It’s just a joke

(TW: rape)

Dear Dad,

I want to talk about comedy today, partly because comedy seems to be all anyone’s talking about today (fitting that it’s April Fools), and partly because the discussion of Ari Shaffir, Trevor Noah and Patton Oswalt has reminded me of my own experience with off-color jokes.

First, my story: It was my first date with this guy. He had heavy eyelids and deep brown eyes and a soft, melodic voice. He recited a poem to me before asking me on the date. He seemed so charming and sensitive. I met him at his house and we decided to drive one town over for burgers.

“Let’s take the backroads!” he suggested.

“All right,” I agreed, “but you’ll have to direct me. I don’t know how to get there from here.”

I drove and he was copilot, but as he gave my directions, I felt we were head further and further out into the countryside, instead of toward town.

“Are you sure this is the way? It feels like we’re heading to the boonies,” I said.

“No,” he laughed. “I’m just taking you out into the middle of nowhere so I can rape you.”

He chuckled. My heart raced.

“That’s not funny.”

“It’s just a joke, because obviously, I would never do that. That’s why it’s funny. I’m clearly not a rapist.”

“What if I were a rape survivor?” I asked.

“If you were, you would obviously tell me,” he said, as if he had created a super supportive environment with rape jokes on our first date. I’d like to say I dumped him right there, Dad, but sadly, it took me a couple more dates to realize he had no respect for personal boundaries.

But what does this have to do with comedy?

There are a lot of comedians in the news right now for making jokes people deem inappropriate, in bad taste or cruel. Ari Shaffir called out a fellow comedian by name in a national special, laughing at her for having one-arm and being fat. Trevor Noah, the future Daily Show host, has come under scrutiny for posting Twitter statuses joking about Jews and violence against women. And today Patton Oswalt went on a 53-tweet twitterstorm about how people are too sensitive about privilege, oppression and triggers.

Now, I think what Ari Shaffir did was mean and unfunny. I think Trevor Noah’s jokes were in poor taste, but I’m willing to see how he does as Daily Show host. And I think Patton Oswalt’s tweets completely missed the point, which is this:

Comedy is not an excuse to be mean. Saying “it’s comedy” doesn’t make something un-terrible. The guy who laughed off threatening to rape me with “it’s just a joke” didn’t make his threat suddenly okay. Comedy is not an excuse.



What happens when we get representation

Heya, Dad!

How long has it been since we talked representation? Awhile?

As a refresher, representation is when diverse people are included in media (preferably) as fleshed-out individuals. It’s the idea that people want to see stories about people they can relate to, and that when we see positive portrayals of people like us, that can give us something to aspire to. Like Whoopi Goldberg going into acting after seeing Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek.

Recently, I read a phenomenal article, Hanna Brooks Olsen’s “A Leslie Knope in a World of Liz Lemons.” Olsen contrasts Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock, two enormously popular sitcoms created by celebrity best friends and outspoken feminists Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. When 30 Rock aired, Olsen says, women reveled in seeing a woman as flawed as they were on TV. Liz Lemon was hungry, sloppy, kind of a mess with guys and really selfish. Seeing such an honest character was a breath of fresh air. Women everywhere found themselves saying, “I am Liz Lemon!” (Including me.)

But, Olsen argues, aspiring to Lemon-hood holds us back. Instead, we should aspire to be Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope, a woman whose flaws include her intense passion:

Leslie’s flaws — like that she’s a borderline hoarder and that she sometimes is so passionate about issues that it’s “like arguing with the sun,” as her husband tells her at one point—are less cute. They are real and they are difficult and they are the kind of flaws that women rarely play up. They are the flaws that get women pegged as “bossy” or “bitchy” in the workplace. They are the flaws that we desperately try to distract from as we “complain” that we sometimes (adorably!!!) eat the entire tub of Just One Of The Guys Full Fat Because We’re So Bad Ice Cream in one sitting.

But her positive traits — her unstoppable work ethic, her deep, thoughtful love of her friends, and her nonstop motivation to succeed—are the ones that make her a role model.

While the representation of Liz Lemon was refreshing and new, Olsen argues, Knope gives women someone they can aspire to be.

Reading this article, I couldn’t help but think of Broad City, another female-driven comedy. It’s the first comedy series I’ve ever watched that has made me laugh out loud at every single episode from the very first episode. 

Watching it, I tried to figure out which of the two protagonists I was. Like Ilana, I have short hair and sometimes wear inappropriate, childlike outfits. Like Abby, I work hard at my job and aspire to climb the ladder. But after several episodes of vacillating between the two, I decided I am neither. I don’t smoke weed or Skype my best friend everyday, or go on the same wild adventures they do.

