Let's start at the beginning. Recently in the LA comedy scene a woman named, Beth Stelling, broke her silence about abuses she endured from a fellow stand up comedian she had been dating. She was physically, emotionally, and sexually abused by her boyfriend for a long time before calling it quits.
Read more about Beth here and here.
Her courage and openness has spurred a movement in LA as well as Chicago and many cities across the country. Women are opening up and sharing stories of sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in the comedy community. A non profit organization, Women In Comedy, made a form which allowed women to anonymously submit stories about their individual experiences facing sexism and sexual harassment/assault in classes, rehearsals, shows, etc...
Visit the website and read some of the stories here.
It quickly became evident and alarming how many women all over the country experience varying levels of sexism at the hands of teachers, coaches, directors, teammates, classmates, etc... The mildest of which can come in the form of men claiming women aren't funny or placing women into deliberately submissive roles in sketch and improv. The worst of which can be sexual assault, rape, physical or sexual violence from fellow team members, teachers, coaches, etc... Many males in this community use their positions of power to coerce and use female comedians. One of the biggest issues women face is their voices being silenced in these discussions in the past. Many women are too intimidated to report these instances for fear of backlash from the theatres. Often the theatres staunchly defend their teachers, thusly leading women to decide not to report so as not to "ruin the reputation" of the teacher, have their own name dragged through the mud, or be "run out" of the comedy business.
The good news? Because of this outpouring of stories many women are demanding changes to policies at the various comedy theatres to make it easer and more lucrative for women to report these occurrences. And thanks to the hard work of some very smart, dedicated women many of the major comedy theatres are re-evaluating their policies or putting new policies into place. They are working with lawyers and HR professionals to start a dialogue and begin the long process of making these theaters safer spaces for women.
Here are a couple articles explaining the whole atmosphere in Chicago a little bit better than me. Jezebel Article and Chicago Tribune Article.
I mean just look at all these badass bitches getting shit done!! I am so proud of all the women in this community for speaking up, standing up, and most importantly supporting each other and creating safe spaces for women to talk!
I, for one, am fortunate enough to have been in many classes and teams that were super supportive, respectful, and sympathetic to the struggles of women in comedy. Not to say I have never felt the sting of sexism in this community, because I have and it is heartbreaking. But almost all of the men and women I have had the privilege of playing with have been nothing but respectful and aware of how women are treated off stage and represented on stage. Many of my teammates and classmates actively work to make sure the playing and learning environment is positive and safe.
It is not even worth my time to regale the many times on or off stage that a male comedian has said or done something to make me feel uncomfortable. From this moment on I will stand up for myself and my fellow women! I will be unafraid of speaking up and letting someone know when they have crossed the line! I will not back down from an opportunity to educate a fellow comedian about their role in perpetuating sexism and misogyny in this community. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could stop sexism in its tracks just by calling it out whenever we see it, smacking down harassment before it even starts, standing up for the safety of our fellow comedians, and creating safe places for women to perform, play, learn, and above all else be funny!!!
While the steps these theatres are taking is a BIG deal and huge step in the right direction the problems are far from being solved. There are a lot of gray areas especially when it comes to independent teams, post show parties, after hours conversations, etc... However, progress is progress and there is an open dialogue, which is hugely important. Right now people are pretty amped up on women's rights and creating safe spaces for women but it is important to note, women are not the only groups of people who face extreme prejudice in this community. People of color, women of color, and LGBTQ groups are also often fighting for their voices to be heard. Hopefully, these new policies and conversations will benefit all these marginalized groups making the entire comedy scene in Chicago (as well as other cities) a generally safer environment for funny people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and orientations!
Right now women in the comedy world are fired up and fighting for change, and only good things can come from this many women fighting for something important.
"Girls, if a boy says something that isn't funny, you don't have to laugh." -Amy PoehlerAnd if its sexist feel free to tell him just how not funny his "joke" really is!
Stay funny all you classy ladies!!!