An Interview With the Editor of “RBG”

A discussion with Carla Gutierrez about editing the hit documentary “RBG,” mentorship, and what it takes to be an editor today.

By Monica Torres

Carla Gutierrez is the film editor behind this year’s hit documentary “RBG,” an intimate look at the life and fame surrounding U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It was her job to distill decades of the 85-year-old’s life and litigation career into one movie. Gutierrez is also the editor of the Oscar-nominated film “La Corona,” the Emmy-nominated documentaries “Reportero” and “Kingdom of Shadows,” and is part of the 2018 class of new Academy members. I met her five years ago after I graduated college when she kindly reached out to me as a fellow alum and let me see what being a working journalist was like.

We chatted about the months she spent editing “RBG,” mentorship, and what it takes to be an editor today:

How do you give viewers a personal experience when you are editing archival footage?

I could talk to you for hours about this. That’s my job. The goal that we have as filmmakers is a strong collaboration with the directors to give a voice to their vision in the detail of the rhythm and the combination of sound and picture. The goal is to create as personal of a picture as you can, to get as close to the subject matter or the characters as you can.

[For the confirmation hearing], those were four days of archival footage that we went through, and a lot of it was dry. It’s about having an eye and looking for the moments that really jumped at you and then building around those moments. So it was very much the moment when the camera was on her husband, on Marty, and he’s smiling while she’s talking about him. And you can only get that from just watching a lot of the material that we have and spending time discovering the potential and the gems. And that was a gem.

You have a lot of interviews where people are talking about how much they love each other, but when you see a moment like that, in actual video, you can see the expressions of them being in the same room. Those are the moments that you focus on and you build around to give them more emotion. It’s fun.

In one moving sequence, we see women of different races and generations on the screen as a young Ginsburg argues her first Supreme Court case, Frontiero v. Richardson, and explains to a group of all-male justices how gender-based discrimination exists. Quotes from her legal brief explaining what it means to be a second-class citizen —“branded inferior,” “subordinate,” “waste of human resources”— appear alongside these women as we see Ginsburg advocate on their behalf.

When I was watching the material at the very beginning, I was feeling emotionally close to the challenges that women in all generations have had that I can relate to, but I never felt so emotionally close to that. As a younger generation, there’s a bit of a distance that we have with the ‘70’s women’s movement, or the struggle to get our vote, because we take some of those things for granted. Through [Ginsburg’s] work, it made me feel incredibly close to those women and incredibly grateful. And it was a conversation with the directors that we wanted to make sure that the viewer also felt close to the women who inspired her work.

In all the interview archival that we have, [RBG] would always talk about the people that came before her. There’s that gratitude that she has for people who have done the work before her. We wanted to make sure that the viewers also felt personally close to those women. And I find that just by seeing those faces looking at you is a way to see them as yourself.

That’s one of things we tried with Frontiero when we were using all those black-and-white pictures of women from all different generations from the beginning of the history of the United States.

Did you end up meeting RBG in person?

I did! I met her at Sundance where we had the premiere.

The directors introduced the entire crew and we were all women. There were six of us. When we stood up, she was super excited about that.

How is it to meet someone you’ve been studying for hours and hours?

It’s really weird, but I’m used to it now because I’ve been editing for a long time. The first time I met a subject that I had edited, I really scared him. I really wanted to talk to him right away. It was like starting a conversation that he didn’t know about, and I wanted to continue that conversation. I quickly learned that you can really scare people and make them feel like you’re stalking them at a party. I keep my distance with subjects now. I’m never going to get to know them on a personal level, I just know them as characters in a film.

A film is a film. You’re compressing so much time, you’re making decisions to focus on one aspect of someone’s life, you’re never going to present a whole picture of a person’s life.

Taking a different track on questions, I still remember the kindness you showed me five years ago and it made me think a lot about mentoring. Have you ever had someone like that for you?

Yes, other editors. I’m really lucky that I’m in a career where documentary editors are really generous with each other and with their time, I’ve found. With documentaries, it’s not like you’re making the big bucks.

Most people in this industry really love what they are doing and they really want to do it for a bigger reason because they feel the need to tell a story or they think that there’s a social issue it’s really important to bring more light on.  

A lot of the editors I’ve met have been incredibly generous. There’s one person in particular that gave me my first shot. I started as a translator for her, then as an assistant editor, then I ended up as a second editor. Her name is Kim Roberts. She just gave me the space to try things and to edit scenes and I learned a lot from her about longform storytelling.

What would be your advice for someone, particularly someone who is Latina who wants to do what you do and work as an editor?

If I get a call from a young Latina woman, I will definitely make myself available to them. 

Watch a lot of films, and try to talk to the people you admire. Study people, so that when you talk to them, make sure that you know their work. Look for opportunities for mentorship. When you’re working at an entry-level assistant editing position, don’t be scared to ask the editors for you to be available in the room where story conversations are happening. The worst thing that can happen is really people saying no.

