Meredith C. Carroll: Michelle Wolf (and other women) in sheep’s clothing
Before she even left the dais at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner Saturday, the criticism of Michelle Wolf’s performance commenced, including by the WHCA, which hired her. It’s unclear what the group thought it was getting when asking a comedian whose current tour is titled “The Not Nice Tour 2018” to emcee. Her most recent stand-up routine includes bits panning Ivanka Trump’s brand of faux feminism, mauling Kellyanne Conway’s never-ending deceits and eviscerating male lawmakers for habitually leaving women out of decisions affecting their own bodies.
“My only responsibility as a comedian is to make people laugh,” Wolf told GQ magazine in advance of the gig that more than 40 male comedians (and, one year, Ray Charles) and only a handful of women have previously landed.
While the Sunday morning nerd-prom hangover with predictably partisan bogus outrage has become as much a part of the tradition as poking fun at politicians and the media the night before, Wolf is easily being held to a different standard.
President Donald Trump declared she “bombed,” which was actually accurate: Wolf destroyed the room by dropping such truth bombs as “Flint still doesn’t have clean water” and “It’s kind of crazy that the Trump campaign was in contact with Russia when the Hillary campaign wasn’t even in contact with Michigan.”
The WHCA president issued a lame mea culpa about how Wolf’s masterfully caustic set was “not in the spirit” of the group’s mission, which purports to offer “a unifying message about our common commitment to a vigorous and free press” — except, apparently, when that display of constitutional freedom is clever, derisive, accurate and delivered by a woman.
New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman stepped out of her White House correspondent role and took to Twitter to try her hand at media analyst by inexplicably lauding White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for the “impressive” act of sitting and absorbing “intense criticism of her physical appearance … instead of walking out.” (Wolf clapped back by blowing an emoji kiss and replying, “Hey mags! All these jokes were about her despicable behavior. Sounds like you have some thoughts about her looks though?”)
Sanders knew what she was walking into, as does the WHCA every year when it asks politically inclined comedians like Seth Myers, Stephen Colbert and Wolf to take the spotlight. If Sanders thought she’d be toasted instead of roasted Saturday night, her issues stink worse than her boss’s turds that she spends her days sugarcoating.
The main differences this year appear to be that the event’s primary male target continued demonstrating his long-standing inability to laugh, and that a woman was given a high-profile platform to be funny, critical and even callous, which triggered a Neanderthal-like outrage that a vagina was allowed to be released from its shackles and given a microphone to express blunt, shrewdly stated truths and opinions that are in direct opposition to the ones held by some (small, white) penises.
The dearth of accolades given to smart, funny, voice-y women (besides Tina Fey and Amy Schumer) isn’t an issue first uncovered following Wolf’s performance. Notable film producer, director and actor Miranda Bailey recently launched CherryPicks Reviews, a Rotten Tomatoes-like website that aggregates movie reviews. CherryPicks, though, features critical voices as seen through a female-only lens. According to the site: “Women consume half the media in the world. But the voices that tell us what to watch and listen to are overwhelmingly male.”
And it’s more than just film and stand-up comedy where critiques are mainly one-gendered. Open up most national or local newspapers and you’ll find the majority of the op-ed page mug shots feature men. While Aspen has a fair number of female columnists, the writing is mostly on babies, dogs, diets, cooking, exercise, alcohol, relationships and travel. When the topics go deeper, it’s not unusual for a mansplaining reader to try and dilute our views by insulting our appearance or otherwise dismissing our points of view behind a thinly veiled contempt for women.
I’ve been accused too many times to count of only having ink with which to opine because my husband is The Aspen Times’ managing editor. Faceless trolls, angry misogynists and even allegedly evolved men have tried insulting me professionally by brandishing words like “Rick’s wife,” as if it’s the title printed on my business card. I guarantee no one has ever once blamed Rick for getting his job because of me (and not just because I started at the Times before him).
Outside of Aspen (and besides Gail Collins and Maureen Dowd), most people would be hard pressed to name a woman op-ed columnist whom they read regularly, and not because there aren’t any good ones, but because there just aren’t that many of us. Even if you can name more than a few, you can definitely name way more male columnists, right?
As Bill Maher said on “Real Time” last month, just because you know something to be true doesn’t invalidate another person’s truth. Wolf certainly spoke the truth about women when she told a 2016 audience: “You have to be a bitch to be that powerful.”
Go ahead and disagree with a woman’s perspective, although you may want to ask yourself first if your problem is with the message or messenger. Just because you don’t like what a woman says — or that she says it at all — neither nullifies her delivery nor point of view.
Follow Meredith Carroll on Twitter @MCCarroll. More at MeredithCarroll.com.