The Soapbox: Women Tell Dirty Jokes, Deal With It

Dear Variety Columnist Brian Lowry,

You wrote a negative review of Sarah Silverman’s new comedy special, “We Are Miracles,” which aired on HBO Saturday night.

And I get it.

The special felt stale, pointlessly antagonistic, and lacked actual jokes. But worse than the program itself was the bizarrely-gendered language you used to smash it.

The title of your piece, which I can only assume was approved by a Victorian-era ghost, was “Sarah Silverman’s Bad Career Choice: Being as Dirty as the Guys.” In the review, you claim Silverman appeared, “determined to prove she can be as dirty and distasteful as the boys.”

First of all, no. There is just so much no. To assert that Silverman in particular has anything to prove by swearing and talking about taboo subjects makes it seem like you’ve never heard a Sarah Silverman joke in your life. She’s built a career on it, bro. And your broader assertion — that men alone own the right to be taboo and women who dare dip a pedicured toe in this realm are somehow behaving male — makes it seem like you’ve never talked to a woman in your life.

Mr. Lowry, are you a real human?

Allow me to lightbulb the shit out of you: Women say “cunt.” Women say “fuck.” Women talk about getting cum stuck in their hair. And we do this not to prove that we’re as cool as guys, we do it because we are human beings. Examining sex, pop culture, politics, and the absurdities of life using the full range of emotions and language is not a man thing, it’s a person thing. To claim otherwise is to assert that it is unnatural — either mentally or culturally — for women to exercise as broad a range of thoughts and feelings as men. Whether you believe taboo topics are inherently “male,” because women can’t or because women shouldn’t discuss them doesn’t really matter, because you’re wrong on both counts. There are simply too many outspoken women exploring taboo topics for you to claim this is still a male realm.

Ironically, the only bit I loved from Silverman’s special was “dirty and distasteful,” and I connected to it specifically as a woman. Silverman’s “pussy” bit, in which she explains that she has become desensitized to the word “pussy,” but when a person says the word in a disgusting way — puffing out their cheeks, saying it with a lisp — it once again jolts her inside. I knew exactly what she meant. At 24, I had an 60-year-old, lecherous male boss who would show me his “pussies,” a collection of cat-themed stamps. I can still feel the spit landing on my face when he would murmur “pussy” over and over. Some jokes I connect to as a New Yorker, some as a middle-class white person, some as a sports-enthusiast, and so on. But this joke hit me as a woman. Silverman built a comedic bit on a dirty word and kept making it dirtier, and hearing it freed something in me. She got me. For a minute, I was laughing, and in the distasteful memory of the pussy book, I suddenly wasn’t alone.

So you see, Mr. Lowry, to claim that dirty words and taboo ideas are male suggest you’ve been entombed in the basement of an Elks Club for the last 30 years. But that can’t be true. Surely, you are aware of Wikipedia’s Great American Novelist scandal of April 2013, in which a New York Times columnist realized that women were being moved off Wikipedia’s “American Novelists” page and into the “American Women Novelist” subcategory. And that in your needlessly gendered language, Mr. Lowry, you uphold this idea that everything on the damn planet is “male,” unless it has a bright pink “ladies” ribbon on it. And you must understand, Mr. Lowry, that as long as there are people making up rules about what is “male” and “female,” there will be other people who are alienated and silenced because their thoughts don’t fit into the outmoded stereotypes that threatened, clueless, and lazy writers often use as a crutch.

So from a lady to a gentleman, Mr. Lowry, don’t be a dickhead.

Emily Winter

P.S. In my research for this article, I found some internet writers criticizing you for talking about Silverman’s good looks as a career-friendly asset. I don’t think it was necessary for you to mention this, but I’m not pissed about it. It is a true fact. So there, we agree on something.


Emily Winter is a comedienne and co-creator of the Backfat Variety Show in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter.

[Image via WENN]