When I’ve had the chance to work on a bigger team, I’ve really liked it when people ask me, “Would you mind if I try to edit something in my free time?” or “Would you mind if I sit when you’re talking with the directors?” I always tell them, well let me talk to the directors because it’s really up to them, they’re the bosses, but I would love it.

If you come in, just be respectful and listen unless someone asks you for your opinion. I learned a lot from watching other people.

For editors, there is a great organization in New York, the Karen Schmeer editing fellowship. The fellowship gives a fellowship to one emerging editor a year and they recently started a diversity program and the pilot is only in New York. I’m a part of that, I’m a mentor to a few of them.

If I get a call from a young Latina woman, I will definitely make myself available to them.

For this industry, everything is word of mouth. As an editor you are getting into an intimate creative collaboration with people. People really want recommendations. Directors are giving their babies to editors. We’re kind of the doulas. They want to feel comfortable with the editors and they want the right match.

What were other favorite movies from this year?

—“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
I really loved the Fred Rogers documentary. The communal experience of sobbing loudly in the theater is really cool and cathartic.

—“This Is Home
It’s a verite film about new refugees in the United States. It’s mostly grounded in observational footage. That was a really strong film.

—“The Sentence
Also incredibly moving and essential for the discussion of prison reform and family separation.

—“Inventing Tomorrow
There’s a global science competition fair for high school kids. Kids all over the world apply to it. The documentary focuses on kids in the third world who are doing projects specifically to solve environmental problems that they are facing in their backyard. My son who is really into science loved it and the conversation that it sparked on environmental change was great for him to have.


#MeTooLOL

We are officially living in the “it is now okay to make bad jokes about #MeToo” space.

By Gabrielle Sierra

Welp, that was fast. I mean, we all knew it would happen, but damned if it didn’t arrive licketysplit.

We are officially living in the “it is now okay to make bad jokes about #MeToo” space.

First, I heard it from a male coworker in a meeting when he discussed the order in which we would be presenting a project. “And I’ll go first,” he said. “Me first. Like Me Too, right? #MeFirst.”

Then it was a male friend. “You all ordered beers without me? What about mine? #MeToo!”

After that it seemed to come from everywhere. There were jokes on podcasts, jokes overheard in bars and restaurants. The bubble of care and tip-toeing was popped, and men were free to make light of something that made them very uncomfortable.

I have yet to hear a woman make a #MeToo joke that wasn’t delivered in order to highlight the actual movement and not to make light of or jokingly appropriate a phrase.

I know that these jokes are silly, and not intended to inflict any pain or offense. I know that many may read this and call me a feminist killjoy. Afterall, the #MeToo movement and others like it are still front and center in the public discourse and being taken very seriously. It is something that a number of industries and businesses are finally addressing in a real way, and it is spreading around the world.

You may also argue that the world needs laughter and banter and we should have the ability to laugh at ourselves. I agree. But I can’t help but feel that jokes like these open a door, and welcome in a hint of mockery, a breeze of doubt and double-talk.

Because the wounds are still fresh and they reopen all the time.

October 2017, the month in which both The New Yorker and The New York Times released their heart-and-gut-wrenching pieces on Harvey Weinstein’s history of abuse and sexual assault, was less than a year ago. Attendees wearing all black to the Golden Globes in a nod to Time’s Up? Yeah that was January of this year. Bill Clinton’s abysmal responses to questions about sexual harassment were a few weeks ago. Just a handful of days ago we found out that Haim fired their agent after discovering that they were making ten times less than a male artist booked for the same festival. And it was earlier this month that Jeff Sessions announced that asylum seekers can no longer cite fears of violence or domestic abuse as a means to enter the United States.

Every day, stories of mistreatment, assault, abuse, harassment and coercion are coming to light. We aren’t cured, and everything isn’t safe, fair, perfect.

So is already okay to make light of something so huge? So important? Turning #MeToo into a phrase that can be used as a bad joke about forgotten beer?

I am not ready to fake laugh at that quite yet.

The Spaces Between Us

We examine space in some of its many forms, from our commutes to our offices, our dating habits to our personal comfort zones.

Space: a five letter word that simultaneously represents nothing and everything. Whether you are being asked to give someone room to breathe or considering our glorious galaxy above, space can be a real mind fuck. From “Are we alone?” to “Should I leave him alone?”, space will always be one of those heavily laden terms that forces us to examine ourselves, dig into our heads, and search for answers.

For our third podcast, Frida, Monica, and Laura examine space in some of its many forms, from our commutes to our offices, our dating habits to our personal comfort zones. So take your protein pills and put your helmet on, and join us as we head into the great beyond.

Our Podcast Returns

Journey with us as we talk about our favorite trips, travel anxieties, and opinions on fashion trends that have traversed time and space to once again earn a place in our wardrobes.

In need of some banter, laughter, extreme oversharing and hyena-like screeching?

We heard your call and have (at long last) returned with our second episode of the High-Strung podcast. Download, stream and nod along as Laura, Frida, and Gabrielle discuss the art of travel. Journey with us as we talk about our favorite trips, travel anxieties, and opinions on fashion trends that have traversed time and space to once again earn a place in our wardrobes.

