Women are Funny, TOO or “Why do we have to keep writing these posts?”

A team effort by some of the Women’s Center staff!

So in 2015, UMBC brought Hannibal Buress to campus as our homecoming comedian. We rejoiced. We love him as Lincoln in Broad City, we appreciate his stalwart bend toward social justice, and he’s hella funny.

We were ALSO frustrated. For every UMBC Homecoming comedy event, we have invited men. Nick Offerman. B.J. Novak. Bo Burnham. Donald Glover. Lewis Black.  Hannibal Burress. All funny folk, but also male folk. And we’re not trying to pretend this is an issue isolated to UMBC. The general global representation of women in comedy is dismal. So at the time, we wrote it out and we compiled a list of awesome women in comedy with the hopes that someone at UMBC would say, “Oh wow. Sexism. It exists here, too. You know what would exemplify our campus values of inclusive excellence and commitment to diversity? A lady!”

Unfortunately, our naive hopes were dashed again this year. Trevor Noah is coming.

Don’t get us wrong, Trevor Noah is a cool dude. But he’s a cis male dude.

A dude who is critical of oppression and injustice, but also one who has a past that includes some disturbing episodes of sexism.

So again, the Women’s Center is dusting off its trusty soapbox and presents our dear readers with a humble compilation of awesome comedians who also just so happen to be women. ❤


Aparna Nancherla – Amelia’s Pick

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Maybe she’s born with it, maybe she’s born into a societal prison of impossible standards.

– Aparna Nancherla,  “Just Putting It Out There”

Aparna is a comic that has been all up in my social media feeds, podcasts, and Netflix-ing, so I decided to check her out—and now I love her and am a huge fan.

Aparna is a stand-up comedian. She recently released her debut album, “Just Putting It Out There” (the first release on Tig Notaro’s new comedy label Bentzen Ball Records), which I can’t recommend enough. Her subject matter is dry, observational stuff, but she’s also just goofy and off-kilter. She talks a lot about being a woman, a woman of color, a woman with anxiety and depression, and all of these things at once (that’s called intersectional humor, friends). At one point she describes her anxiety as a really bad, but enthusiastic improv group who keep taking suggestions from a sadistic audience—and that description is the closest anyone has ever come to defining what my anxiety is.

Aparna is a writer and performer on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, has done work on Master of None and Bojack Horseman, can be heard on a whole bunch of big popular podcasts, has features in really notable papers and magazines, and has opened for numerous big names like John Oliver, Tig Notaro, Maria Bamford, Kristen Schaal, and Hari Kondabolu (just to name some of my favorite folks).

Her Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are LI-HIT. She is very awesome, and I hope you also check out the video below.

Kristen Becker – Marie’s Pick

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In 2006, I had the privilege of meeting and becoming friends with Kristen Becker while she was performing in Santa Fe, New Mexico on a Dykes of Hazard Tour.  She has been named “One of America’s Funniest Lesbians” by CURVE magazine, and has opened for national comedy acts, and even for Ani DiFranco.

Not only is Becker hilarious, she works extremely hard as an LGBTQ activist and supporter of social justice.  While touring with her current project “Loosen the Bible Belt,” she was able to successfully complete her first “Summer of Sam” endeavor in her hometown of Providence Rhode Island.  If you have a few minutes to check out her comedy…do it..it will be worth your time!

Samantha Bee – Hannah’s Pick

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The first version of this post pointed to a gender disparity in comedy on a level greater than UMBC—there were no female late-night talk show hosts. But even though we are still writing this article, progress is being made; Full Frontal with Samantha Bee broke that glass ceiling in February 2016 with Bee as the creator, writer, executive producer, and host. Before that, she was the longest tenured correspondent for The Daily Show, and was the only woman for five years before being joined by Kristen Schaal (who is another great woman in comedy you should definitely check out).

