"Dear People Who Don't Work Here": Is Jezebel's Daily Show Coverage Feminism, or the Opposite of Feminism?

BlogHer Original Post

It all began with Irin Carmon's stinging accusations at Jezebel. As funny as the Daily Show can be for viewers, for female employees, "it's also a boys' club where women's contributions are often ignored and dismissed." Carmon continues to assert that currently, there is "less overt frat-boy humor, but that doesn't mean the institutionalized sexism is gone" and part of that institutionalized sexism is a climate unwelcoming to female writers and correspondents.

Carmon brought up the complaints of past female employees and on the surface, it seems as if they have a point. There are few female correspondents and only one -- Samantha Bee -- who seems to have any lasting power. Yet it's impossible for even the most rabid Daily Show viewer to know what goes on behind the scenes simply by watching Jon Stewart's commentary. Is he the funny, sweet guy we see in our living rooms each night, or leader of the frat?

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 04:  Stephen Colbert, Steve Forbes and Jon Stewart are shown on Comedy Central's 'Indecision 2008: America's Choice' at Comedy Central Studios on November 4, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Comedy Central)

But why is the Daily Show being held up as sexist television when other shows aren't being questioned about their ratio of male-to-female on-air personalities and writers? Who is questioning the number of men on Oprah or pointing out how few women are on Sports Center? And the point, of course, is that shows shouldn't be raked across the coals for having a certain number of either sex in any staff position.

The reality is that the Daily Show creates programming that appeals to their core audience. Women may like to watch it (and some of us ... cough ... have no choice when the television is in our bedroom and our husband turns it on while we are trying to finish a blog post), but with an audience that is admittedly 60 percent male, it makes sense that the comedy is tailored towards the majority. The View also tailors their programming towards their primarily female target audience. Without clearly knowing your audience and knowing how to create a product that appeals to your core audience, television shows founder.

Interestingly, the women of the Daily Show -- mostly those female employees, of which there are many, who do important work behind the scenes in order to produce the show -- responded with an open letter addressed to "People Who Don't Work Here." They collectively state,

If you think the only women who help create this show are a couple of female writers and correspondents, you're dismissing the vast majority of us. Actually, we make up 40% of the staff, and we're not all shoved into the party-planning department (although we do run that, and we throw some kick-ass parties). We are co-executive producers, supervising producers, senior producers, segment producers, coordinating field producers, associate producers, editors, writers, correspondents, talent coordinators, production coordinators, researchers, makeup artists, the entire accounting and audience departments, production assistants, crew members, and much more. We were each hired because of our creative ability, our intelligence, and above all, our ability to work our asses off to make a great show.

In other words, Carmon's efforts to protect female employees actually belittled their work. And as the opening of the letter points out, Carmon doesn't actually work there and yet makes strong accusations about the working climate of the show. These type of assertions shouldn't be made on the word of former employees, but rather, careful research including a large base of people currently employed by the show. As the current employees point out, "to seize on the bitter rantings of ex-employees and ignore what current staff say about working at The Daily Show, it's not fair. It's not fair to us."

Alex Leo at Huffington Post has her own take on the accusations, somehow missing the point of the open letter entirely and focusing solely on how many female writers are on staff. So perhaps it bears repeating, and I say this as a writer. There are a lot of people who work with the writer who are just as important as the writer in getting those words on the page. In the book world, there are editors, publishers, publicists, copyeditors, and printers. In the comedy world, it's the women you see at the bottom of the open letter. Harping on the number of writers ignores every other person who enables the writers to do their work. And frankly, while Jon Stewart would have little to do without the writers (and we all remember this from the writer's strike), the writers would have little to do without the rest of the staff.

In other words, please don't dismiss the hard work of the "co-executive producers, supervising producers, senior producers, etc" and place their role on the show as beneath that of the on-air personalities and writers. Those are careers that we're writing off as unimportant to this argument. And frankly, the Daily Show is a product that is comprised of dozens of jobs that bring it to the screen each night, with each piece integral to the whole of the show.

Leo continues to demean the staff of the Daily Show by dismissing the honesty of their words, stating,

The response from the women of the "Daily Show" reads as earnest and heartfelt, but if one of these women did feel the environment was hostile, it would be difficult for them to speak up without jeopardizing their career.

And this sort of statement is patronizing and dismissive. While the statement is true -- if they felt the environment was hostile -- the staff members clearly state that it isn't a hostile environment. It demeans women to second guess them when they are stating something emphatically and clearly. I am going to take the female staff members at their word.

Emily Gould at Slate points out the hypocrisy in the coverage, pointing out that this entire conversation started with complaints over the hiring of Olivia Munn.

Olivia Munn may soon become the show's first new female correspondent in seven years, but her potential hiring is nothing to celebrate, because, while she's a woman, she's not the right kind of woman.

She is not the right kind of woman because she hasn't worked blood, sweat, and tears in the area of comedy. She has posed for Playboy. She has jumped "into a giant pie wearing a French maid's outfit." She is attractive. In other words, she is exactly the type of correspondent who would appeal to the mostly male audience who watches the Daily Show. Yet other women can't be happy for her lucky break, nor take the time to see how she performs on the show (as of now, she has only been in a few segments). Instead of celebrating having another female on-air personality, as Gould points out, we dissect who she is as a woman.

And personally, I thought a lack of judgment -- the tearing down of the idea that there is only one kind of woman -- was one of the tenets of feminism. Instead of dismissing Munn, let's give her time to show us her comedic chops. After all, the woman was chosen as a correspondent for the Daily Show, not as a correspondent to the White House. She is entertainment; not hard-hitting news.

Gould describes the tactics of Carmon as a rant that is "ignited by writers who are pushing readers to feel what the writers claim is righteously indignant rage but which is actually just petty jealousy, cleverly marketed as feminism."

Is it feminism or is it, to borrow a quote from the employees of the Daily Show, "the opposite of feminism?"

The Opposing Point-of-View

There are many bloggers who agree with Carmon, even if I remain skeptical of her argument.

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her book is Navigating the Land of If.


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