Inspiration from Fresh Air: Comedy, Rock-n-Roll & Feminism

Last night I wasn’t feeling well, so I retired early with out doing my post. Today I needed to catch up. (I have been allowing myself the option to sometimes skip my post as long as I catch up the next day. This allows a little space when problems with technology or illness get in the way of blogging.) Instead, I lay on the bed for hours drifting in and out of sleep, listening to downloaded pod casts of fresh air on my ipod. I listened to an interview with Jack Black talking about his new movie directed by Richard Linklater (one of my favorite directors), Louis C.K. and how he brings experiences and emotions from his actual life into his sitcom, which I have never seen, but would like to, Chris Rock, and how his comedy has changed since becoming wealthy, and Jimmy Fallon and his hilarious and spot-on impersonations of Neil Young and Bob Dylan singing covers by musicians of other genres. Then I heard an interview with Caitlin Moran, where she talked about her book How to Be a Woman. I had never heard of her or her book before, but apparently she is a very big deal. She’s a high profile journalist and rock critic from the UK, and talks with a speed, intelligence and humor that is very impressive, and juxtaposes hilariously with her British accent. (Her r’s are not pronounced, and she says the word “very” quite often.) How to Be a Woman is a call to feminism. Or a recall to feminism. She speaks boldly about how feminism gets a bad rap, and that all women are feminists, or should be.

From How to Be a Woman:

“We need to reclaim the word feminism. We need to reclaim the word feminism real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist and only 42% of British women, I used to think: what do you think feminism is, ladies? What part of liberation for women is NOT for you? Is it the freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man that you marry? The campaign for equal pay? Vogue by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that stuff just get on your nerves or were you just drunk at the time of survey? These days, however, I am much calmer since I realized that it’s actually technically impossible for a woman to argue against feminism. Without feminism you wouldn’t be allowed to have a debate on a woman’s place in society. You’d be too busy giving birth on the kitchen floor, biting down on a wooden spoon so as not to disturb the men’s card game before going back to hoeing the rutabaga field.“

It was inspiring to be reminded of the importance of feminism. I was suddenly made aware of the fact that the term feminist has gone into the shadows. Of course the issue of abortion is on everyone’s minds right now, and Ms. Moran discusses this issue personally and frankly. However, many of us have become afraid of being seen as feminist, as if a feminist is an ugly, terrifying, man-hating monster who no one wants to look at or listen to. As if there are no longer feminist issues to bring light to. As if female empowerment is not something that needs to be encouraged and embraced.

Empowerment, and women’s empowerment in particular, has been a central issue to me, both in my personal development and in the work I do with people. To me, empowerment means being congruent—-who we are is inside is expressed by how we are. It means being full of oneself. Not in the in the egotistical sense, but rather in the sense of being psychologically present in one’s body. Empowerment means feeling you have the right to be heard and seen. Believing you have the same rights as everyone around you. Women spend a lot of energy protecting men’s egos, but we don’t protect our own. Often we pretend we don’t have an ego, we don’t allow ourselves be ambitious and smart, we tell ourselves not to need or want things, to not feel we deserve to have success beyond our traditional roles, as mothers or wives. Sometimes, a woman’s biggest secret is how powerful she is.

The eventual evolutionary goal is to be egoless, or to no longer be identified with the ego. But the first step is acknowledging and seeing how we are identified with the ego. As women we have a tendency to identify with a negative self image (or ego). So we become less conscious of our egos, more likely to live an inauthentic self. This has been true of me, anyway. This is an aspect of disempowerment. It is a way of disconnecting, turning away from our power, not seeing who we really are; living only as a shell of a person, with no sense of reality or aliveness. I’ve often had the experience of living under this kind of spell, and art or connection to other people is what most often brings me out of it. For me it always comes down to art and love. Loving art, and art-ing love. The two forms of expression that are most empowering for me are (improv) comedy and rock-n-roll. Both expressions require a brazen truth telling. This is congruence in a very active sense. From experience, I know that both rock-n-roll and comedy are boy’s clubs. It takes a strong woman to prevail. It takes a stubborn woman. (See post On Inspiration.) And, believe it or not, it takes letting go of our need to be perfect. There are myths that are still told that women aren’t funny, or women can’t rock. It’s just not true. But a funny, expressive, empowered woman can be a very threatening thing. Certain people have investment in keeping women silent, it keeps their egos in tact.

When I was first introduced to the term feminism as an adolescent, I instantly identified with being a feminist. Just the idea of it was empowering to me. Influenced in high school by Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, I decided that I was a feminist with an androgynous mind--a mind that possesses both feminine and masculine qualities. This brand of feminism holds great empathy for men and the plight of masculine expectation. This kind of feminism recognizes society’s unconscious rejection, not always of women, but of attributes that are associated with femininity (as well as the right side of the brain): intuitiveness, emotion, nurturing, vulnerability, receptivity. The Taoist yin-yang symbol (as well as other spiritual traditions and Jung’s concept of anima/animus) represents how polar opposites, such as shadow and light, that exist in nature are not in opposition to each other, but are interconnected and interdependent, working in harmony with each other--both parts of a whole. A society, such as ours, that only embraces rationality, action, linear thought is out of balance with nature.

During the Jack Black interview, Terry Gross asked him if it’s hard to be overweight in show business, he replied that in general, if you’re not sexy like Brad Pitt, you have to work much harder in order to be likable. In his stand up act, Chris Rock talks about how it feels to be rich and black. He talks about his wealthy neighborhood, and how there are only four black people living there,  and these four black people happen to be among the most famous and talented artists in the world, but all the white people are just average people with regular jobs. When she speaks to Terry Gross, Moran talks about how, as an adolescent, she was overweight and felt she wasn’t attractive enough to become a proper woman, so she decided to work on her personality instead. I believe that this is true in general for women (as well as for anyone with systems of power working against them). We have come to believe if we want to succeed at something we better be pretty fucking good. Better than a man. I say: let us be who we are. Let us embrace all of our qualities and polarities, masculine and feminine, darkness and light, active and passive, emotional and rational. Let us not be the judge of ourselves and hide in the shadows. Let us tell our truths and be heard. Let us go beyond expectation. Let us rock out and be funny.