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.

Continue reading “The Feministing Five: Margaret Cho”

Ta-Nehisi Coates on reparations, racism, and sexism

Originally posted on Feministing, November 6, 2015

https://i2.wp.com/assets.feministing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/ta-nehisi-coates-nina-subin_wide-7757d564e70b8fd9b1fbadde9c7b26e0e926ff76.jpg
Image via Willamette News

I was thrilled to speak with journalist and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates on my WBAI radio show last week. Coates’ latest book Between The World and Me was called “required reading” by Toni Morrison, was nominated for a National Book Award, and earned him a MacCarthur Genius Grant. In the summer of 2014,  Coates rekindled a national debate with his piece Atlantic cover article “The Case for Reparations.” Coates didn’t always believe that reparations were owed. When I asked him what changed his mind he responded:

I think I was a much more standard issue liberal in the sense that I thought that many of the problems in the African-American community could be fixed by class-based solutions. And then increasingly as I saw more research about segregation, as I saw more research about community poverty, it became clear that Black people themselves are a class in and of themselves, that one can’t sub in and out the Black middle class and the white middle class, that these are different groups of people, that racism itself is an injury, not just a different kind of classism, that it is an injury in and of itself, that Black people have been injured, that Black middle class people have been injured, that Black quote un quote rich people have been injured.

Coates compared the way class privilege doesn’t cancel out racism to the way class privilege doesn’t cancel out sexism: “In the way that sexism injures women… it doesn’t matter that some of these women are rich. Just being rich does not mean that you’re not injured, or that you can’t be injured by sexism. When I could recognize that as an interest in and of itself, well that changed things.”

You can listen to the whole episode on soundcloud or iTunes, where you can subscribe to, rate and review The Katie Halper Show.

 Comedians Debate: Is Amy Schumer’s ‘Trainwreck’ Sexist, or the New Feminism?

The feminist comedian and filmmaker is everywhere—and her fans’ expectations are mounting.

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Amy Schumer attends the world premiere of “Trainwreck” on Tuesday, July 14, 2015. (AP/Invision/Evan Agostini)

Originally posted August 6, 2015 on The Nation

It’s hard to watch TV, go online, or even leave the house without encountering the deceptively cherubic face of comedian and filmmaker Amy Schumer. Sketches from her Comedy Central show, Inside Amy Schumer, are viral sensations; her HBO standup special, directed by Chris Rock, will air in October. She wrote and stars in the critically-acclaimed film Trainwreck, directed by Judd Apatow, which is raking it in at the box office. On Monday night, she appeared as one of Jon Stewart’s final Daily Show guests; earlier that day, Schumer held a press conference to announce her support for a plan championed by her distant cousin, Senator Chuck Schumer, to make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to obtain guns. This comes on the heels of the July shooting at a Louisiana movie theater during a screening of Trainwreck, in which two women were killed and nine people were injured.

Amy Schumer’s stand-up and sketches tackle issues like birth control, abortion, rape, sexism, and warped female beauty standards with humor and fearlessness, positioning her as a feminist icon. And indeed, some critics and fans have hailed Trainwreck as a clever subversion of the typical romantic comedy plot. But others complain that it reinforces the rom-com narrative more than it challenges it. Schumer has also come in for criticism over her handling of race issues, both in Trainwreck and in her sketches and stand-up.

I talked about Amy Schumer’s comedy and its presentation of gender and race with writers and performers who themselves engage with these themes in a funny and thoughtful way. Laura Swisher is a stand-up comedian who worked as a producer for Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell and now works for The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. Gabe Pacheco is a stand-up comedian who co-hosts and co-produces Funhouse Comedy, a weekly stand-up comedy show in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and is a co-host on The Katie Halper Show on WBAI. Rae Sanni is a comedian and writer who co-hosts the It’s About Us podcast. Samhita Mukhopadhyay is the author of Outdated: Why Dating Is Ruining Your Love Life. Kate Levin is a writer of fiction and creative non-fiction, and faculty member of the University of Southern California, whose most recent piece, for The Boston Globe, reflects on being a teenage prank call addict.