In addition to her humor, I love the fact that she uses her platform as a woman in a male-dominated field to do good for others. In hiring writers, she and the producers set up a blind process which hid the gender, race, and experience level of the applicants. As a result, the writing staff is about 50% female and 30% non-white. Additionally, proceeds from the show’s merchandise go to organizations like Planned Parenthood, the Karam Foundation, Distributing Dignity, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Hispanic Federation

Negin Farsad – Sydney’s Pick

negin20farsad20promo20photoI first came across Negin when researching many, many women for this post. I was instantly intrigued with the short clip I saw in which she made jokes about dating while being Muslim and her mother’s expectations of her as a Muslim woman. Negin considers herself a social justice comedian who uses her platform to discuss pressing issues in a way that makes them easier to talk about and get a dialogue started. She was named one of the Funniest Women of 2015 by the Huffington Post and one of the 10 Best Feminist Comedians by Paper Magazine. Due to her work in social justice through comedy she was also named a TEDFellow (watch her TED talk here), has written for major networks, published a book, and hosts a podcast. She also has a documentary, The Muslims are Coming, which follows comedians across America as they try to combat issues of Islamaphobia while facing backlash from both non-Muslims and Muslims throughout.

 

Leslie Knope (AKA Amy Poehler) – Jess’s Pick

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Okay, I know Leslie Knope isn’t a real person. Amy Poehler is the real person who makes Leslie Knope come alive on a regular basis in my living room via Parks and Rec. This show makes me laugh and rejuvenates my soul after a long work day. Leslie is also present in the Women’s Center, because she makes me giggle in my office when I’m looking for the perfect reaction gif (almost always from Parks and Rec) to send in an email.

Thank you, Leslie Knope/Amy Poehler.

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Ellen DeGeneres – Samiksha’s Pick

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I really struggled to think of female comedians when I was asked to write about them, my mind was blank. That is until I watched an episode of Ellen interviewing Michelle Obama, and it clicked. Ellen is definitely a female comedian, but sometimes we forget because she’s become so ingrained in our lives. She’s the funny best friend we’ve always wanted and the big sister that always makes us feel better when we’re down.

The Ellen show has been airing new episodes since September of 2003 and still going strong. That’s 14 years, and most of my life.  What’s great about her humor, in the words of Barack Obama, is that it “has a way of making you laugh about something, rather than at someone.” Ellen’s humor doesn’t need to put anyone down to get a laugh out of you, and trust me, she will have you laughing till you cry. After watching her show, I guarantee you will have a smile on your face as I always have.

On top of that, Ellen is a prominent humanitarian. Ellen has used her show as a major platform to do humanitarian work; she has given away more than $50 million dollars on her show to various causes. She has been involved with causes like fighting breast cancer, Hurricane Katrina disaster effort, St. Jude’s Children Hospital, and for families struggling economically. It’s hard not to find something to love about Ellen!

This is not an exhaustive list by any means! Who are the funny women you would add to the list? Let us know by commenting on our social media pages.

 

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The Socialization of Women in Math: Who’s aware?

Sydney PhillipsStudent staff member Sydney has had a rocky relationship with math throughout her life. As a graduate student in the Applied Sociology program at UMBC she began to rethink her relationship with math through her statistics courses and with the support of her (Women!) professor and TA.

On Thursday September 14, the Women’s Center hosted their first fall roundtable on the topic of Women in Tech. I was there to listen and also write the roundup for the Women’s Center.

Women in Tech Flyer - printAlthough I am not a woman in the STEM field, a lot of what was shared really resonated with me and led to a reflection about my relationship with math. Let me start by saying it’s not a positive relationship. I’ve always struggled with math, I feel like it takes me longer than others, my professors (read: male professors) have always seen me as a burden, and now just thinking about it gives me anxiety. I’m talking “I don’t understand anything on this page, I’m going to fail this test, I’m going to fail this class, and I’m never going to get a job and my life is over” types of anxiety.

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I used to say I hated math because I thought I was bad at it, but the roundtable really made me reflect on if this is true or if I’ve just been socialized to believe this. I never thought I was a person who was bad at math; I thought I was bad at math because I was a woman.

