A tweet from Welsh-born comedienne Jenny Collier went viral on Friday, and not because it was funny. She posted a screen grab of an email from promoters Mirth Control that read, “Hi Jenny, I’m really sorry but the venue have decided they don’t want too many women on the bill and unfortunately we need to take you out of this one. We hope that this doesn’t cause any inconvenience.”
It makes you wonder how often men are dropped because a bill is too dude-heavy. (Hint: never.)
The outright sex discrimination—so helpfully put in writing!—has been retweeted 5,890 times and counting. The promoter has since apologized, but the incident—which, ironically, exploded the day before International Women’s Day—is just another example of the way women’s voices and experiences and perspectives and stories are considered niche. Despite the fact that the majority of people on earth are women. And, as Cate Blanchett pointed out in her Oscar acceptance speech last week, women’s stories do, in fact, make money.
While it’s tempting to write off CollierGate as a trivial one-off, it speaks to a certain kind of tokenism that happens all the time, in all kinds of industries. Recently, while reporting a story about the testosterone-soaked world of tech, I spoke with Fran Maier, who was a co-founder of Match.com and TrustE, and mentors women in technology. She told me about a conversation with a board recruiter who said: “I can’t tell you how many times a man would say, we’ve got one woman on the board; why do I need another?” Well, let’s see. Maybe because she’s smart? Talented? Experienced? Connected? You know, an individual? Who should be judged on her own merits, like a man would be?
Comedy and tech are far from alone in their man-centricness. The Women’s Media Center’s annual report on the (abysmal—and entrenched) state of affairs regarding the status of women in media found the following: male front-page bylines outnumber female nearly 3 to 1; at the biggest newspapers and their syndicates, there are four times as many male columnists than female; women make up 36.3 percent of newsroom staff; women were quoted in just 19 percent of news stories in January and February of 2013; of 2013’s top-grossing movies, only 16 percent of the writers, directors, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers were women; 28.4 percent of speaking roles in 2012’s top-grossing films went to women; Sunday political talk shows skew male at a rate of 75 percent to 25 percent.
Politics is, of course, no better: women currently hold 18.5 percent of the seats in Congress and 24.2 percent of seats in state-level legislatures.
While the sheer unfairness of it all is plenty infuriating, the effects are even more so. When women are underrepresented, our stories aren’t told, our perspectives and concerns aren’t considered, and we’re presented with—and absorb—a skewed view of the world. The few women who do manage to break through are forced to shoulder too heavy a burden; as a representative for an entire gender, their individual actions are subjected to outsize scrutiny and loaded with impossible meaning: What does this mean for women? Or: A victory for women! Or: She’s doing it wrong! (Or: She couldn’t cut it; perhaps no woman can.)
Or: She’s looked upon with suspicion. Did she get the gig because she’s that good, or were the honchos in charge just looking for a Smurfette, a token lady to trot out to pre-empt any accusation of bias?
Perhaps worst of all, when we are taught—by the world as described above and as tweeted by Collier—that there’s not room for all of us, that we’re competing for limited space, we learn, on some level, to view each other as competitors.
While Collier’s tweet was making the rounds—earning retweets from the likes of Sarah Silverman as well as entertaining commentary a la “Unless the venue is a men’s bathroom, this is a truly stupid situation,” and my own personal favorite, “I mean, what if they all got their period at the same time? It’d be chaos!” along the way—author Steve Santagati was co-hosting The View, and took the opportunity to declare that, in general, women aren’t as funny as men.
Wouldn’t it be a shame to watch that and conclude that, in general, men are sexist jerks?
Sure, some women are not as funny as some men. Also true: Some men are not as funny as some women. I confess I have no idea where Collier ranks on the scale, though she was a finalist in last year’s So You Think You’re Funny? Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but I’ve seen as many bad male comedians as I have good ones. And the only thing that could make sitting through a bad one worse would be wondering if he beat out someone better for the spot, simply because the organizers didn’t want “too many women” on the bill.
Shannon Kelley is a writer and author based in California who writes frequently on the intersection of feminism, pop culture and politics. Follow her on Twitter @Shannon_BKelley.
Photo courtesy jennycolliercomedy.com