Katie Halper: Let’s start with the argument that some of Amy Schumer’s jokes are racist. What do you think of that criticism—and Schumer’s response?

Laura Swisher: There are comics whose material I loathe and find offensive, and often times it’s because their material is racist and/or sexist and utterly lacking in craft. But if a comic can make me laugh, or surprise me, I give them a lot more leeway, even if individual jokes might be offensive. I’d put Schumer in the “give her more leeway” category.

Kate Levin: The most salient thing for me when I think about Schumer and race is the response she gave after a Guardian writer called her out for having a blind spot around this subject. In response to criticism of the joke, “I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual,” she replied, “It is a joke and it is funny. I know that because people laugh at it…. Trust me. I am not racist.” I like Schumer—some of the stuff on her show I like a lot—but her response doesn’t hold up to the tiniest bit of scrutiny. She knows what she said wasn’t racist because… it was funny and people laughed at it? People laugh at racist jokes all the time! She knows that. (People also laugh at stuff that isn’t funny all the time, which she knows, too.) So what could land a smart person in such a swamp of illogic? Continue reading “ Comedians Debate: Is Amy Schumer’s ‘Trainwreck’ Sexist, or the New Feminism?”

Flashback Friday: The ethnic slur that started Rush Limbaugh’s career

Radio host Rush Limbaugh
Radio host Rush Limbaugh
Originally posted on RawStory

As unbelievable as it sounds, Rush Limbaugh got his major break after someone ELSE lost his job for saying something offensive. That someone else was Morton Downey Jr. and the term he used pales in comparison to the racist, sexist and hateful vitriol Limbaugh spews today.

In 1984  NewsTalk 1530 KFBK host Morton Downey Jr. told a racist, unoriginal and unfunny joke on air that involved the word “Chinaman” and a hilarious punchline based on how the inversion of “R” and “L” can turn “surprise” into “supplies.” When City Councilman Tom Chinn called into the show to register his concern with the use of the term Chinaman, Downey Jr. refused to apologize. The next day, however, he held a press conference, apologized and announced he was resigning.

The man who would replace Downey Jr. was Rush Limbaugh, who, of course, has far surpassed Downey’s hatefulness. I’m not sure if Chinaman is in Limbaugh’s repertoire but he more than makes up for it, if it’s not. Limbaugh did mock the speech  of Chinese president Hu Jintao, which he paraphrased as, “Ching cha. Ching chang cho chow. Cha Chow. Ching Cho. Chi ba ba ba. Kwo kwa kwa kee. Cha ga ga. Ching chee chay. Ching zha bo ba. Chang cha. Chang cho chi che. Cha dee. Ooooh chee bada ba. Jee jee cho ba.”  He called Georgetown student and birth control advocate (I can’t believe we need these in the 21st century) Sandra Fluke a slut, though the attack was much more embarrassing for him than for Fluke. Limbaugh’s claim that Fluke was having “so much sex” that she couldn’t “afford her birth control” revealed that Rush didn’t understand how birth control worked and clearly thinks that women use the pill the way he uses his Viagra pill. And, of course, he’s fond of calling the U.S. President Barack Obama the “magic negro.

Continue reading…

Blackface, ‘darkies’ and chain gangs: 23 racist, ‘funny’ Valentine’s Day cards people still buy