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Comic from XKCD

Even as a graduate student who passed all of her undergraduate math classes and received an A in graduate level statistics (make note, I had women professors), I still think I’m inherently bad at math, which makes NO sense. This problem exists outside of my experiences as well and is reflected in the disparities between men and women in the STEM fields. For example, although more women are awarded bachelor’s degrees than men, only 17% of computer science graduates are women.

My reflection made me want to reach out to other women to see what their experiences with math were and if this socialization process affected their relationship with math at all. Like many other quests into knowledge, this one did not go quite as planned, but still I received a lot of feedback that included some key themes I think are important.

The first theme is that those who struggled with math or felt as if they were being told they were bad at math, began to feel this way from a VERY early age (most respondents reported between first grade and early middle school). Young girls who were working out math problems were told that if they didn’t understand it right away that they never would and they should basically give up.

The other theme was that most of these comments (or in some cases just dirty looks) came from male teachers. Not only were women being socialized through verbal interactions to believe they were bad at match, they were also aware of the nonverbal interactions between themselves and their male teachers that added to this thought. The patriarchy is alive and well in the classroom y’all.

Here are some responses:

I was talking with a classmate trying to figure out what a problem meant when the teacher came up to us, yelled at us for distracting our classmates, and that if we didn’t understand it – we wouldn’t ever get it. – Rachel (22).

2nd grade, the teacher said I just wasn’t up to it -Jamie (24)

A college professor told me before the class even started that I was either going to fail or drop out of the class, I ended up passing the class with a high B just to prove him wrong -Jill (23)

Most of the women who wrote about these negative experiences also expressed that their negative relationship with math has continue throughout their lives. In terms of their current feelings, they expressed feelings of doubt and anxiety when doing math, or even a complete avoidance of math in life altogether.

I hate it. I’m super intimidated by it. The thought of having to help my daughters with their math homework in the future, terrifies me! -Marie (38)

Some of the women who had negative experiences early on did end up having a good relationship with math later on. Some women have always had good experiences with math. The one common denominator between these positive math women was: a support system, and most of the time this support system was made up of other women (women teachers, Mom’s who worked in the field, etc.).

I had a teacher, Ms. Raden… I don’t know if it was her approach or the fact that she was a woman that made me more comfortable.  I took more advanced classes and eventually got a degree where match and equations are big.- Darcy (31).

My algebra 1 teacher went out her way to encourage girls. -Debbie (55)

I think the support I’ve had from my parents encouraging me to pursue math and science in my career has helped me to not feel inadequate in my mathematical abilities. -Caitlin (25).

Most of the responses I gleaned seemed to be aware of the stereotype of women being bad at math and science. Thus, while I expected emotional answers, I was not prepared for the amount of angry responses I received… which were directed at the survey itself and me. A lot of women took offense that I would “assume” they were bad at math or that their experiences were negative. They had never encountered the problem I was bringing up and therefore didn’t think it was an issue on a larger scale either. I have pretty thick skin, but to be honest, shifting through 30 responses with a large amount being very passionate about why I was wrong hit me hard. I immediately wanted to defend myself but also didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know how to move forward with the blog or get out the message I was originally trying to convey. At first I just wanted to ignore these responses and focus on my original goal, but after reflecting (again) and getting input from coworkers and an amazing supervisor (Thanks Amelia!) I decided I needed to face what was making me uncomfortable head on.

I think it is important to note that women have a variety of experiences, and all of them are valid. While a lot of women have great experiences with math it is also a fact that there are large disparities in the gender makeup of people in STEM fields and that many women have had negative experiences. I want to foster a space as well as a society where all women’s voices are heard but also not at the expense of women with differing stories. Some experiences are good and some are bad but the consequences of a society that largely labels women at a disadvantage are very real. Although women’s involvement is on the rise, there are still barriers that need to be addressed in order for a more equitable field (and society) to emerge.