And that is perfectly okay. That’s the thing about representation: When there are enough diverse, interesting women in media, I don’t have to see myself in every one. I don’t have to be every complex portrayal of every woman on TV. But when there are so many different women on TV, I have plenty of role models to choose from.

Have you seen Big Hero 6 yet, Dad? You’re missing out if you haven’t. Like I’ve said before, the film features several female scientists in the main group of friends. The best part about that is their gender doesn’t become central to their identity. When you don’t have one girl in the cast fulfilling the role of “the girl,” you’re free to create more interesting characters. In this case, there’s the tough-as-nails speed-demon with a cool bicycle and the sweet, all-things-pink chemistry whiz. Do you know how powerful it is to see a group of diverse women and realize how open your options are? It’s empowerment.

And it’s why representation matters.




Dear Dad,

As a writer, I think about words a lot. You know that. I try to pay attention to words in common use, how they’re used, what they imply, if their meaning or connotation is changing. I think too, about how their use relates to gender, and what it reveals about gender dynamics. And one word that’s been bugging me a lot lately is “shrill.”

I first noticed it in a now-memed tweet to Brianna Wu, a game designer and vocal advocate for women in gaming. Someone tweeted at her that “Respects is earn, not shrilly demanded.”

Screenshot of a tweet to Spacekatgal saying, "no you are worse than that. You are the public face of the stormtroopers. Respects is earn not shrilly demanded."

Hilarious grammar aside, the use of the word shrill stuck with me. The writer did not just critique that Wu was asking for respect, but how she was doing it. The “shrill” here was used as a way to belittle and insult Wu.

A quick search of Twitter reveals the word is used in predominantly three ways:

  1. To describe wildlife (often birds, often in poetry).
  2. To express extreme excitement (often shrill screams).
  3. To insult someone (almost always a woman).

This word is just one example of how women are criticized and ridiculed not for their views or actions, but for simply being female. As a word that is largely associated with a woman’s often higher-pitched voice, it is used to critique how women speak, not what we’re saying. Lose your cool a little and you’re labeled shrill, aggressive, bitchy, and unworthy of respect.


The original tweet didn’t have anything to say about Wu’s views, game design or advocacy. All that mattered was that she “shrilly demanded” respect, and that meant that she was unworthy of it. It’s a tactic meant to make women self-conscious about speaking out, and ultimately silence them.

There was one thing that I found that made me happy, when searching the interwebs on shrillness, Dad. Badass, loudmouth writer Lindy West just announced that she’s publishing her first book, a memoir called “Shrill.” West, an outspoken and unapologetic woman, has throughout her career claimed the insults slung at her and proudly thrust them back at her haters. As a fat woman, for instance, she embraces her body and refuses to let trolls calling her fat chase her off the Internet. I deeply look forward to reading her memoir when released, and seeing West throw the word “shrill” back at all the misogynists who would try to cut women down with it.


Volkswagen: “Your precious daughter will never get married if you never let her boyfriend ask you for her hand”

Dear Dad,

You know how I feel about asking a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage. So of course I cringed when I was catching up on the latest episode of Brooklyn Nine Nine and saw a new Volkswagen ad with just that as the premise.

The plot is this: Young man and his girlfriend’s dad are on an 11-hour car trip. Young man keeps trying to ask for her hand (“There’s something I have to ask you.”) and father keeps distracting him, shushing him, making the conversation about his swell new car. At one point, dad even accelerates in an attempt to, I dunno, outrun the guy in the passenger seat?

And nowhere in the commercial is the woman, or any woman, for that matter. This commercial is on the one hand about selling cars (which like, what do marriage proposals have to do with torque or fuel efficiency?), but it’s also about selling the centuries-old idea that women are property to be handed from father to husband.

It’s just another commercial that reinforces the idea of women as tangential to men, existing only as wives or daughters, and not even of their own choosing. I’m sick of this kind of media, Dad, just as I’m sick of these gender roles we can’t seem to shake. I, for one, am not buying it.



“That’s your dad, not society”

Dear Dad,

Today, I did something foolish: I got into an argument with people on the Internet. You think I would learn, but I’m stubborn, and when I see something ignorant, sometimes I don’t resist the urge to step in and clarify.

In this case, it was in regards to an article about Heidi Klum saving her son and nanny from drowning, and a story that focused on the nip slip that ensued, instead of the heroism. The headline was posted as an example of sexism in the media. Someone responded that that was stupid, but not sexist. Of course, I stepped in to say that women’s bodies are sexualized in ways that men’s aren’t, and offered examples of how the innocuous nipple is treated differently when it’s a woman’s than a man’s. I mentioned that you had told me to wear a shirt when I was a girl to be “modest.” That concept is sexual in nature, as it requires of woman a certain level of sexual purity that men are not held to. My brothers were not required to wear shirts the way I was.


