I don’t know what to tell you.
Should I tell you about the headliner who told my tits I was "too hot to be funny" before I even said a word? Or about the host at a comedy club who told the audience he’d “love to smell [my] pussy” after I got offstage? Should I tell you about the accompanist who followed me home twice, or the comedy theater that refused to stop booking us together because “these things always seem to happen to you, Eliza”? Should I mention I was the only woman there? Should I tell you about the friend who got shoved into a wall by her boyfriend backstage in front of a crowd of silent onlookers? Or the friend who was told she was too “unfuckable” to get passed, industry speak for being promoted through the tiers of clubs? Should I start with the friend who went public with her domestic abuse story while her male peers muttered about it helping her career? Or the friend who has been the victim of years of targeted harassment for simply talking about being a lesbian “too much” in her act?
I fear that none of these stories matter because none of them have famous penises in them. But they are all part of the same, and I desperately want you not to limit your interest to the famous penises. Look past the famous penises. They are just the tip of the iceberg — pun fully intended.
I don’t want to write another story about a famous dick. I want to write about the women who you should know. The women who trudge through this shitstorm and pick each other up when it gets too hard. The private messages and texts that we send each other to make sure we know we’re not alone. The praise we heap on each other publicly, after we have heard someone trash one of us privately. The women who curve abuse and degradation and still get on stage and make audiences laugh. The women who walked away from it all because they got tired of hearing how much they weren’t wanted or were only wanted for one thing. The women full of talent and amazing ideas whose belief in the world or themselves got squashed because someone needed their dick to be looked at. For just a minute, I want this to be about women.
I am angry for the women we’ve lost and whose work we’ll never see. I am angry with myself for every time I listened when someone called another woman "crazy" or "difficult," even though I knew it was code for “she didn’t do what someone wanted.” I am angry about the times I’ve been called difficult or crazy by men who later privately apologized, while doing nothing to help repair my damaged reputation. I’m angry about all the things I didn’t know happened. I’m angry that I have to think about this, and to fight about it, when all I want to do is make jokes.
I’m also angry that I don’t have an eloquent, simple way to talk about all of this. It’s like a spiderweb of trauma. I want to talk about why we are horrified by Kevin Spacey’s abuse of white teenage boys but not R Kelly’s abuse of black teenage girls. Or why we suddenly care about sexual abuse by celebrities, but not domestic abuse. The cognitive dissonance of being told we must report abuse and time after time seeing no one care about or believe it. I want to talk about the non-white women and non-binary people whose stories still aren't being heard. I want to talk about the constant gaslighting of going onstage and killing in front of an audience, then walking off and hearing or reading another discussion of whether or not we are even capable of being funny at all — as though that has ever been a legitimate question. When men don’t find a female comic funny they often forget that comedy is subjective, that they might just not get the jokes. There are a number of older male comedy “greats” that I’ve never found funny, because the world they write about is not the one I live in.
I want to talk about how women as a whole have been hobbled by systemic sexism and misogyny. How – because we have been held back, discouraged, or assaulted – not as many of us have become the comedians, writers, directors and producers who can make film and TV from our perspective. How, because of that, men haven’t been given the opportunity to see the world through a female lens the same way we have always had to view movies and TV through a male gaze, so they haven’t had the same opportunity to develop their empathy.
When you read the stories of sexual abuse by powerful men – and I’m sure there will be more and more of them coming – don’t just think about the horrible famous dicks. Think about the women who got bullied and left behind. Seek out the women still grinding at it. Find ways to support them in their creative fields. Listen to what they tell you. Believe them. Save your skepticism – there are a bunch of famous men attached to those famous dicks that deserve it more.