To the women in STEM fighting against these barriers, I thank you! To the women who feel comfortable in their own skin around math, I envy you! To the women who avoid math at all costs, I understand you! And to the women who can feel their blood pressure rising just when the word is uttered, I am with you!

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On Campus Resources:

UMBC Center for Women in Technology

More about the issue:

Women and Math: The Gender Gap Bridged

Women in Math, Science, & Medicine: Still Work to be Done

The Truth About Gender and Math

Women in Politics: No Way to Win

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Having grown up right outside of D.C., Women’s Center student staff member Hannah has spent most of her life following politics, and uses that passion here to reflect on its lack of gender parity.

 

Did you know that if you say “women in politics” three times while looking in a mirror, Hillary Clinton appears behind you? Okay, maybe that theory isn’t 100% accurate, but she is the first person many people think of when hearing that phrase, and it’s easy to see why: as a former Senator, First Lady, Secretary of State, and presidential candidate, she has had a long career in the public eye, and with that has come the added burden of being one of a few successful women in a male-dominated field. With the release of her new book about what happened in the 2016 election (aptly named What Happened), this seemed like the perfect time to reflect on how we talk about women in politics and why it matters. From blatant sexism to the demonization of women’s ambition, the double standards and stereotypes these women face all serve to perpetuate misogyny and exclude women from some of the highest leadership positions our country has to offer.

~Disclaimer: This post is not a commentary on or endorsement of Hillary Clinton’s (or any other politician’s) stances. People on both sides of the aisle have perpetuated sexism in politics, and we are all responsible for taking steps to combat it.~

 

The Biggest Red Flag

It’s easy to see blatant sexism being used against Hillary in many parts of the 2016 election,  the most obvious of which being pro-Trump merchandise. Slogans like “Trump that bitch,” “Hillary sucks, but not like Monica,” and “Life’s a bitch; don’t vote for one” were worn proudly by many Trump supporters. Now, attacking one’s opposition–no matter what side of the aisle they are on–has been a part of campaigning since this country began, but criticism of policy ideas, voting records, and political experience is entirely different from pointedly gendered attacks. What’s troubling about this kind of rhetoric is the way it normalizes harmful gender stereotypes and makes people believe that this is an acceptable way of talking about others.

When I mentioned one of these slogans to someone I knew, he laughed and said that he “hates Trump,” but the slogan was funny. In my opinion, if you claim to hate a man who brags about sexual assault, you should also hate the misogyny that many of his supporters have no problem perpetuating.

 

The Demonization of Women’s Ambition

Men–especially those in positions of authority–are rarely pigeonholed as sex objects or domestic figures and then labeled as too aggressive or domineering when they seek positions that don’t fit those labels. There are lots of examples of male actors who have ran for or contemplated running for high-level elected office (Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dwayne The Rock Johnson), and very few people have said that they’re too shallow or inexperienced to hold these executive positions, nor have I seen commentary This is not the case with women. In fact, Hillary Clinton’s openness about her ambition caused such a backlash that it spawned a cookie-baking contest between the two potential First Ladies. Seriously. During the 1992 primary race, California Governor Jerry Brown accused Bill Clinton of using his time in office as Arkansas’ governor to help his wife’s legal practice. Hillary Clinton then fired back by saying “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.” This struck such a chord with the American public–among both men who viewed her comment as “bitchy” and women who took offense to the notion that she viewed herself as being above domestic work–that the magazine Family Circle saw a way to capitalize off the controversy. Thus began a cookie-baking contest that has survived the last 25 years of politics. Oh, and another fun fact: Even though Hillary Clinton was the candidate in the 2016 election, she was still the one competing against Melania Trump. While I have nothing but respect for those who bring cookies into this world, we’re not living in the 1950s; domestic work should not be the only option available to women.

Most of the men I know would probably agree with that stance, but there is still a pervasive fear of powerful women. Many social psychologists attribute this to a phenomenon called precarious manhood. Essentially, men are afraid of being emasculated and consequently losing their manhood, and ambitious women can invoke such fears. Case in point: Hillary Clinton’s favorability rating has historically always been lower when she runs for office and demonstrates this ambition compared to when she is in office and less in the public eye.