Buy the ticket, take the ride and let us know what you think!

Ticket for One

If women travel more often than men, why do travel guides treat us like babes in the woods? 

by Gabrielle Sierra

Any woman who announces her plans to travel alone will inevitably be faced with some form of the following helpful suggestions.

“Be careful.”

“Make sure to check in.”

“Watch who you give your information to.”

Don’t get Taken, or I’ll have to use my special set of skills.”

Friends and family, who know and trust your ability to live and exist in the world every day as an adult female, suddenly revert back to giving advice that should only be delivered to a child walking alone to school. Gone is the faith that you wouldn’t take an open drink from a stranger in your hometown let alone a town halfway across the globe. It is as though as soon as you pick up your backpack and a ticket you suddenly lose all ability to tell right from wrong, adventure from stupidity, bright street from dark seedy alley.

This impulse to give safety and planning tips to quivering helpless waifs is a strange one, especially because women are leading the way when it comes to travel. Eighty percent of all travel decisions are made by women, even when accompanied by a group or a big strong man. Additionally, according to research performed by the George Washington School of Business in 2016, nearly two-thirds of travelers are women. Closer to home, a 2014 study by Booking.com found that 72 percent of American women are actively taking solo trips. And those numbers are only on the upswing, as seen by the 230 percent increase in the number of women-only travel companies created in the past six years.

What’s more is that these traveling women aren’t necessarily in their twenties or thirties: in the UK solo female travelers with an average age of 57 are currently dominating and driving the travel industry.

Yet this need to, above all else, highlight safety and security tips in women’s travel guides persists, often to the point of being downright insulting.

A listicle aimed at women traveling alone on a blog called Nomadic Matt opens with this passage: Traveling the world as a solo female? Worried something might happen? Nervous? Think your friends and family might be right about the world “being dangerous”? Not sure where to begin? Fear not. Many women travel the world alone and end up fine.”

(Well I am glad “many” of us end up fine. The rest are, obviously, fucked.)

Sadly, Nomadic Matt isn’t the only author offering adventurous women safety guides instead of destination guides.

A quick internet search brings up a plethora of similar results. Typing “woman traveling alone” into Google surfaces a never-ending scroll of content created to “help” women travel safely. Articles like  “Best Places for Women to Travel Solo” and “26 Best (And Safest) Places To Travel Alone For Females” and “46 Incredibly Useful Safety Tips For Women Traveling Alone” are a dime a dozen, offering advice and guidance not based on the most beautiful or unusual or friendly places, but the safest. These lists don’t focus on helping you select the best backpack to take for an eleven day journey, but instead on which tool is best when fighting off scary strangers.

“Mace (which you can’t bring on the plane, but you can put in a checked bag) or a whistle or a cat keychain all work for self defense, just in case,” advises Buzzfeed.

A quick Google search for “man traveling alone” is pretty much the opposite story.  Solo Traveler advises men to wear a condom when having sex with women abroad. Some lists advise solo males to keep an eye out for pickpockets, which seems to be the extent of safety and fear-based tips given to men.

(A fun aside: Googling “man traveling alone” also surfaces this piece by Elite Daily which is an actual guide on how to find yourself a man while traveling alone as a woman, and features the statement, “Don’t just bring your athleisure and sneakers… break out the flirty dresses and espadrilles while you still can. And if you’re planning a trip in winter, bring some cute booties and skirts with tights.”)

Other articles either aimed at men or written without a specific gender in mind offer general travel tips and list the exciting aspects of spending time by yourself, such as this piece by Smarter Travel that promises, “People who have never traveled alone often describe their first solo trip as an almost religious experience. To take in new surroundings unfiltered by the prejudices, tastes or preferences of a traveling companion can be heady stuff. Traveling alone gives you the chance to indulge yourself fully.”

Where were these articles when I was searching for “woman traveling alone”? Five pages in? Six? How many bullet points of “dress modestly to minimize attention from men” and “wear a real or fake wedding ring, and carry a picture of a real or fake husband”, must I scroll through before I find the tip that tells me the best sneakers for hiking or the best city for off-the-grid art museums?  

Look, life can be scary, and women are not always safe. We have all seen Taken and Brokedown Palace. We have read the articles about women who disappear while traveling alone, or are assaulted or kidnapped. We know there are places we probably shouldn’t go, alone or otherwise, due to unstable governments, violence, trafficking, or high rates of terrorism. The world is not always easy or kind, and women in particular have to be aware of where we go and what we do. Safety tips are sometimes really smart and great, and it is nice to know that people probably have your best interests in mind when they provide that sort of content.

But leading women’s travel guides with fear-based tips is simply ignoring the obvious: women already know how to exist in the world. We know how to dodge catcalls and avoid shady men and extricate ourselves from shitty situations right here at home. Women already know what it is like to have a guy follow us down a block or attempt to lull us with drinks. We know.