image via ebay
image via ebay

Valentine’s Day is known for its commercialism and sexism, but it also deserves credit for its racist advertising.  The racism shown in the greeting cards  is overt and unapologetic. What makes them that more disturbing is the way they make use of children, humor, and puns in particular, sanitizing the gravity of not only stereotypes but literally by presenting it in a cutesy and playful way. While the racism in these images is more overt, many of today’s cartoon’s, comics, and greeting cards express stereotypes though (alleged) comedy. Far from satire, which has the ability to challenge and discredit prejudices and stereotypes, they perpetuate them through contrived and obvious so-called jokes. People will often defend these representations by saying, “it’s just a joke, don’t be so sensitive, don’t be so P.C.” Could the same be said about these cards? And if not, what does that say about the caricatures of today and those who defend them? Many of these cards are for sale on Ebay or Amazon. Hopefully, the people buying them are doing so because they are studying or writing about them and not because they find them amusing. Dr. Harvey Young certainly falls into the first category. A historian and critic, Dr. Young is Associate Chair and Director of Graduate Studies in  the Department of Theatre at Northwestern University, where he holds appointments in African American Studies, Performance Studies, and Radio/Television/Film. He is the author of several books, including Embodying Black Experience: Stillness, Critical Memory and the Black Body. In 2012 Dr. Young delivered a lecture at Northwestern on stereotypes and caricatures in Valentine’s Day Cards from the early 20th century and his research on the subject will be included in his forthcoming book explores how people learn about race through objects and media. While these cards may seem like mere relics of the past and archaic artifacts, they are closer to the present than they appear. As Dr. Young told me in an e-mail, “These cards were bestsellers into the early 1930s. A lot of people’s grandparents purchased and exchanged them. This history is more recent and much closer to home than most people suspect or want to acknowledge.” Without further ado, here are 25 racist Valentine’s Day greeting card, mocking Black, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Native American and even Scottish people.

See the cards…

 

Vatican releases then removes bizarre ‘what you think about being a woman’ video

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Nothing shatters the image of an out of touch, sexist Catholic Church like an all-male summit on women. So, in a great P.R. move, the Vatican is hosting a Plenary Assembly entitled, “Women’s cultures: equality and difference,” from February fourth to February seventh. (Then again, given that the Vatican did appoint someone with Hitler Youth experience to be god’s messenger on earth, this is a relatively minor misstep.)

But even given the insular, boys-only nature of the Assembly, as well as the Vatican in general, the video released to publicize the event is shockingly bizarre, embarrassing and cringe-inducing.

Incorporating cheesy wipes, and interesting fonts, the video stars Italian actress Nancy Brilli, who does some dramatic head moves appropriate for a Pantene commercial and says things like, “I’m sure you’ve asked yourself, who you are, who you do, what you think about your being a woman. Your strengths. Your diffIculties. Your body. And your spiritual life.” She then encourages women to put their work online with the hashtag, or, as Brilli says, “ashtag,” #LifeOfWomen. She signs off by saying, “You– [shampoo ad head move]–Yes you–are important!”

Continue reading

Urban Outfitter’s greatest racist, sexist, tasteless hits

800px-UrbanOutfitters

This week Urban Outfitters sold a great sweatshirt. It said Kent State and had, what appeared to be a blood stain. Everybody except, allegedly, Urban Outfitters saw the sweatshirt as a reference to the blood-stained history of Kent University where, in 1970, the National Guard killed four students and injured 10. Urban Outfitters released an apology, via Twitter, which is really huge. And then they came out with another apology which was surprisingly honest in its acknowledgement of how little their word counted:

this truth does not excuse us from our failure to identify potential controversial products head on. We, as a company who caters to a college-age demographic, have a responsibility to uphold to our customers. Given our history of controversial issues, we understand how our sincerity may be questioned.

Because it turns out, Urban Outfitters has an amazing resume of offensive products under its belt. And to be fair, they take diversity really seriously. They are an equal opportunity offender, whose products have mocked eating disorders, Jews, African Americans, Native Americans. I know I’m leaving someone out, so I apologize. On this week’s Morning Jew, Heather Gold and I talk about these Urban Outfitters blunders, which include a game of “Ghettopoly,” which sounds sooooo fun, full-figured fashion, and  Jewish behinds. Enjoy!