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What’s more important: Hillary Clinton’s policies or her appearance?

 

Finding a Solution

If you’re reading this and thinking “I voted for Hillary Clinton so I can’t be sexist” or “I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, but that’s not because I secretly hate women!” then slow your roll. The point of this post is not to call all Hillary supporters perfect advocates for women or to claim that everyone who voted against her did so because of misogyny. In fact, people on the left are just as capable of perpetuating sexism as people on the right. Take Sarah Palin: while many people during her 2008 candidacy for Vice President had concerns about her experience and choices as Alaska’s governor, their criticism quickly blended with misogynistic commentary about her appearance and her more typically feminine persona (I wouldn’t recommend spending too long looking at google image results for “Caribou Barbie”). The point is to raise awareness about the way we as a society view women in politics, and why they are treated so differently than men. Double standards are everywhere: If a woman is too traditionally feminine, then she is too stupid to do the job, but if she demonstrates such capacity, then she is too aggressive. If she isn’t  domestic enough, then she is forced to release a chocolate chip cookie recipe, but once she does, then she is seen as fake and trying too hard to be likeable. If she shows emotion, then she is too sensitive, but if she doesn’t, then she’s too robotic. If she doesn’t have much political experience, then she should let someone more qualified do the job, but if she has the experience, then she should step back because her time in politics has gone on too long. With all of these sentiments weighing so heavily on the conversation, it’s hard for a woman winning an election to feel like much of a victory.

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Even SNL recognizes that there are women all along the political spectrum: maybe their ideas aren’t the reason why there are so few women in politics

If we want to improve representation in politics and promote women’s empowerment, then we have to improve the way we talk about the few women who are already in the public eye. This is about more than just “girl power.” Representation in politics–and in every other institution–does more than just make a prettier picture; it allows for everyone to feel that their voices are heard and their experiences matter. The Women’s Center here was founded in part to meet the unique needs that many women in college have, and the same principle applies in government. By listening to women’s voices, the UMBC community was able to better provide services that had been previously overlooked. If women are heard in local, state, and federal governments, imagine what can be accomplished. There is no one ideology held by all women in elected office, just as there is no one monolithic voice of all American women: when I talk about wanting equal representation in politics, I don’t want people to vote for a candidate simply because she’s a woman; I want there to be enough women running so that they don’t have to.
Further Reading:

At UMBC:

Why is the impeachment of Brazil’s president a feminist issue?

A blog reflection by Women’s Center intern Mariana de Matos Medeiros Mariana De Matos Medeiros

On October 5th, 2014, I was finally able to cast my first vote for a Presidential election since moving to America. It was an incredible experience to head over into the Brazilian consulate event in Washington, DC, bright-eyed and ready to make a difference for my home country. As an immigrant who has not yet attained citizen status, I am not able to vote in America so voting to make a difference for my family and friends at home was empowering. As a feminist, I felt most thrilled about having the ability to vote for a leftist woman who had already done much to carry out social welfare programs. I voted for Dilma Rousseff based on how she had run her administration in her previous term: focusing on women and marginalized communities and continuing to carry out social welfare programs to address the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor.

During the past months Brazil’s political drama has reached its all-time high. With the most recent Olympic games being hosted in Rio, the entire world was watching as Brazil’s first woman-identified, leftist president was pushed out of office pending an investigation on alleged corrupt behavior.