Adventurous women who decide to travel alone or with a female friend or a mother or an aunt or a sister are already confident in their ability to exist without the “protection” of the familiar. Check the stats buddy; leading with the antiquated notion that we are helpless is not recognizing our dominance in the world of travel. The underlying message of every, “Be careful walking into your hotel room” is “Are you sure you want to do this?”, and the answer is a resounding, “Yes.”

Yes, yes we do. We considered the safety aspect within the first few minutes of this decision, and have come to the conclusion that we are capable of undertaking this journey. So thank you for asking.

It is time for the travel journalism industry to catch up to the times, and cater to their prime market. So next time instead of a sweet tip warning about stranger danger, just let us know where to get the best cheese, tour the most incredible architecture, or join the best mountain climbing tour. We can take it from there.

In the Changing World of Entertainment, Minorities are Finally on Their Way to the Top

The past few years have been phenomenal for storytelling by and for people of color.

By Saira Khan

The past few years have been promising for storytelling by and for people of color. On Sunday, at the Golden Globes, Sterling K. Brown became first black actor to win for leading performance in a TV drama, Aziz Ansari became the first Asian male actor to win best leading performance in a TV comedy, and Oprah Winfrey became the first black woman to receive Cecil B. DeMille Award. This recognition comes on the heels of last year’s awards season when at the Emmys, Lena Waithe made history by becoming the first black woman to win for Comedy Writing, Donald Glover became first black person to win the best-directing comedy award, and Riz Ahmed became the first male South Asian actor to win the outstanding lead actor in a limited series or movie Emmy.

It’s hard to imagine that it was only three short years ago that an alleged e-mail exchange between Sony Pictures’s co-chair Amy Pascal and film producer Scott Rudin was leaked to the public:  

“What should I ask the president at this stupid Jeffrey breakfast,” Pascal wrote to Rudin.

“Would he like to finance some movies,” Rudin replied.

“I doubt it,” responded Pascal. “Should I ask him if he liked DJANGO?” she added,

“Or the butler. Or think like a man,” Pascal continued.

“Ride-along. I bet he likes Kevin Hart,” Rudin answered.

Lest you have forgotten, our president at the time was Barack Obama and all of the films Pascal and Rudin mentioned were films with black characters. The e-mail hack (which may or may not have been orchestrated by North Korea) also told us that Sony executives thought Denzel Washington wasn’t famous enough to sell tickets in a lead role and that Angelina Jolie was “difficult.”

What’s striking about this exchange (aside from the blatant racism) is that these are the people who decide which films get made and which ones don’t; which stories get told and which ones are left out. These are the people who, in the past, decided that the only stories about black people worth telling were those of black pain and suffering, and that all Asian characters should have accents (something that Aziz Ansari brilliantly addressed in the “Indians on TV” episode of “Master of None.”) These are the people who hired white writers to create these roles. These are the people who thought no one would be interested in paying to watch a film about the real lives of people of color. But, maybe, times have changed.

viola-davis-emmy-900x600
Viola Davis at the 2015 Emmys

“You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there,” Viola Davis said in 2015, after winning an Emmy for her performance in the show “How to Get Away With Murder.” For decades, white executives and writers denied people of color the chance to win such awards simply because they didn’t allow roles like the ones Davis won for to exist. The Internet has helped usher us into a time when we don’t need those white executives to give us those opportunities, because we can create them for ourselves. Gone are the days when studio heads and producers like Pascal and Rudin decided, based solely on their perceptions of people of color, whether our stories would be told.

In 2011, a black woman wrote a role for herself, based on her life, and created a web series, called “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” on YouTube. By 2012, the episode had 1.2 million views. She went on to raise $44,000 for the show through Kickstarter and kept at it. That woman now has a hit TV show on HBO and is currently working on another one with the network. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe this year. Yes, that woman is Issa Rae.

If it wasn’t for platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., that have allowed people of color to create their own opportunities, would “Insecure” exist?

I’m a South Asian woman from Pakistan. It’s hard to explain what it feels like to be forced to reckon with that fact that you’ve spent your entire life watching, and tacitly accepting, the white-washed stories that Hollywood thought we wanted to hear. Watching actors like Riz Ahmed, Aziz Ansari, Kumail Nanjiani, Hasan Minhaj, and now, Fatimah Asghar (who is currently developing a TV show with Sam Bailey for HBO, based on their web series “Brown Girls.”) tell stories that I understand and can relate to, on a deeper, cultural level, was, at first, jarring and emotional–after a lifetime of being ignored on television, suddenly my people are out here winning awards for playing roles that are actually familiar to me. Suddenly, people who look like me are changing the entertainment landscape. With this new-found representation comes much-needed understanding. For far too long South Asians have been delegated to playing the shopkeeper with an accent or the untrustworthy, is he-or-isn’t-he a terrorist on TV.

