A Misogyny Double Standard?: Louis C.K. and the Correspondents’ Dinner

There are few people I disagree with more than Sarah Palin, but I'm surprised that the famed Correspondents' Dinner this year will feature the comedian Louis C.K., who’s said some extremely hateful things about Palin and her "retard" baby, as he called him.


I don’t want to repeat the descriptions here, even under cover of astericks, because I’d rather not be subjunctively related to them.

Among his milder comments he describes things he’d like to do to and on Palin’s “fat tits” and thought, in another context, that her having given birth to a baby and then campaigned was “disgusting.” He made much out of variations on how Palin was a c***.

These are real side-splitters, aren’t they? I had to pick myself up off the floor from the paroxysms of laughter that these Wildean witticisms on retards and lewd acts on Palin’s tits induced in me.

I don’t watch Louis C.K.’s act.  Some friends tell me that he’s often funny, and that they were pretty surprised to read his Twitter and other statements on Palin.

One friend finds him funny, but felt that he was a really poor choice for the Correspondents’ Dinner, which is the high-wattage DC event of the year, like politics’ version of the Oscars, because Louis C.K. routinely ridicules even his own children. It wouldn’t be the first time that an incendiary comic has ruffled feathers at the Dinner.

Whatever the case, I’ve observed anecdotally men who act as if their progressive street creds have earned them a free pass to talk like misogynists when the mood strikes them—as if a feminist sensibility of not trashing people on account of their sex wasn’t a core part of our values. There are self-policing exceptions. Ralph Nader has called out sexism among the liberal ranks, but much of the swagger goes uncriticized.

Others act as if they’ve got a license to be misogynists, when their misogyny is directed at a non-liberal.

I'm not understanding, or buying, the double standard, here. There are a hundred reasons to disagree with Palin. Her being a woman isn't one of them, so check the misogyny at the door. This isn't what we're about.

One problem with these statements about Palin, of course, is that they’re not funny. It’s not hard, actually, to tell the difference, in real life, between something that feels funny and something that feels hateful. Seems to me that people have a pretty good intuition for that. Comedians poke fun all the time, and their efforts make us laugh, they don’t make us wretch—even when we’re the ruthless objects of the joke.

Another problem is Twitter and the open mike of talk radio. They seem to induce these phantasmagoric, stream of consciousness worlds, where weird, ad hoc, and sometimes ugly material surfaces.

The Tweeter, sitting alone and perhaps drunk, or the host, sitting in a small empty room in front of a mike, just says whatever bubbles up from his mind at that moment, without the gatekeepers of an editor or an imagined audience. No, it’s just you and the mike, just you and your I-phone.

It’s deceptively cozy, anonymous, solitary and informal. But the problem is, it’s also indelible, permanent, and massively amplified and circulated within two seconds of your comment. We get the worst of both worlds: spontaneous, rashly-conceived comments that are indelibly permanent and ubiquitously “broadcast.” In this way, some hateful, impolite materials works its way back into mainstream discourses.

Another issue is the abuse of humor as a social and political genre, using it to reinforce a sincere, negative feeling while pretending it’s all just a joke.

When I was growing up one of the most common bleats about feminists was that they never found anything funny.

In a rebuttal to that statement, all the feminists I knew found extremely funny this joke: “Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? A: That’s not funny.”

Occasionally, rather than provoke a new thought, or just a laugh at the social absurdity of it all, comedy is used as an alibi for the expression of contempt.

“It’s all a joke,” we get told when this happens, or “you just can’t take a joke.” The phrase can become one big Get Out of Jail Free card to declare not-funny, witless derogations with impunity. It really short shrifts humor, which is critically important to a healthy democracy, I think.

And I’ve seen how that worry about being judged Not Funny or a Bad Sport can silence young women, especially, who will tolerate jokes that aren’t all that joke-y for fear of being seen as militantly humorless.

After you hear that kind of criticism long enough, it wears you down. You just start “taking it,” as a young woman once described it to me—the comments from male “comrades,” even, that disrespect you, and your sex, because it’s too damn hard to risk the social ridicule of looking un-funny, as if you take your own dignity seriously, or something.

Now’s a good occasion to reinforce that there isn’t any double standard for misogyny, there’s only one standard—whether you’re targeting Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin or one of Atilla the Hun’s wives.

And, you know what? All this stuff—it really and truly… isn’t funny.

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