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Cross Post: A Feminist Defense of Louis CK

Cross Post: A Feminist Defense of Louis CK

This week, comedian Louis CK (of Louie fame) appeared on The Daily Show. I was actually watching The Daily Show for a change, and was excited to see Louis CK interviewed – he’s always funny and authentic.

If you’ll recall, CK stepped into the big pile of poo that is Toshgate. Sending him a tweet that read “I like your show. You have pretty eyes,” CK was apparently oblivious to the shit-show that Tosh had created in the blogosphere.

Which is easy to believe. Louis CK isn’t exactly web-savvy, and doesn’t Tweet like other comedians like Patton Oswalt or Paula Pell. He’s not a “social media guru” who’s used social media to cultivate an audience. He’s using the web for an inventive ticketing and content distribution strategy, but that’s about it.

His appearance on The Daily Show certainly didn’t have to center around the Tosh controversy, he didn’t have to explain himself to the audience. He could’ve told Stewart to stay entirely away from the subject and just talk about his new show and upcoming tour. But because Louis CK is generally a decent human being, he thought that some clarification was in order.

CK says initially that he was in vacationing in Vermont and was laughing at Tosh.0 on TV. He wasn’t “reading the Internet.” When he came back from vacation, he realized that he was in the middle of the Tosh controversy. He was being called a “rape apologist just for saying “hi” to a guy.” Rape apologism is a pretty serious accusation – but is it necessarily true?

So, in true “debate nerd” fashion, let’s go line-by-line on the interview:

1. “It was all coming from comedians and bloggers, and nothing but garbage and hyperbole comes from those two groups.”

I don’t think anyone would argue that the vast majority of blogs (and comics) are terrible (Jezebel, anyone?). There are also some amazing, incredible blogs (like Feminists For Choice, obviously). Starting a blog doesn’t mean that your opinion is valid or that everyone should listen to you and take you seriously. You hope that they do, but it’s not always the case. Fortunately, both comedians and bloggers are pretty up front with how terrible or good they are. There are terrible asshole comics, and there are terrible asshole bloggers. Nothing about what Louis CK said was inherently untrue.

2. “It’s also a fight between comedians and feminists – they’re natural enemies. Stereotypically speaking, feminists can’t take a joke, and comedians can’t take criticism – they’re big pussies.”

When CK made this remark, especially about the feminists, boos from the crowd began to drown him out. To which he replied, “see?” And he’s got a damn good point. I don’t know why I have to break this down, but the beginning of the joke is “stereotypically speaking.” Is the humorless feminist not a stereotype? Why can’t we laugh at the idea of feminists who can’t take a joke? As Serena Freewomyn said, time to “grow some ovaries and get a life.” If someone poking fun at feminism is uncomfortable for you, then you need to work on that thin skin. Especially if you’re involving yourself in an online dialogue – time to lady up and not take yourself (or your blog or stupid Twitter account) so damn seriously. That goes for comedians and bloggers.

3. “To me, all dialogue is positive.”

Well, he was wrong on this one. Not all dialogue is positive, but inherently, dialogue is positive. When we have male comedians talking about why it might not be OK to make rape jokes, we are making progress! I saw one feminist remark “If you are 44 years old and this is your first introduction to the rape culture, where have you been?”

Um, a part of it? We’re all ignorant to and participants in the rape culture until we actively make a choice to stand against it. Louis CK is someone who didn’t understand the importance of supporting rape victims – and why would he? Unless a he, a close friend or relative had been sexually assaulted, what would his frame of reference be? He’s a wealthy, straight white dude, for Chrissakes.

When would this have come up in conversation? Now that CK is a father, I think that these revelations will continue – he will see those little girls growing up and that there are a lot of really shitty guys who could try to take advantage of them. I don’t think we ever realize the levity of sexual assault until it smacks us in the face. I’ve always been an advocate for rape survivors, but recently a friend told me that she’d been raped and it almost brought me to my knees. She was just a kid. It’s those types of gut-checks that Louis CK probably hasn’t experienced too many times in his life, just based on his white dude privilege. Should he acknowledge it? Yes. Is it entirely his fault? No.

4. “If someone has the opposite opinion than mine, I want to hear it. For me, any joke about anything bad (rape, Holocaust, The Mets – ahhhh!) is a positive thing. But now, I’ve read some blogs that have enlightened me to things I didn’t know – this woman said that rape is something that polices women’s lives. That’s part of me now.”