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Dilma Rousseff // image credit: Wikipedia

Rousseff ran for president under the left-winged Worker’s Party of Brazil, yet she did not always bring solidarity among feminists, as some may assume. In fact, the Brazilian feminist movements were often split between those who supported her public policies and those who rejected her administration, demanding advances in issues of reproductive justice and education. However, Brazilian feminists tend to agree that Rousseff’s impeachment was a blatant act of sexism and discrimination.   Continue reading

How Did We Get Here: The Crisis in Flint

A reflection from Women’s Center staff member Daniel WilleyDaniel Profile Pic

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how disaster response and the concept of a snow day have social justice implications. This week, I am continuing the trend by looking at the disaster in Flint, Michigan. Many news outlets are examining the crisis from a “so how do we fix it” standpoint, but I want to look at this crisis through the lens of “how did we get here.” What structural imbalances led us to this point? What does this crisis say about the bigger picture? Before we get there, though, let’s look at what happened:

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(cnn.com)

In 2011, former acting mayor of Flint, Michigan Mike Brown was appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder as the city’s Emergency Financial Manager. The city was $15 million in debt, and it was the EFM’s job to cut the budget as much as possible to remedy the situation. As a major cost saving measure, Flint voted to stop buying water from Detroit, which pulls water from Lake Huron, and connect to Karegnondi Water Authority as a cheaper, more direct way of getting water from Lake Huron. This plan, voted on in 2013, would not be completed until 2016 and the city switched to water from the Flint River in the interim. Tests done on Flint River back in 2011 showed that the water from the river was corrosive and would need to be treated with phosphates before it could be used as a water source. This information was sent to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in 2013 when the decision was made to switch. It was the MDEQ’s job to address the corrosiveness of the water, which would cost about $100 per day. As a cost saving measure, they didn’t.

Fast forward to April 2014. Flint switches its water source. Residents report that the water is brown, smells, and has a bad taste. It was gross, but officials insisted it was fine. Continue reading

Women are Funny (too)

First, let’s start off with saying that the Women’s Center is stoked about Hannibal Buress making his way to campus this weekend for Homecoming. We very much enjoy his character, Lincoln, on Broad City. More importantly, he called out the rape allegations against Bill Cosby in his stand-up routine back when very few others were because it was “too hard” and “unbelievable” to simply just believe and support the victims coming forward.

But, we’d be remiss if we didn’t share something we’ve noticed when it comes to comedians coming to campus for the annual Homecoming event. They’re all dudes! Nick Offerman. B.J. Novak. Bo Burnham. Donald Glover. Lewis Black. And now, Hannibal.

Now, this just isn’t a UMBC thing. It’s kind of just a thing we call sexism. For example, check out the hosts of late night television:

From Vanity Fair's October 2015 issue on late-night television.

From Vanity Fair’s October 2015 issue on late-night television.

Then there’s this catalog that was delivered in the mail the other day that shared all the great comedians colleges can book and bring to campus:

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Really?! Just four women out of 24 on this list of options?

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So, with that in mind, some of the Women’s Center staff has compiled this short round-up of some of our favorite women comedians. In their own words, staff members write about why these women are funny (too). Continue reading

Where My Inclusive Dawgs At? — A reflection on American sports culture.

A blog reflection written by Women’s Center staff member Kayla Smith. Kayla Profile Pic

Society tells us that women are too sensitive. We’re crazy emotional creatures who are fragile and people need to tiptoe around us and our sensitive flower petal feelings. Because of this stereotype, I spend a lot of time unpacking my issues with certain comments, blog posts, statements and phrases. Is something truly offensive or am I just being a baby? Is something harmful or am I overreacting?

Recently, I attended the first soccer game of the season here at UMBC. I’m not typically a big sports person but I really like sporting events because of the sense of community, which is especially important at UMBC since we’re often seen as lacking in the school spirit department.

I tend to forget how often sports fans rely on sexism and homophobia in their heckling. While I’m framing my experience in the context of UMBC, no sports game is absent of these things. Unfortunately, it seems to be a part of the culture as a whole because every time without fail every time I go to any type of game I end up having this conversation with a stranger:

Expressive gentleman sitting behind me: “HEY [insert number of player here] YOU SUCK AND YOUR MOTHER IS A WHORE.”

Me (startled): “That’s so mean geez why would you say that?”

Man (with feeling): “It’s a sporting event. Get used to it”

So it goes.  Continue reading