We no longer need white executives in the entertainment industry to give us opportunities, instead they need us. Because while those same executives hold the keys to the kingdom, we have the numbers. They can no longer deny the power of storytelling by people of color. We, on the other hand, can go ahead and build our own shit now, without their support and money. It’s clear that the entertainment industry has taken note of this, which is why we have films like “Girls Trip,” “Coco,” “Get Out,” and “Black Panther” and televisions shows like “Atlanta,” “This Is Us,” and “Black-ish.”

By approximately 2020, the Census Bureau says that more than half of the United States’ population will be made up of minority children–which would, of course, no longer make us minorities. With this in mind, it’s preposterous that it took 96 years for a black man to win a Golden Globe for a  leading performance in a TV drama. We’ve made much progress in that past few years in terms of equal representation on television and film, but we still have a long way to go. I, for one, will not be satisfied until every single movie and television show has a substantial character of color. It’s not good enough anymore to have films with all-white casts or to throw minorities into supporting roles just for show. If Hollywood is unable to accept that minorities are woven into every fiber of this nation, then I’m more than willing to change the channel.

Your Forgotten New Year’s Resolutions Are Basically Mean Teenage Girls

“Hey girl hey! It’s me, the manifestation of your New Year’s resolution from 2017. What happened to your hair? It looks weird.”

By Gabrielle Sierra

You are relaxing on your couch enjoying the last of the eggnog and your eighth episode of “The Crown.” Suddenly the door swings open. In walks a perfectly coiffed teenage girl. She looks around your apartment with a faint air of disgust and disappointment. You freeze and are transported right back to high school, suddenly self conscious and far too aware of your paint-splattered sweatpants. The teen floats over to you in a cloud of Victoria’s Secret perfume and air kisses the space around your face before beginning to speak.

“Hey girl hey! It’s me, the manifestation of your New Year’s resolution from 2017. What happened to your hair? It looks weird.”

She flops into a chair.

“Anyway, I’m here to inform you that you have already abandoned and completely failed to achieve this year’s resolution, just as you failed to achieve me last year. It is a real drag.”

She pauses.

“Do you have any seltzer?”

You remain frozen and speechless as she continues to talk.

“Why are you looking at me like that? Ohmygod, do you even remember me? Here let me pinch your thigh. (She does.) That’s right, “Go To The Gym”. That’s me! Oh stop it, I didn’t pinch you that hard.

Anyway, you gave up on me about a week into March and never looked back. And no, going to Soul Cycle once every few weeks does not count.

Now, I am sure you are wondering, ‘how could I have already failed at this year’s resolution when we are only a week or two into 2018?’

Well, let me call in “Drink Less Alcohol”, your 2018 goal.”

You cringe. In walks an equally beautiful teen girl. This one looks slightly more menacing. They greet one another with a perfectly executed windmill high-five.

“Hey bitch.”

“You look so skinny, I hate you.”

The teen girl manifestation of your forgotten 2017 resolution returns to leading the conversation as the new teen hands over her notes and sits, eyeing your sweatpants.  

“So let’s see, according to her notes you drank on New Year’s Eve. Well, we’ll let that one slide because it was the holiday and we aren’t monsters.”

She pauses and leans in towards you with meaning.

“We are on your side, so stop trying to make this out to be an attack on you.

You also drank during New Year’s Day brunch. Five mimosas as part of a bottomless booze special. You sure tried hard to find that bottom, maybe that should have been your resolution.”

The two teens giggle and your failed 2017 resolution turns back to you.

“I’m not being mean I am just being honest.

Continuing on, the day after that you went to a dinner party and had a glass of red wine. And, okay, you skipped this day but you drank that weekend and last Tuesday you had a few beers after work and right now you are about to finish a container of eggnog that may or may not expire tomorrow.”

The teens stare at your hand, frozen around the glass of eggnog that may or may not expire tomorrow.

“Look, I care about you. We care about you. What you do has an effect on all of the Resolutions. 2016’s ‘Finish Your Novel’ and 2013’s ‘Stop Taking Your Mother’s Comments So Personally’ were too embarrassed to even come here today.”

She pauses and rises from her seat, crouching down by the couch and taking your free hand.

“What I want you to do is start making achievable resolutions. Resolutions that are realistic for your level of commitment.

So maybe instead of ‘Go To The Gym,’ you can resolve to go for a short walk around the apartment. And instead of ‘Drink Less Alcohol’, you can resolve to just ‘Drink Less’ – that could include water, juice, anything really. Instead of 2014’s ‘Meet Someone Special’, just resolve to ‘Meet Someone’. Go vague with goals like, ‘Travel More,’ because that could just mean taking the train a few stops further every morning and then backtracking so you get to work on time.”

Both teens rise and stand over the couch. “Drink Less Alcohol” reapplies her lip gloss.

“Don’t think of these as loopholes or half-assed resolutions, think of them as sensible goals. Reachable finish lines. Things someone like you could be proud of.”

The girls zip up their coats and begin heading to the door.

“We are just trying to be helpful – we just want to see you succeed. Anyway, we have somewhere to be. We’d invite you but you look so comfy there on the couch in those pants. Bye beeb!”

