Why I want to see a woman hosting a late-night television show
By Isabel Gibson Penrose, Opinions Editor
I’m not quite sure when I completely lost my ability to look at something and not think about it in terms of gender inequality, but between one too many shows that portray the wives of whatever county as petty, one-dimensional caricatures and one too few movie Q&As that ask the female star about something besides what she ate, I snapped.
So when I saw the recent Vanity Fair article “Why Late-Night Television Is Better than Ever,” and the accompanying pictures featuring 10 men (with 8 out of the 10 being white, which is not the focus of this article, but absolutely needs to be acknowledged as well) I was pretty peeved.
Don’t get me wrong – I love some of these guys! Seth Meyers has been my celebrity crush since I was about fourteen years. John Oliver’s work on Last Week Tonight is some of the funniest and finest on television right now. Larry Wilmore took over Stephen Colbert’s time slot and made it his own – and Stephen Colbert interviewed Vice President Joe Biden with such genuine sensitivity and warmth, watching it made me ugly cry.
These are some of the great comedians of our time, that is for sure – but looking at this picture is annoying. Where are the women?
I would like to attribute this as a one-off error, but it isn’t the first time Vanity Fair has misstepped (to put it lightly) in terms of their treatment and coverage of gender. In 2007 they published an article by Christopher Hitchens titled, “Why Women Aren’t Funny” and it’s about as vomitus and pompous as an article can be.
Hitchens plays the whiny white boy card, bemoaning the fact that men can only appeal to women using humor, while “women have no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way. They already appeal to men, if you catch my drift.” Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, women are sexy they have sex appeal so they don’t need to be funny!
You hear that, women? Stop writing jokes! Your appeal quota has been filled since you hit puberty. All the television shows and movies featuring “funny” guys married to hot women, like According to Jim, Still Standing, Grounded for Life, and everything starring Kevin James or Adam Sandler make sense now. MEN are funny, WOMEN are sexy, everyone stay in your boxes!
After an appropriate amount of backlash against Hitchens, Vanity Fair ran an opposing opinion piece by Alessandra Stanley called “Who Says Women Aren’t Funny?” It covered a lot of ground – the dichotomy between attractiveness and comedy, the general sexism of comedy writers, and the rise of women like Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig, and Maya Rudolf.
And because whiny white boys can never let anything go, Hitchens wrote a follow up to his original piece and called it “Continuing to Voice My Obviously and Grossly Misogynistic Thoughts on Women.” Just kidding, he called it “Why Women Still Don’t Get It,” and refers to Stanley as “angel” while making the argument that women in comedy are simply “trying to please.” Gross.
Hitchens has stayed relatively quiet on the subject since then, so Vanity Fair brought in David Kamp to continue the trend of men writing about how great and funny men are. That’s right, the article praising men in comedy was also written by a man!
“Late-night comedy has seen a disorienting – some feared fragmenting – shuffle over the last two years,” he began his article, before listing the revolving door of white men who have left their late-night jobs, to make way for other white men (and Trevor Noah, the new host of The Daily Show). Yes, who will replace this man? Which man will get the job? I can’t keep track of all the testosterone, so disorienting!
Kamp brings attention to the “gobsmackingly insane” lack of women in late-night in the last two paragraphs of his article, and asks a big question: why has no TV network handed the reigns of a late night-comedy program to a woman, especially when there are lots of obviously funny women out there? (“Sexism still permeates all media industries” is the short answer.) But he neglects to address why we care about the lack of women in late-night. This pesky issue of “representation mattering” – who even cares?
I think it’s important not to underestimate the power of seeing someone like you, represented as succeeding at what they do. Cecily Strong hosted this past White House Correspondents dinner and called reporters out for sexism in their coverage of Hillary Clinton. The call-out rang true to me because Strong has undoubtedly experienced that same sexism – and it was great to see a woman given the platform to make fun of something so harmful.
The Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams has used her place on that show to spread awareness about numerous issues including sexual assault on college campuses, discrimination against black women because of their hairstyles, and the gender income gap. Thanks to Amy Poehler’s work on Parks and Recreation it’s so easy to say, “I want to be like Leslie Knope when I grow up,” and have people understand what you mean. That means, “I want to be a strong, powerful, political woman who makes a difference in her community.”
Now we need the same kind of successful women represented in late-night comedy.
Humor is important, and people that dismiss how important it is are living humorless lives. I don’t want to live that way. I want to turn on my TV and hear jokes made by someone I can relate to. I want to bust a gut laughing at coverage lampooning the sexist things that happen every day by someone who has lived those things with me.
I want the phrase “women aren’t funny,” obliterated from the English language because it’s sexist, it’s lazy and it’s honestly so boring.