all along. This post is important to me because 2017 has been a turbulent year for women’s social and political movements. Hillary Clinton failed to become the first female president in the US despite more than half of eligible voters being women. The man who did win the highest office in the US and arguably the world though is a misogynist surrounded by an army of other misogynists and wife batterers. Organised feminism, now well into her fifties, is struggling to reproduce. I have written about this before but despite re-galvanised enthusiasm, as evident by marches on January 25th around the globe, and a we-can-still-do-it attitude, modern feminism has failed to materialise into actual votes for candidates that put women’s issues at the centre of their platform. As an example, in the London mayoral elections in 2016, Sophie Walker of the Women’s Equality Party won a meagre 2% of the votes, less than Greens, less than UKIP.

InaStanimirova2
Illustration by Ina Stanimirova
I will not pretend to know the complete history of feminism as a social and political movement or its theory and philosophical intricacies. I still cannot concisely give a definition of intersectional feminism because I still struggle to grasp its full meaning and intention. And I do not claim to speak for everyone. Yet, as a woman of colour I find the bickering over equal racial representation misplaced. There was much controversy around the Women’s March on Washington DC on January 25th. On the Facebook page of the march, there was much talk, nay contention, over skin colour, ethnicity, and religion. It is sad to see that over fifty years after the start of the second wave of feminist advocacy, instead of coming together as one unified force to fight the patriarchal forces who reinforce systematic racism and gender inequality, we turn on each other with catch words like “privilege”, “intersectionality”, and “white middle-class feminism”. Whenever women’s fight for their rights have had to go head-to-head against that of any other marginalised group, the priorities of that other group have prevailed. That is why white working class women voted to make America great again instead of voting for paid maternity leave or control over their reproductive rights. That is why Latinas in many places in the US voted for Trump’s anti-abortion stance instead of voting against his anti-immigration platform. For feminism to survive and make an impact it will have to be empower women with the promise of racial equality, religious tolerance, economic growth, and whatever else is a priority in communities in which women live. Otherwise it will continue to take the backseat to other causes.

From Benny Hill to Sam Bee

 

When I was a growing up in Iran, a favourite past-time was watching boot-legged Betamax video cassettes of Hollywood films, Turkish soap operas, and British comedy shows. I distinctly remember The Benny Hill Show as a recurring features. Benny Hill played the character of an old jolly slap-sticky comic whose act largely revolved around chasing very young, very attractive women and accidentally undressing them or otherwise engaging in sexually inappropriate behaviour bordering what we call assault these days. I don’t mean to judge poor Mr. Hill based on our modern sensibilities and standards. Yet you can’t note that The Benny Hill Show was an international hit in the 80’s! An international hit! The average person found the show not offensive but hilarious. Just in my lifetime alone, we’ve come far in the West. Back then few families even contemplated how this type of comedy might impact their children’s perception of gender roles or acceptable behaviour.  Even in the nineties when I was a teenager in Canada spending idle hours watching The Comedy Network, fat chick jokes were the standard stock of most stand-up comedians.

Growing up, there was an undeniable dearth of women comedians in the English speaking world. Women were not deemed funny. In the past decade however, there has been an explosion of female comedians on the scene. The likes of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling, and Amy Schumer have created their own shows, penned best-selling memoirs, and made films. In short they have created a space for a female perspective on big issues like rape culture, body dysmorphia, violent pornography, equal representation, and the tiring over-obsession with “having it all”. Among these disruptive pioneers, I personally have a special soft spot for Samatha Bee, not least because she is an alumnus of the Daily Show and a mentee of Jon Stewart, the father of all political satirists on TV. Sam Bee has created an interesting format for late night TV (thankfully available on her YouTube channel for us expats but also international audiences). Devoid of guests, stiff suits, and big desks as a permanent fixture in the middle of the stage, the show has a fast-paced high-action feel to it. She goes on long monologues, often tirades on one or two specific topics per show. Sam Bee is the best kind of comedian! The angry type. Her segments are a mix of righteous indignation, razer-sharp analysis, and investigative journalism. She has been critiqued for her “empty vitriol”.  But her millions of viewers seem to disagree week after week. Given that her topics are often lady-relevant ones, I think I am not the only women out there who gets strong satisfaction from seeing her express our frustrations so well and so passionately. It is her passion and anger that make her segments all the more authentic. When covering the Orlando shooting Sam said “Is it okay if, instead of making jokes, I just scream for seven minutes until we cut to commercial?” showing that her primary objective is not telling jokes but doing satire.  I’ve never been a fan of aloof dead-pan comedy. That why I never fully got into the new the Daily Show with Trevor Noah or the Late Night with Seth Meyers. So for me and over 2 million other viewers, having Sam Bee on TV to vent our frustrations is a gift.

 

It is amazing that in my lifetime alone we have TV comedy shows have transformed beyond recognition. That is not to say that sexism or even violence cloaked as humour doesn’t exist, but at least it doesn’t go unchecked. Now I am only awaiting Jessica Williams to have her own show to be truly content with the cadre of female comics we have on our airways.