The door slams behind them. You unfreeze and sit up. You think for a few minutes. Eventually you decide to never make another New Year’s resolution again. From now on it is birthday goals all the way. Resolved, you polish off your eggnog and go to bed.

 

An All-Women Comedy Show That’s, Well, Just a Comedy Show

What’s considered funny has long been dictated by the white male perspective. This Brooklyn comedy show is doing its part to change that.

By Frida Oskarsdottir

Of the “25 Best Stand-Up Comedy Specials on Netflix” compiled by Paste last year, only four featured women. In 2015, Bitch Media assessed the three-year period from 2011-2014 at Caroline’s on Broadway, one of New York’s most established comedy clubs. They found that out of 1,346 headliners, just 110 were women, equating to roughly 8 percent.

In the wake of the sexual misconduct allegations against Louis CK and other high-power men, Lindy West posited that “the solution isn’t more solemn acknowledgements from powerful male comedians. We have those. The solution is putting people in positions of power who are not male, not straight, not cisgender, not white.” If you listen quietly you can hear people furiously typing responses to this on the internet, “But, but, but!!”

The reason people bristle when you suggest intentionally seeking out and supporting more women in comedy can be packaged easily into a hashtag, #notallmen. Not all men use their power and influence for evil. Not every man makes rape jokes. Not every successful comedian will masturbate in front of you without your consent. Comedy is a meritocracy! If you’re funny, you’ll become successful. The problem with this mode of thinking is that the world of comedy, like the world of corporate America, professional sports, or entertainment, is not an even playing field. What appeals to a lot of people is a straight, white male’s perspective. Not because it’s the best one, but because it’s what we’re used to.

Kendra Cunningham has been doing her part to address this discrepancy, hosting Drop The Mike, a Brooklyn comedy show featuring all women and one “token male,” for the past two years. The monthly event is currently found at Three’s at Franklin and Kent in Greenpoint. I discovered the November edition of the show on The Skint and realized afterwards it was the first time I’d seen live comedy intentionally crafted around a lineup of women. The setting in the back room was intimate; my friend and I arrived a little late and weren’t shot any dirty looks when we decided to sit down on the floor in between rows of seats. The feel was inviting but not cloyingly so.

When you see a lot of stand-up that’s skewed male, the one-off female performer might stand out as, well, feminine. But when you see woman after woman performing, like during Drop the Mike, the diversity of their styles becomes apparent. Some joked about their families, some joked about hating children, some were raunchy, some more traditional. Some drew easy laughter while others had to work for it. In an interview with the Washington Post, Ali Wong, whose 2016 Netflix special, “Baby Cobra,” was a smash hit, balked  when discussing some of the language surrounding her success. ‘“I hate when people are like, ‘Support female comedy.’ That’s not a real genre of comedy! I think if you have true respect for women as three-dimensional creators who are innovative, you wouldn’t group them together like that.” She’s right, of course. But in order to assess comedy from women the way we assess comedy from men, we have to see it.

In her 2016 memoir, Shrill, West details her own personal reckoning with stand-up years earlier, which followed the stinging realization that in order to uphold the values she based her life and work on, she’d have to apply them to what she laughed at. She describes an incident in 2010 watching a friendperform a joke about herpes to a riotous crowd. “It wasn’t a self-deprecating joke about the comic’s own herpes. It was about other people. People with herpes are gross, ha ha ha. Girls with herpes are sluts. I hope I never accidentally have sex with a gross slut with herpes!” Her anger grows thinking of recently consoling a friend dealing with the stigma of a herpes diagnosis herself.

That’s the thing about humor: widening up your circle of acquaintances, friends, coworkers, or entertainers to include people different from you, whether by gender, race, sexual orientation, or class, might make it feel like there are more “off-limits” topics to joke about, lest you offend someone. But “off-limits” doesn’t have to mean you’re being censored or silenced or the PC police are out to get you, it just means “not funny.” If the joke is that herpes is gross but you know a lot of people who have herpes —what’s funny about it?

What’s brilliant about comedy, though, is that the best comedians can turn a lazy trope on its head – so nothing is “off-limits” as long as you’re smart enough. Take “Baby Cobra,” wherein Wong posits after revealing that she likely gave her husband HPV that “Everybody has HPV, okay? Everybody has it. It’s okay. Come out already…If you don’t have it yet, you go and get it. You go and get it. It’s coming. You don’t have HPV yet, you’re a fucking loser, alright? That’s what that says about you.”

The token male at Drop the Mike drew a lot of laughs and was clearly a seasoned performer. At one point he made a joke which included the idea of a woman not being good looking enough to decide when to settle. It wasn’t taken as offensive and the crowd was on board with the set up. But he stopped short of the final punch line, noting that it had a certain ending but given that this was a woman-centric show it probably wouldn’t work. He was laughing, the mood was positive. Maybe he’ll do that joke again and maybe he won’t.