That last sentence is the key point of this conversation. Like I said, CK has a minimal frame of reference when it comes to rape and the rape culture. Now that he’s raising two girls, he’ll learn more than he ever wanted to. He’ll worry that they’ll be in bad situations and that the threat of rape will be there for them. And that changes people. The fact that he’s even to read the dialogue instead of just dismissing the concerns of feminists is particularly telling. Feminists and comics have always clashed, so when a comic takes time to legitimately understand the concerns of women on this issue – that is progress. It may not be a revolution, but it is progress. And that’s really all we can expect. We can always demand a revolution, but we should never spit in the face of progress.

5. “This is also about men and women – couples are fighting about Daniel Tosh and rape jokes. But they’re both making a classic gender mistake – women are saying “this is how I feel about this, and my feelings should be everyone’s primary concern. Men are saying your feelings are wrong and they don’t matter. To men I say, listen every now and then. To women I say now that we’ve heard what you’ve had to say, shut the f*ck up about it for a little while. And then, we all get together to kill the Jews.”

And this is the point in the interview when I really started laughing. CK starts by trotting out old horses – women are emotional, dudes don’t listen. I’m sorry, but as an extremely passionate person who dates a pretty even-keeled kind of guy, this is totally true. He doesn’t care when I am ranting on about Mitt Romney or the patriarchy, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t value my opinions. On the flip side, when he’s going on and on about something in physics, you couldn’t pay me to care (or listen half of the time).

We both do it, but “dudes don’t listen” is a pretty common joke. Not anything revolutionary there. Melissa McEwan at Shakesville calls this talk “gender essentialism,” and while that’s probably true, CK wasn’t seeking to have a philosophical conversation about gender roles. He was offering up commentary that many of us identify with, essentialism or not. The “shut the f*ck up about it for a little while” comment was hysterical. As someone who is told to shut up a lot, I’m pretty used to it, so maybe I’m desensitized. I’m a fat young feminist who lives in Texas – you don’t have to preach to me about not being listened to. Feminists should probably stop proving the point that we can’t take a joke, and the first step to doing that is to pay attention to the context.

There was some brilliant discussion across the web about the kinds of rape jokes that are acceptable – meaning that they don’t make the victim the butt of the joke. Louis CK may still enjoy a “good rape joke,” but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t the empowering ones, the ones that give survivors something to laugh at. People who have been sexually assaulted may use humor to cope with what happened to them – and that is fine. They’re allowed.

On Twitter this morning, I made the point that I find it hysterical when someone who is obviously uninformed or otherwise a moron tells me that I’m dumb or that I should shut up and go eat some more cookies. That shit is funny to me. You know why? Because it proves that you’ve won the argument. It proves that they have no intellectual recourse.

I asked @amaditalks if she felt the same way. Judging from her response, she didn’t:

“No, I find it highly offensive, inappropriate and infuriating. Why would I be amused by such a thing?”

I thought that was kind of a thing when you decided to become a feminist blogger/Tweeter. At first you’re all offended by the trolls, but then you begin to just laugh at them. I was wrong.

Point being, we all find things to be funny that others would find horrifying or completely unfunny. I tend to be in the camp that rape is never funny, but Kate Harding’s brilliant round up of rape jokes that work has changed my mind – rape jokes can be empowering, but only if they’re framed in the correct way.

The real point, though, is that we should constantly be evolving and learning. That’s what the entire feminist movement is about. We can’t continually be pissed off at dudes for working on correcting their biases and misconceptions. We can’t say that they’re just covering their asses when they genuinely are trying to evolve and grow as a human being.

That’s no way to build a movement, and it’s no way to encourage men and women to get involved. In fact, it’s directly exclusionary. If we refuse to include those that aren’t quite as “feminist” as we are, we’re making a mistake.

So, ultimately, I think that Louis CK did a pretty damn progressive thing. I think that he used a huge platform like The Daily Show to announce that rape is a thing that “polices women’s lives.” That women have to worry about leaving their homes, wearing the wrong clothes, and that rape is a real life concern for all women.

So, I’ll pose the question: How many people (not just men) were watching and went to bed with that thought on their mind?


Amy is a social media strategist living in Dallas, Texas. She likes music, trashy TV, and ladybiz. tweet: @aemccarthy

This post originally appeared on Feminists for Choice.  It was printed with permission

Also check out this video – Rape Joke Supercut by the Women’s Media Center, Fem 2.0, Women in Media and News and Pop Culture Pirate.

How to Make a Rape Joke (Jezebel)

15 Rape Jokes That Work (Kate Harding)

Anatomy of a Successful Rape Joke (Nation)

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