The Feministing Five: Margaret Cho

photo by Mary Taylor via margaretcho.com
photo by Mary Taylor via margaretcho.com
Originally posted on November 16, 2015 on Feministing.com

Margaret Cho, the standup comedian, actor, writer, activist, singer-songwriter, mensch, and wedding officiator, is also an unapologetic feminist. Cho is known for using her comedy as a weapon against racism, sexism, and homophobia. In her latest show, PsyCHO, which she is touring with now, Cho jokes about vibrators but also deals with things like police brutality and homelessness.

Another serious issue Cho uses her voice to address is rape. In November of 2014, Cho tweeted, “I am a rape victim and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I come forward in solidarity with all women who have suffered. #tellyourstory.” She spoke about her experience in more depth during an interview with Billboard Magazine in September of this year. And on November 13, Cho’s new song and video “(I Want to) Kill My Rapist,” debuted on perezhilton.com.

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five with Margaret Cho!

Katie Halper: who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

Margaret Cho: My favorite fictional character is Mina Harker and all of her permutations in the vampire genre. My heroines in real life are from that era too, George Sand and Mary Shelley.

KH: What recent news story made you want to scream?

MC: Anything about Bill Cosby. He’s done such horrible things to women for over 40 years and he really was a pioneer in comedy and also the kind of pioneer that I would have liked to have been. He brought about so much change when it came to African Americans in comedy and television and so he was such a hero but the fact that he was a rapist for 40 years and got away with it and women didn’t feel like they could come forward or they were not believed, it’s an outrageous misuse of the power and comedy.  It’s a horrifying thing and the fact that the stories have been around for over 40 years and people didn’t believe them is really terrible.

What is amazing about it is that women are finally coming forward and are able to tell their stories and that will create change in the conversation around rape. As a survivor myself, I think it is incredibly healing to hear these women tell their truths. And there’s no statue of limitations on the truth. Even though he can’t be prosecuted in the matter he should be, at least we have some kind of justice. And we can take this as a lesson that you can put your rapist on blast. And that lets you get some of that rage out instead of internalizing it. I think that sexual abuse often recreates itself within the survivor as eating disorders, as depression, as suicide, as self mutilation and that when we can murder the rapist inside of us that thrives on our own suffering, that we can find that healing.

KH: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?

MC: The possible defunding of Planned Parenthood! We’re basically going back in time. Why are we trying to turn back time? We’re looking at this huge campaign to defund Planned Parenthood that’s based on lies, based on misogyny, based on the idea that somehow we are public space, that our bodies are part of America, that they can legislate our uterus. The fact is that Planned Parenthood is there for so many other reasons besides abortion. The most troubling thing is that they want to take away reproductive health for low-income women. And that is something that we cannot let happen. There are so many lies around Planned Parenthood. And they’re not particularly good ones because they can be fact checked so easily. All we are asking is that people check the source.

KH: Why do you identify as feminist and how is feminism present in your work? 

MC: I think I’ve always been a feminist. I don’t know when I actually started implementing the word but I’ve always felt it growing up, mostly through standup. I started standup very early, 14 or 15, and I knew that I had that point of view. I started identifying as a feminist in the 70s, I guess! I feel like a baby bra burner! Now feminism has gone through a lot different incarnations, even to the point where some women were not calling themselves feminist and didn’t want to be associated with feminism. But I think feminism has become much more aggressive and much more progressive, especially in comedy, with people like Amy Schumer, and Tig Notaro, and hopefully myself. I really like the way feminism is on display with people like Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling — there’s so much great stuff happening, so much great comedy.

Feminism isn’t just a white middle class movement. It is a white middle class movement. It’s also a movement for people of color. It’s also a movement for poor people. It’s a movement for people who need to empower themselves, no matter who they are. We need to understand that we still don’t make equal pay, no matter how much you work. Feminism is a lot of things. And the expression of feminism is different for everyone. The patriarchy likes to shame us and belittle us by criticizing feminism. Feminism is a way to heal from patriarchy, from abuse, from inequality. There’s so much more involved in feminism that goes beyond race and class and that goes beyond countries’ borders.

I’m a feminist because I have no other alternative.  I’m a feminist through and through.

All my work is feminist. My latest show, PsyCHO, is feminist. I’m saying what I need to say, and everything is on my terms. My song Fat Pussy is feminist. It’s about fat pride, enjoying my body as opposed to feeling bad about it.

KH: You’re going to a desert island, and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you pick?

MC: I want buttered kettle corn with vodka and Gloria Steinem.

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