AND FURTHERMORE re: South By Southwest

I guess this is a thing that has to be said: saying that sexism or gender discrimination exists in a particular area is not the same as saying that the people who operate in that area are sexists. At least not necessarily. I saw this happen when Jezebel called out the Daily Show on its lack of on-air female talent. Suddenly everyone had to jump to the defense of Jon Stewart who could no! way! no! how! be! sexist! not! even! a! little! bit!

You don’t have to be a sexist to participate in and perpetuate a system that encourages gender discrimination. In comedy, sexism isn’t just saying things like “women aren’t funny” and telling get-back-in-the-kitchen jokes. In fact, you can actively be against sexism, as I’m sure Jon Stewart is, and be blind to the ways in which gender issues manifest themselves in your business or industry. That is why sexism is so fucking stupid and horrible–it’s effective because it can stay under the radar and become naturalized and accepted by people who really, truly, don’t believe in it and don’t realize that, for example, publicizing a one-woman-thirty-dude comic bill is going to generate backlash.

After my recent post about SXSW was reposted on Jezebel, I’ve heard from a number of Austin female comics who know and like Charlie Sotelo, the SXSW comedy booking agent, and I absolutely believe them when they say Charlie is not sexist, Charlie is great, Charlie helped me out. They know him better than I do, and their experiences with the guy are different than mine. But friends, what I’ve been writing about is not about Charlie Sotelo. People seem to want a scapegoat when anyone cries any kind of ‘ism’, and because it’s easier to blame an individual than get your head around systemic discrimination, that is what happens. But if anyone thinks I am saying Sotelo individually or even SXSW as an entity is sexist, they are wrong. I am saying that this is a great example of how people who probably otherwise do great things reinforce a system of discrimination without much critical thought.

And critical thought is the point. Taking action is also the point. There should have been all kinds of red flags going off when only three women participated in an open audition and even a preliminary bill got announced with a 30-to-1 guy to girl ratio. But there weren’t red flags, because that is just the way shit works in comedy. Women are the vast minority. People generally don’t work to get more of them on bills, unless it’s a show that is explicitly marketed as female. (Which I will write about sometime–I believe “chick shows” marginalize women even further. I can’t stand them.) And so while in my dream world, they came up with a 30-to-1 bill and said WTF this is ridiculous, we cannot be sending this out with one woman on this bill are we crazy? We can do better than that because we recognize that it will be better for women comics and for us because encouraging more women to do comedy means more comics for us to book! Everybody wins! But that is not what happened. They came up with a 30-to-1 bill, released it, and were surprised and disappointed when people took issue with it.

It demonstrates a surprising lack of critical thinking.

Certainly there is an issue here where we don’t want women getting booked just because they’re women. Certainly there is that. But there is also the fact that people are going to have to make an effort to increase the numbers of genuinely talented women–which would be so easy to do, because there are so many of them!–to begin to counter the problem. That absolutely has to be a starting place. I hear people tell me that’s tokenism. But I say what is happening now is tokenism. Actively working toward booking more women on bills is a start toward normalizing the female comic body so that we don’t even have to write or say female comic any more.

So, people can get mad and get their drawers in a bunch because they think I called some dude sexist, or they can take a critical look at the system I am describing and hold good, powerful people responsible for changing it. Because we can talk about Charlie Sotelo all day long and what a great dude he is, or talk about how SXSW is such a cool, indie, cutting edge showcase and how could they possibly do crappy things to women? And while we do that, elsewhere in America, another weekend of shows is booked featuring one woman.

About andrea grimes

Andrea is a journalist living in Austin, TX. She has a master's degree in anthropology and did her thesis work on gender and stand-up comedy. Seriously. Also, she has a bunch of cats. Three of them. Is three a bunch? Discuss.
This entry was posted in comedy, duders, feminism. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to AND FURTHERMORE re: South By Southwest

  1. Diana G says:

    andrea. you are awesome. that is all.

  2. sally says:

    Ill say it. I don’t have to fear any impact. He’s sexist. I won’t curtesy, wring my hands, say a thosusand apologies — booking 30 to 1 is sexist. The person doing the booking for the show is responsible. The administration and management of sxsw who, when getting the list didn’t see anything wrong and tell him to try again is responsible.

    Their self righteous response is sexist. Somehow, they don’t know how, 30 to 1 just happened to them. In fact, they are sorta kinda the victim here…I mean, gee, there were just no women and they didn’t notice until after the fact and the slate was unchangable. And for godsakes be sure, whatever you do, when you write about us be sure to bow a hundred times saying…but i m not calling them sexist…out loud…in public.

  3. Kath says:

    Except that in your jezebel post you shared a personal anecdote about Charlie Sotelo that painted him, personally, as sexist. At the very least, you heavily suggested it on a personal level. People are not inferring character assassination based on your analysis of a sexist or biased institution and Sotelo’s involvement with that institution, they’re drawing that conclusion from something you said about him. There’s a huge difference, and it upsets me that you assume people who disagree with that element of your post are simply not using “critical thinking” skills. I find that incredibly condescending.