Long story short, this man responded that that was my “dad, not society,” which was an interesting response, to say the least. And it launched me into a train of thought about how much of our actions are individual and how much part of the societal structure.

Of course, you, individually, told me that I needed to be modest (and in response I tucked my hair under a cap and decided my name was “Thomas.” Remember that?) but you are not the only parent who taught their daughter what modesty is, or that as young women we needed to cover our chests, while our brothers ran around shirtless in the backyard.

As a feminist, it’s crucial for me to parse what actions are individual from those that are part of the patriarchy, and at the same time, it’s impossible. You see, you told me, voluntarily, to cover up, and through your voluntary, individual action, you perpetuated a system in which women’s nipples are considered obscene but men’s are not. Just as a woman shaves voluntarily , or men have voluntarily, individually called me both a slut and ugly for my writing, yes, it is a single person doing these things, but many single people do them, see them, reenact them, creating this thing we call culture.

Being aware of the creation of culture, the connection between society and “your dad,” is part of effecting change. In high school, I proudly said that I was “not like other girls.” When I realized that what I was saying meant that I was ashamed to be a woman, that I thought femininity was inferior to masculinity, I quit saying that. I broke that cycle and embraced being a woman.

Hopefully my actions, my writings, are not just me. Hopefully, the idea is, that others will see, catch on, and perpetuate, just as I was inspired to write this blog by the feminist writers I admire. Hopefully we can create a shift in culture. Hopefully, we can smash the patriarchy.

Love always,

Why feminism still matters

Dear Dad,

I just got home from a really wonderful panel on intersectional feminism. There were old and young women, of different races, sexualities, abilities, socioeconomic factors and walks of life, discussing intersectionality, or the concept that feminism must cover not just gender but the “intersections” of each person’s many identities.

One of my favorite things that a panelist said was to describe intersectional feminism as the idea that there is no single, monolithic female experience. I think this really strikes at the heart of why feminism still is so key, and specifically intersectional feminism: Yes, women have the right to vote and divorce and we are no longer considered property in America, but even with the legal protections and cultural strides we have made, there are still so many people who face oppression daily. Women still make less than men, but black women make less than white women , and Latinas make even less still. Queer youth face a higher risk of bullying, violence and sexual assault, as well as increased risk of depression and suicidal tendencies. And girls are still blamed for their own assaults, while the media refers to their attackers sympathetically, though activism is helping turn the tide, slowly but surely.

Later in the evening, a woman read Mindy Nettifee’s “For The Young Women Who Don’t Consider Themselves,” a lovely, hilarious, biting poem about solidarity, about feminist history, about how women still suffer, even if the Women Against Feminism don’t feel like they’ve been oppressed.

It’s a reminder that my feminism is not just about me, Dad. My feminism is not just about street harassment or unshaven legs or sexuality. My feminism is also about supporting people from all paths, of all genders, sexualities, races, riches, nationalities, religions, body types, ages and abilities. My feminism is about railing against teaching little boys they can’t cry because it’s “unmanly;” it’s about fighting for the right for everyone to love who they choose, safely and consensually, without fear of violence; it’s about standing up against racism and standing behind the people of color who are fighting it; it’s about supporting accessibility for everyone, and fighting stigma around disability and mental illness; my feminism is about love, acceptance and equal rights for all.


Opening my hope chest

Dear Dad,

I’m having a great time in my new home. Work is going great, and I’ve been working on cooking more and expanding my kitchen repertoire at home.

Part of what’s helped me so much with this culinary goal is the contents of my hope chest that Mom brought out in January. Most of all, I’ve been using the stoneware casserole to cook meatballs. My latest attempt included soy sauce and chopped onions, and they were irresistible.


It’s interesting for me to be using my hope chest items, intended for new married life, even though I am unmarried. But I am grateful for them, and I think it’s a timely twist on the hope chest tradition.

Normally, these household items were destined for newly-married women to begin their adult lives. But women are getting married later than ever, and it’s no guarantee that I’ll ever be married. However, I have embarked on my grown-up, independent life, so this fine cookware is extremely useful to me.

I can’t help but revel in this twist on a patriarchal tradition: Instead of me serving as the cook and housekeeper to a man, I am taking charge of my own life. I cook my meals for myself, and then take the leftovers to my job for lunch.

Why, I’d even support hope chests for all children, to be given to them when they leave for college or start out their first full-time, grown-up job away from home. It’s a celebration of adulthood and independence.

Love, and thanks for the cookware,