I Love You, Patton Oswalt, And You F@#%ing Let Me Down, Man: On Internet Sexism, Male Comedians and Disillusionment
It's one thing when a random person you've never met says something shitty about you online. Forget it Laura, it's Internet-town. Shit happens. But it's another when someone you admire, respect, and have supported for over a decade takes a crap in your cereal. That's what happened to me with Patton Oswalt.
Here’s what happened.
Sean Tejaratchi, a popular Twitter comedian who's often re-tweeted by even more popular comedians, sent this gem into the atmosphere back in April:
LIFE HACK: Stop giving a shit about gender politics and enjoy yourself while everyone else spins themselves into an angry grave.
— Sean Tejaratchi (@ShittingtonUK) April 11, 2013
I was annoyed, because, no. Sean Tejaratchi doesn't get to say whether or not people should stop caring about gender politics -- particularly since, as a white man, gender politics don't negatively affect him. I wrote a response on Jezebel linking to lots of still prevalent gender disparities, and it pissed him off.
He apparently stewed on it, and a few weeks later, he tweeted a link to a fake Jezebel post he wrote, which I believe, he thinks satirizes both my post and commenters on feminist websites. Except it really didn't -- and other people have already done what he was attempting, and done it a million times better. One of the red flags that this guy just doesn't get it is that he clearly believes I'm some crazed man-hater who combs the Internet looking for things to get my Gloria Steinem-brand control top panties in a bunch about.
While that may be true on slow news days (ain’t too proud!), that wasn't the case here. In his bit of satire, I find someone who has next to no followers and flip way the fuck out about something they said. I am guessing this is how Tejaratchi feels I treated him. But that's just not true. Tejaratchi has over 35,000 followers and is regularly re-tweeted by people who are much more popular -- like Patton Oswalt.
In fact, Oswalt re-tweeted Tejaratchi's missive to his over 1,200,000 fans. It showed up in my feed, and was sent to me by two different friends. He's not a nobody, and I wasn't just some woman on the rag*.
Perhaps, as someone pointed out to me, Tejaratchi's tweet might've been in response to a men's rights post -- one I can't find and which the person couldn't point me to -- but it just doesn't matter. The result is an ambiguously sexist tweet that was broadcast to thousands of people -- if he was trying to make a point about how men's rights activists are too concerned with gender politics, he failed.
Further, when some people tweeted at him asking him what the tweet was, he responded by calling them names like twats and cunts. (Here's an example -- there were plenty more, but he has the unfortunate habit of erasing tweets.)
All of this is kinda like "whatever" -- Internet bro thinks he's a comedian, says something dumb, gets indignant when people react to it -- but what bothered me is that Patton Oswalt, a comedian I adore, respect, and procured my first fake ID to see perform (NERD ALERT), re-tweeted the original tweet, and then posted Tejaratchi's fake Jezebel post to his Facebook page.
The funniest part is, more than half of the people responding on Patton Oswalt's Facebook page have NO idea what he's talking about -- they just think it's funny that he posted something making fun of women. There are plenty of choice comments like:
Apparently Laura Beck has never attended a rape carnival, they are quite entertaining and full of exciting games and family activities.
Good one, bro! Hilarious! Except, according to the CDC, close to 1 in 5 women are raped in their lifetime. "Shit-spattered rape carnival" may be a hack joke, but it's not entirely untrue. Ignoring gender politics isn't going to do anything about that -- talking about them IS.
Being a woman on the Internet, I've gotten used to being called names. Once, a man emailed to tell me that he was going to anally rape my mom with a pickaxe because he didn't like my review of a vegan restaurant. He included the address to her home, and since the dumbass didn't have the good sense to email me anonymously, I called the police. This is an extreme example, but there's plenty more -- and I'm sure every woman can tell a few stories.
That's what happens to women on the Internet. But when someone seemingly so rad -- and unabashedly supportive of progressive issues -- takes the side of the guy who delights in calling anyone who disagrees with him a twat, it bums me way the fuck out.
Here's the thing. I love Patton Oswalt. I've purchased all of his CDs, and I've seen him live multiple times -- including when I was underage and had to get a fake ID to get in. I've tracked him down at anarchist book fairs, and I've stayed up late into the night with my best friend laughing about his Fudgie the Whale and Cookie Puss bit. He's on my list of top five imaginary dinner guests/best friends, and if he needed a kidney, I'd probably consider it pretty seriously before ultimately deciding, no, I am gonna hang on to my kidneys. But I would consider it! You get the idea. I like him; I think he's tops. That's why this whole thing sucks so fucking much.
To paraphrase part of the letter my best friend wrote to him after this whole incident, it can be hard to be a woman who loves comedy. Because part of how comedy works is by identification. Seeing something through the same point of view -- that whole "It's funny because it's true" thing? Women often have the experience of hearing something and realizing that we're being pushed out of that identification. It's easy to be excluded from a joke because the implicit "we" of it doesn't include people of my gender.
Which, as any girl who grew up sneaking into comedy clubs, staying up past her bedtime to watch SNL, and memorizing the entireties of "The Jerk" and "Blazing Saddles," can tell you -- it blows to be so regularly reminded that this thing you really love doesn't really love me back.
Oswalt might think Tejaratchi's original tweet and his response to my post are funny send-ups of the more extreme examples of gender politics -- but he's wrong. Men’s rights activists and feminists aren't two sides of the same coin. It's not a real parallel because there's still a real and persistent difference in power. The men's rights movement is a bunch of guys complaining about the loss of that unequal power, the women's movement is trying to get to equality.
Honestly, even if I did express the extreme view point of a feminazi who’s constantly bleeding from the vagina gash and complaining from the mouth gash -- which, I don't think I did, seeing as I just pointed out that ignoring gender politics has real and profound impact on the lives of over half of the world's population -- it doesn't matter.
Because the delivery of the message doesn't matter -- it's the message that matters. The tone argument is bullshit, and if Tejaratchi or Oswalt say they agree with feminism but don't like that some women just won't leave it alone or would prefer it if they weren't such shrieking harpies about it -- well, then, newsflash: They don't agree with feminism, and that breaks my heart, because I actively like and support Oswalt -- and have laughed at Tejaratchi's tweets in the past, too.
Just as it sucks to care about comedy that doesn't include me, it sucks to care about comedians who don't see a problem with dismissing women's concerns with gender issues. -- particularly when women, the people who are most negatively affected by the imbalance, are telling them it's shitty and hurtful.
Not to get into too much lecturing because that's fucking tedious for everyone involved, but as a commenter pointed out on Oswalt's Facebook wall:
Recast that a couple of different ways ("stop giving a shit about racism" or "stop giving a shit about poverty") and it just comes off as someone saying that we should stop paying attention to a real social evil because, hey, it's easier. And the response, both on this comment thread and elsewhere, shows that people really should give a shit about gender politics.
It hurts that Patton Oswalt, a man who is obviously incredibly progressive and very cool has such a blindspot when it comes to empathizing with the female experience. I know that he awesomely, fearlessly, and hilariously calls bullshit on homophobes and racists. I've yet to see him be cruel or blasé when it comes to those subjects, and I have to wonder what the difference is with feminism?
*Full disclosure: I may or may have not been on the rag. I can’t remember.