    For the record, I’ve never met Charlie and have no personal stake in this argument. But I feel like you are strategically misrepresenting the stuff people are taking issue with.

    • loupardi says:

      this comment is clearly qualified with other reasons Sotelo might not have chosen Grimes. If he refers to a singular ‘girl spot’ in a program… noone’s responsible for that representation but him.

  4. joereform says:

    I do not argue for a second that there is not latent sexism in a lot of professions. Stand-up comedy may be one of them. That’s your field of research, not mine.

    But let’s take a close look at what happened in this case. At the SXSW auditions (or however they screened the applicants), was there a 50-50 ratio of women to men applying? Was there even the split even 20-80? No. Three women applied. Three. What that means is 33% of the female applicants were put on the bill. How does that compare to the percentage of male applicants who made the cut?

    Would you have been happier if the other two women had been put on the bill, no matter how lousy they are? Unless SXSW explicitly or implicitly prevented women comics from participating in the process, or unless it can be shown that women applicants were turned down on the basis of being female, or unless it can be demonstrated that SXSW actively sought out certain male comics and encouraged their participation while not doing so in the case of female comics, then Charlie and SXSW are not sexist.

    A better question to ask: since there are far more than three female comics out there, why didn’t more of them decide on their own to vie for a place at SXSW? Don’t hand me anything about being “intimidated”; the very fact that they are in the profession shows that they are iconoclasts. So, assuming that female comics want good audiences just like male comics do, why didn’t more make the choice to participate in this particular show?

  5. joereform says:

    But there is also the fact that people are going to have to make an effort to increase the numbers of genuinely talented women–which would be so easy to do, because there are so many of them!–to begin to counter the problem.

    So, specifically, in your opinion, what should have been done by SXSW in this case, Andrea? When only three female comics even bothered to show up, what action should have been taken? This question is not rhetorical. If you had been Charlie Sotelo, what would you have done differently on audition day?

    You write that “we don’t want women getting booked just because they’re women,” but then you suggest that there shouldn’t have been as many men getting booked simply because they are men. Isn’t that basically the same thing?

    • if you* have the chance to show diversity, why wouldn’t you? like andrea said, it might have taken a little more thought (as in, the planners would have had to analyze their choices, not that they would have to work harder to find), but they could easily have had a lineup that included a much wider variety of talent. i don’t know about the other demographics, but i’d be willing to bet (and totally willing to concede if i’m wrong) that the majority of the men are also white and straight, because that is the default in our society (and the comedy world very much reflects this). if you’re trying to put together entertainment for a wide variety of people and make a showcase that is inclusive of as many viewpoints as possible, why WOULDN’T you work that little extra bit harder to make sure your lineup matched overall demographics of your city/society? if you really don’t believe that straight, white men (or just men) are better at this job than other people, and you really want people to believe that, why wouldn’t you put the effort into showing it? as your parents and teachers probably told you a thousand times, actions speak louder than words, and this is a pretty damn loud action.

      *you, your, etc = the big, non specific “you”

      • svente says:

        Yeah, I’d like to second this. I’ve had jobs (not comedy booking though!) wherein I’ve had to specifically look for a certain population, demographic, minority, disenfranchised people, etc.

        Yeah, it’s harder. It takes longer to get the panel, line-up, audience, etc. together when you have to say “no” to the folks who make it easy by knocking on your door in order that you offer a properly diverse event.

        But it’s always, always worth it.

      • joereform says:

        As far as we know, the SXSW committee may have completely taken by surprise at the lack of female candidates on audition day.

        I will ask the same question to you: specifically, what should the SXSW folks have done differently to have a more equitable balance between men and women, in your opinion?

    • i don’t know all of the details leading up to the auditions, so it’s hard to say “specifically” what they could have done, and you know that as well as i do. and there’s a concept called “cause and effect”, in which it’s possible to draw reliable conclusions about someone’s actions, based on their effects. that’s not what you want to hear, though, even if it’s solid information that makes a difference in the argument and what you’re asking.

      so, the only “specifics” i can give are those about what they can do now. the first thing they could do would be to re-examine their own advertising and recruiting. they could also come out and say that they recognize there is something wrong and that they will be trying to figure out how to attract more women, rather than sitting back and letting other people defend them. they could have announced that they would be holding a second round of auditions because of a lack of diversity, making it clear that they WANT diversity in their shows. there’s a TON they could do in response to make it clear that they don’t want this to happen again.

      if they want us to believe that they’re not sexist, they need to be very vocal and visible in their efforts to make this not happen again. anything less, like saying nothing and hoping this will blow over, pretty much states that they don’t really care and the status quo is just fine with them.

  6. watching jay smooth’s “how to catch a racist” video should be required before people are allowed to comment on these kinds of posts. the whole “what you said/did vs what you are” is a distinction a LOT of people, myself included, need to be reminded of. it’s a knee jerk reaction, self-protection, and i get it. but part of being a decent member of society is being willing to examine your own blind-spots.

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