But in the course of the hour-long set, which was filmed at the Sydney Opera House (Gadsby has also been performing at the SoHo Playhouse, in New York), “Nanette” transforms into a commentary on comedy itself-on what it conceals, and on how it can force the marginalized to partake in their own humiliation. Gadsby, who once considered Bill Cosby her favorite comedian, now plans to quit comedy altogether, she says, because she can’t bring herself to participate in that humiliation anymore. Onstage, Gadsby typically speaks in a shy, almost surprised tone, playing jokes off of an unassuming, nebbishy demeanor. She clutches the mic with two fists and speaks softly, forcing audiences to listen closely to hear her. In “Nanette,” she seems to slowly shed that persona, becoming increasingly assertive and, at times, deadly serious. Her set builds to include more and more disturbing accounts of her own experiences with homophobia and sexual assault, and broader themes of violence against women and male impunity. But for every moment of tension, Gadsby gives her crowd release in a punch line-until she doesn’t. When the jokes stop, the audience is forced to linger in its unease. “This tension? It’s yours,” she says at one particularly upsetting moment, toward the end of the show. “I am not helping you anymore.”
Watching Gadsby, it was impossible not to think of the many women who’ve come forward in recent months with stories of abuse that were years or even decades old. You could consider the #MeToo moment itself as a kind of callback, a collective return to stories that women have been telling one way-to others, to themselves-with a new, emboldened understanding that those past tellings had been inadequate.
In the future, we will not publish Letters in which authors argue that an individual accused or found guilty of harassment is likely innocent because others have interacted with that person without incident; this argument is logically flawed. In addition, although some information about a person’s scientific achievements is at times necessary to establish context, we will not publish Letters in which authors argue that professional achievements have any bearing at all on the likelihood that the individual engaged in harassment.
The look what good they’ve done argument, on the other hand, is “bad logic” and too common, says Robin Leeds, who specializes in crisis communication and founded a political consulting firm, Winning Strategies LLC. “It’s really a distraction strategy,” she says, “that essentially demonstrates non-belief in the victim.”
There is something that’s changed: Suddenly, men have to think about women, our inner lives and experiences of their own behavior, quite a bit.
As Lili Loofbourow wrote of the Kavanaugh incident in Slate, adolescent male cruelty towards women is a bonding mechanism, a vehicle for intimacy through contempt. The white men in the lynching photos are not merely smiling because of what they have done, but because they did it together.
Once malice is embraced as a virtue, it is impossible to contain.
We can hear the spectacle of cruel laughter throughout the Trump era.
Trump’s only true skill is the con, his only fundamental belief is that the United States is the birthright of straight, white, Christian men, and his only real, authentic pleasure is in cruelty. It is that cruelty, and the delight it brings them, that binds his most ardent supporters to him, in shared scorn for those they hate and fear: immigrants, black voters, feminists, and treasonous white men who empathize with any of those who would steal their birthright. The president’s ability to execute that cruelty through word and deed makes them euphoric. It makes them feel good, it makes them feel proud, it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel united. And as long as he makes them feel that way, they will let him get away with anything, no matter what it costs them.
“Many Christian theologies emphasize the possibility of finding meaning in suffering, but the New Calvinism seems to promote a rather stoic and un-empathic attitude that valorizes suffering, particularly among women.… Calvinist beliefs were related to higher levels of domestic violence myth acceptance and lower levels of social justice commitment.”
We’ve gone so far as to organize our gods around misogyny. The evangelical South’s support for Roy Moore has drawn shocked, breathless comment. But the white South’s Christian faith has always been malleable, bending to accommodate the power of white men.
Masculinity operates like whiteness: It demands control over any space it enters. It plants itself in the center and shoves anything coded as feminine to the edges. In a man’s world, decisive is better than deliberate. Bold is strong; cautious consideration is weak. Reflection invites regret, and that’s weak, too. Ditto collectivity-the rugged individual only joins a group in which he can be the reigning hero. And he keeps his emotions in check. Better to strike out in rage than sit in your sadness. I spent far too many years accepting these falsities as obvious truths, wearing them like a straitjacket around my own humanity.
And just as these ideas confine the minds and hearts of men, they corrode public life. They are at least part of the reason that we have an economy organized around greed, a culture that frames collectivity as a threat to individuality, and a politics that approaches nuanced problems with rigid yes/no debates.
I updated “Sex Ed: Toxic Masculinity, Emotional Expression, Online Privacy, Identity Management, Dress Codes, Bodily Autonomy, and Purity Culture” with a link to “The internet is enabling a community of men who want to kill women. They need to be stopped – The Verge”.
I updated “Sex Ed: Toxic Masculinity, Emotional Expression, Online Privacy, Identity Management, Dress Codes, Bodily Autonomy, and Purity Culture” with selections from “Sexualization, Sex Discrimination, and Public School Dress Codes”.
Students, parents, and others have a number of concerns about public school dress codes and their impact on female students. One concern is that many dress codes are explicitly gender-specific, targeting girls but not boys, or are at least selectively enforced such that they impact female students disproportionately. Student discipline includes removal from class, receiving detention, being sent home, or forced to wear a “shame suit” indicating she has violated the school dress code. Female students are powerfully affected by these policies and many express a profound sense of injustice.” The consequences of being “dress coded” have a negative impact on student learning and participation. Beyond the immediate disruption resulting from removal, detention, and the like, studies suggest that a preoccupation with physical appearance based on sexualized norms disrupts mental capacity and cognitive function.
Consistent with the research on sexualization of girls, many are concerned about the larger symbolic messages that dress codes and their enforcement send to students and society. A common thread among school justifications for sex-specific dress codes is that provocative clothing will distract their male classmates or make male teachers feel uncomfortable. A number of commentators thus maintain dress codes communicate that girls’ bodies are inherently sexual, provocative, dangerous, and that harassment is inevitable. Dress codes and their enforcement can impose sexuality on girls even when they do not perceive themselves in sexual terms. Gender study scholars report that dress codes generally have negative ramifications for women, sending a message that exposing the female body is bad. Laura Bates of The Everyday Sexism Project characterizes the dress code phenomenon as “teach[ing] our children that girls’ bodies are dangerous, powerful and sexualized, and that boys are biologically programmed to objectify and harass them.” Thus, dress codes can constitute a type of “everyday pedagogy,” reproducing normative gender and sexuality preferences.
“Flawed men artists and their crumbling art remind us that we have excused and still do excuse men (often mediocre) almost anything while simultaneously discounting women and people of color for any transgression.”
Maybe there is an unintended lesson to these flawed men and their flawed works that can lead us to a better way that allows them some limited space as we make room for those too long ignored and even silenced.