A week after Drop the Mike, I met up with Cunningham before she did a set at a different show at Halyard’s in Gowanus the following week. She greeted me with the same warm hug she gave all of the performers while she was hosting before they took the stage. “I can’t take credit for the concept,” she says, “Steven [Sheffer, the producer of Drop the Mike] wanted to have it be all girls.” There is definitely something appealing about the novelty of the token male performer: “It’s funny because I get more men messaging me and asking me to be on the show than I do women,” she says.

Cunningham has been doing stand-up weekly for nearly a decade, and says now that she feels more established she can be pickier about looking for shows with a more even lineup. “I always have more fun when there’s an all women show. I cancelled a show recently because I was going to be the only girl and I didn’t really know anyone. I don’t need stage time that bad; I’d rather wait for a show where I know I’ll have a couple of buddies that will make it a more supportive environment.”

There certainly was a supportive environment at Drop the Mike that felt unique from other shows I’d been to. One of the performers was Radhika Vaz, co-creator of the webseries Shugs and Fats. Having done a lot of all-female stand up in India, Vaz, whose background is in improv, notes that there’s a sense of “less self-consciousness and trying to come off as any way in particular,” in relation a heavily male lineup or audience. She relates an experiment her improv coach conducted with an all-female cast performing male and female roles, as a way to assess whether they acted differently than when in more traditional roles. The difference was marked, she says, “they were playing stronger characters, not playing a generic woman character that you often get pushed into playing or push yourself into playing, there was something about being all funny chicks together at the same place, something about that energy.”

Julia Johns performed at the very first Drop the Mike show as well as the most recent, and has been doing stand up in the city for eight years. Despite loving the crowd the show brings, she notes that the ideal future would be one where predominantly female stand-up didn’t have to be as intentional. “I really love it when I see a lineup that’s half women, half men and they don’t even say anything about it,” she tells me. “When I’ve produced shows in the past and there’s four comics, I try to get two men and two women, it’s not that hard! That’s what’s so frustrating is seeing lineup after lineup of all men and no women, or just one woman.” Sometimes the “ladies night” lineup can get a little schticky. Johns recalls a certain show, “The guy running the show just kept pointing it out, joking, ‘Can you guys feel the estrogen in here??’ and it just felt like it was going backwards.” At Drop the Mike though, “Kendra does it in a joking way, mocking that there is usually one token female. It’s lighthearted and the guy performing is always on board with the joke, but at the same time she’s proving that there are enough funny women to have a packed lineup each time.”

The next Drop the Mike show is on December 14th and features Aparna Nancharla. The last show of the year is also its two-year anniversary and holiday celebration, and Cunningham laughs that she’s asked the performers to all wear something “festive.” After she and I wrap up our conversation I watched the show at Halyard’s. Because of a change in the lineup, Cunningham was the only woman to perform.

A Cryin’ Shame

Why are tears a symbol of weakness?

by Gabrielle Sierra

You are frustrated during an argument and suddenly find yourself crying. Now you feel an added layer of emotion: shame. You are angry at your body for betraying your inner angst and furious with yourself for looking fragile. All the while a male counterpart is awkwardly attempting to console you and just making the whole thing worse.

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We have all been there time and time again. Because guess what? Women cry more than men. In fact, according to science we cry a lot more than men. In the book Why Only Humans Weep, scientist Ad Vingerhoets writes that women cry an average of 30 to 64 times a year, while men cry about 6 to 17 times a year. That is a big difference, and one that would seemingly imply that it isn’t super out of the ordinary to see a woman shed a tear or two.

So if we all do it, why do we still feel like there is a shame in crying? The answer is undeniably built into our social interactions from a very young age.

As children we are taught to associate crying with weakness and the need for help. Babies cry when they are uncomfortable or hungry: basic needs that cannot be satisfied without help from adults. As we get older we learn to satiate our own needs; we get water when we are thirsty, we wear a coat if we are cold. Crying becomes something that is seen as an option, rather than an impulse, and the people we see crying in films and on television are women. Women in distress, women who have been scorned, women who are afraid.

As a result we associate not crying with strength and masculinity. People who cry a lot are told to “man-up” and those who show fear or distress are told to have some “balls.” This generalization stretches so far that it goes in the opposite direction as well; women or girls who don’t cry at sad films or during emotional life moments are often deemed to be cold or robotic..

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Ultimately it is a very confusing message to receive from a very young age. We are expected to cry, but when we do cry we are deemed to be weak. We are expected to be the emotional ones in relationships, yet expected to control these same emotions at work, the place where we spend a large portion of our days.

Most of all it is confusing and frustrating to have to defy the biological factors that cause women to cry more often than men.

One of these biological elements is a pretty simple one; the size and depth of female tear ducts. Multiple studies have shown that women’s tear ducts are actually shorter and shallower than men’s tear ducts, and are therefore more likely to overflow. This would mean that although men may well up, the chances of them actually showing any tears are smaller.

And as with many of our body-related woes, we can also thank our hormones. Dr. Jodi J. De Luca, a licensed clinical psychologist whose research focuses on emotion, behavior, and relationships, says that since our female bodies are “genetically programmed to give life,” we are chock full of extra hormones. Hormones men do not have.  