Originally posted on RawStory

Senator who doubts female senator was sexually harassed linked to Church sex abuse coverup

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) says Obamacare will lead to 'rationing'

Senator Ron Johnson (WI-R) challenged Senator Kristen Gillibrand’s claims of inappropriate comments and touching from her male colleagues. If I were Senator Ron Johnson, I wouldn’t go around challenging the veracity of sexual harassment allegations. Because in addition to testifying against a bill that would have made it easier for victims of child sexual assault to sue, Johnson served on the council of a Church that covered up the abuse of children.  Whoops!

Let’s talk about the Gillibrand incident first. In her new book “Off The Sidelines,” Gillibrand reveals that one male colleague who ran into her in the gym  ”Good thing you’re working out, because you wouldn’t want to get porky!” On other hand, another colleague said, ”You know, Kirsten, you’re even pretty when you’re fat.” And another male senator grabbed her waist and advised, “Don’t lose too much weight now. I like my girls chubby.” #MixedMessages

On Tuesday, Ron Johnson went on NewsmaxTV’s “The Steve Malzberg Show,” and said of the Gillibrand claim, “First of all, it was not me.” OK… The Senator doth protest too much, methinks,  but anyway. He went on to say, ”Quite frankly, I’ve never seen that kind of behavior in the United States Senate. “ How odd that he wouldn’t be privy to every one-on-one conversations out of his earshot and vision? And surely, he would have been at the receiving end of comments about weight and boy and appearances if they were being made. But not only did Johnson doubt Gillibrand, he criticized her not naming names and not sensationalizing and personalizing an important discussion about a systemic problem: “If you’re going to throw out accusations, my guess is you probably ought to name names… If you’re going to throw out those kinds of accusations, you ought to give people a chance to defend themselves.”

OK. Now, let’s go back to 2010 and review footage of  Ron Johnson  opposing The Wisconsin Child Victims Act. The 2010 bi-partisan bill would have done what several other states have already done: eliminated the civil statute of limitations in sex assault and rape cases involving children. In Wisconsin, people are barred from suing over child sexual abuse or rape after the age of 35, a totally arbitrary cut-off that makes it harder for victims to see justice and hold abusers accountable.  Controversial? Sadly, to Johnson it was. Continue reading “Senator who doubts female senator was sexually harassed linked to Church sex abuse coverup”

The Daily Show takes on sexist attacks on Senator Gillibrand

Masters of Sexism on The Daily Show
It was infuriating and depressingly unsurprising to hear some of the sexist, inappropriate comments male members of Congress have made to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. As we learned last week, colleagues told the Senator she was pretty even when she was “fat” and urge her not to get “too porky.” But The Daily Show‘s take down of the Senate’s sexism will let you laugh and cry (Watch the full clip here).

Citing the “Don’t get too porky” comment on the one hand, and the “I like my girls chubby” on the other, Jon Stewart quipped “Even when it comes to shitty sexism, the Senate is gridlocked. They can’t get anything done.” He also remarked on the irony of congressmen and senators discussing Gillibrand’s appearance when they themselves “look, on a good day, like a bowl of dried fruit.”

Stewart was especially on-point in his critique of the people criticizing Gillibrand for not naming the men who made the comments. After a clip of conservative CNN contributor Ben Ferguson saying “you’ve got the guts to write about it. Have the guts to name names,” Stewart responds, “The grown-up version of the rich kid from every ’80s movies has a point…. Why wouldn’t the woman making a larger point about the general culture of Washington not turn this into a narrow personal attack on the people she sees at work every day?”

Stewart also shows a clip of Andrea Mitchell, saying that she knows from experience that there are some politicians you don’t want to be alone with in an elevator. He then reflects, “Right. We all have our stories about which person, elected by voters in their state to a six-year term, vested with the powers to advise, consent, and declare war, you would not trust in the three to five seconds it takes to go from two to L.”

The episode also looks at the responses expressed on the Fox News show Outnumbered, which range from “boys will be boys” to the claim that women embrace catcalls as flattering.

The Daily Show certainly won’t run out of material any time soon.

Originally posted on Feministing.