Comedy as a vehicle to illuminate gender inequity: I think Virginia Woolf would have approved. In her article (Heard the one about how the web put the spark back into feminism?) in today’s Observer Anna Holmes reflects on the influence of Jezebel (an online feminist magazine) when it pioneered a new wit in women’s journalism. Yes, I’m sure that Virginia Woolf would have approved. After all she wrote one of the first feminist tracts ‘A room of one’s own‘, which I have just read again.
It’s a brilliantly written early feminist text, in which Woolf argues that what a woman (writer) needs is a room of her own and £500 a year annual income (she wrote this in 1928 – I don’t think we’d get very far on 500 nowadays). The gist is clear: the reason why there have been so very few women writers, painters, artists (and I assume we can include female comedians) is very simple. Women never had their own space to retreat to and were always expected to be available for household duties to support their husbands, fathers, brothers, smaller siblings and they were completely dependent (financially) on males for their survival. It now seems so obvious and true, but it’s worth while rereading this and reminding ourselves why there are so very few women in history who were famous for their art – not because they did not have similar talents to those of their brothers and their brothers’ male friends, but simply because their environments made it impossible.
Woolf imagines Shakespeare had a sister who was just as clever and brilliant as Shakespeare, however, she would never have been able to write the plays he wrote – she would simply not have been given the opportunity for the kind of education Shakespeare (and his friends and brothers) had, she would not have been allowed to travel, she would have had to stay at home and be married off to a husband who would forbid her a retreat to a room to write even is she had the ability. Her outlook would have been confined to household drudgery, childbearing and being available to everyone around her. Hardly a fertile environment for development of artistic brilliance.
A great non-fiction read this, just to remind oneself how far we have come in just a century or so. And all that without the great female examples that men have usually had and have been able to build on.
But now, even female comedians are up and coming, despite the notion that feminism as such is without humour and even Christopher Higgins published an essay on ‘Why women aren’t funny’. He is being proved wrong, of course! Just read this article in the Observer and you’ll know why.