“These hormones also affect our thought, emotion, and behavior,” says De Luca. “So, whether we like it or accept it or not, many women would report that they are more emotionally vulnerable – and cry more – for a certain period of time before their period.”

(Not to mention during your period, or while pregnant or going through menopause.)

Testosterone, on the other hand, may actually inhibit crying, giving men the chance to feel sadness or frustration but not have it manifest itself in large drops rolling down their cheeks. In this way men can sidestep being called “emotional”.  

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In the end the only way our feelings of shame associated with crying will change is when we see tears as a normal biological function. Much like someone sweating when they get nervous or shaking when they are afraid, crying is something normal and (for the most part) healthy.

So next time you run to cry in a bathroom stall at work, or fight back tears during an emotional argument with a coworker, consider the upside of female tears: women feel more comfortable crying in front of friends and loved ones, an intimacy and experience most men do not share. Additionally, a “good cry” can not only be therapeutic and cathartic, but it can be healthy. Lastly, more tears for frustration or sadness also means more tears for joy, and crying because you are happy is one of the best feelings.

Most importantly of all, consider the power of your tears and attempt to harness this embarrassment for good. As our human compass Tina Fey wrote in her book Bossypants, “Some people say, ‘Never let them see you cry.’ I say, if you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.”

“Log Kya Kahengay”: Calling Off a Wedding

To marry or not to marry (the wrong person), that is the question.

By Saira Khan

About five years ago, when I was contemplating calling off my wedding a mere three months before the ceremony, one of my biggest concerns was about what my parents would endure as a result of my decision. To be clear, I wasn’t worried about what my parents would say (they’ve always encouraged and supported me), I was worried about what people would say to them.

If you’ve watched Hasan Minhaj’s Netflix special, “Homecoming King,” then you’ll know the significance of the phrase “log kya kahengay” (what will people say?)–words that have struck fear into many a brown kid’s heart, and indeed was what was on my mind during that pivotal moment of my life.

“I want to wear this dress.”

“Log kya kahengay.”

“I want to go to college.”

“Log kya kahengay.”

“I’ve fallen in love and want to marry a person outside of my race.”

“Log kya kahengay.”

My experience with shame doesn’t come close to what some women have to endure. But, five years ago, when I found myself lending legitimacy to “log kya kahengay,” I was acting on an entire lifetime of being told that I carried the weight of my family’s honor on my shoulders.

I have two sisters. If you’re South Asian, you already know this is an issue. In our culture, boys are considered blessings and girls are thought of as burdens. In low-income families, the needs of boys are prioritized over that of girls, who have to sacrifice meals, their education, and occasionally, their lives, for the male children of the family. Families that don’t have any male heirs are often pitied. I’ve lost count of the number of times I heard women ask my mother how many children she has, only to go on and respond, “Aw, no boys? I guess that was God’s will.”

My parents were also criticized for the way they chose to raise their three daughters. We were educated and sent “abroad” (to the U.S.) to complete our education. For many, the idea of sending your daughters to another country for anything, let alone studying, was enough reason to bring shame and dishonor upon the family. And people made sure they told my father this.

So, when it came down to me calling off my nearly year-long engagement (I was also marrying outside of my race, to a white man, which could be considered scandalous among some people), I thought about all of the above. I thought my actions would reinforce all the sexist nonsense that had been directed at my parents. I knew what kind of comments were awaiting them:

“See! They raised their daughter to be free and now she can’t even get married.

“This is what happens when you give girls too much freedom.”

In truth, what I felt is hardly unique. South Asian women are expected to carry the burden of their family’s honor–and with it, are held responsible for bringing dishonor upon them. It’s a concept that is so pervasive in our culture that countless Bollywood plotlines have been written around it: the story of a woman killing herself after being raped or to prevent herself from being raped (the implication being that death is always better here.) In a not-fictional-all setting, this translates to honor killings, or the murder of a female by her family members, for bringing shame upon the family (reasons have ranged from dancing in the rain, falling in love, and leaving an abusive marriage). I should note that it could be argued that intimate partner violence in the United States echoes similar behavior, and so honor killings are not exclusive to the South Asian community. Even our colloquial phrase for committing rape centers around honor: “Izzat loot lo,” which literally translates to “steal her respect.”

It’s because of these deep-rooted misogynist mores that I almost married a man who was absolutely, 100%, the wrong person for me–we were different people, with different goals and ambitions–and yet, as so many people do, I stayed in the relationship for reasons I still don’t even understand. Luckily, for both of us, I had a candid conversation with my parents about calling off my wedding and they were, as always, supportive. They were also kind enough to spare me the details of what people said about it.

By taking the burden of what my decisions–right or wrong–meant upon themselves, my parents freed me from an expectation that had weighed me down for years and years: that respectable women get married and have children. Since breaking off my engagement, I’ve discovered many things about myself, including that I most likely don’t want to be married and have children; even monogamy isn’t important to me. And you know what? I’m not ashamed of any of it.