Il­iza Sh­lesinger wants to ed­u­cate you... kind of.

Il­iza Sh­lesinger is a standup who wants to ed­u­cate you…kind of.

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents - By Greg Hud­son

There’s some­thing about Il­iza Sh­lesinger’s fem­i­nism that feels, well, off. Some might even call it prob­lem­atic. If we’re be­ing com­pletely hon­est, part of that stems from how the standup comic looks: We’re sus­pi­cious of women who talk about equal­ity yet con­form so com­pletely to so­cially en­trenched beauty stan­dards. “How can you dis­man­tle a system you’ve clearly bought into?” the think­ing goes. “Peo­ple don’t al­ways like the idea of a woman who isn’t hu­mil­i­ated by her face,” says Sh­lesinger. “They don’t like the idea of a woman be­ing proud.” Fair point.

But it’s also how she talks about fem­i­nism—and women in gen­eral. Sh­lesinger is one of a hand­ful of fe­male standups dom­i­nat­ing this mod­ern com­edy boom. She made a name for her­self by be­com­ing the first woman to win Last Comic

Stand­ing. She also hap­pened to be the youngest. Ob­vi­ously Sh­lesinger isn’t the first co­me­dian to point out the dif­fer­ences—and the re­sult­ing com­edy—be­tween men and women. The gen­der stereo­types she uses when she de­scribes a night out, say, or a failed ro­man­tic en­counter, would seem out­dated and un-woke if she didn’t un­apolo­get­i­cally point out—and find the com­edy in—the so­cial, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences be­tween men and women, too.

Take her book, Girl Logic, pub­lished late last year. “Girl logic” is how women think—the nat­u­ral, in­stinc­tual, nearly sub­con­scious way they con­sider what they want by com­par­ing their past ex­pe­ri­ences, the fu­ture they hope for, how they would like to be seen, their safety and pretty much ev­ery pos­si­ble out­come. It’s not un­true, but it seems wrong, post-Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, to ad­mit that men and women are in­her­ently dif­fer­ent.

But if that seems prob­lem­atic, Sh­lesinger doesn’t re­ally care—which might be the big­gest in­di­ca­tion of her fem­i­nism: She’s con­fi­dent enough to present her­self and her ob­ser­va­tions with­out apol­ogy, even if she knows that some, on both the right and the left, will take to so­cial me­dia to reg­is­ter that they’ve taken of­fence. That’s noth­ing new for her; she’s used to de­fy­ing ex­pec­ta­tions.

Your com­edy is some­times very con­ver­sa­tional. How do you bal­ance those con­ver­sa­tional jokes you come up with on­stage with

ac­tu­ally writ­ing down jokes? “I don’t write any­thing. It’s all done on­stage, which is why I al­ways tell younger comics that they just have to go do it. You have to get up, talk and take a thought or a word and just ex­pound and you find it in there. I don’t sit down and write. Also, my jokes are like long sto­ries—there’s a nar­ra­tive—so it’s about a stream of con­scious­ness; you pick and choose what you want to say, but there’s no writ­ing any­thing down.”

You of­ten see male co­me­di­ans adopt­ing a self-loathing per­sona, but they still ob­vi­ously have the con­fi­dence to do it. Does it take a dif­fer­ent kind of con­fi­dence for women? “Some comics are self-loathing, but at the root of it, no mat­ter your gen­der, no mat­ter how in­tro­verted or awk­ward or ‘alt-y’ you are, you still think you’re god­damned good enough to get up there and take up some­one’s time. So I think it’s a bit of an act. There are peo­ple with crip­pling in­se­cu­ri­ties, for sure. But you still put on your shoes, you still came here and you still think you’re smarter and fun­nier than most of the peo­ple in the room. I do think it’s an af­fec­ta­tion a lot of peo­ple put on to in­gra­ti­ate them­selves. I hap­pen to go the other way. I firmly be­lieve in stand­ing by what you are. I was never taught to dim my light to pacify other peo­ple. But I also don’t think that any­thing I’m do­ing or say­ing is wildly of­fen­sive. If you’re weirded out by it, it’s prob­a­bly be­cause you don’t love that a woman is talk­ing.”

“When you’re a woman and you say one thing that women dis­agree with, they want to cru­cify you.”

In your last Net­flix spe­cial Con­firmed Kills and in Girl Logic, you’re do­ing a bit more ed­u­cat­ing. What do you think your re­spon­si­bil­ity is with your com­edy? “It’s weird. There is some re­spon­si­bil­ity that peo­ple put on you. And you see this with ac­tors and singers—peo­ple are al­ways say­ing ‘You need to be a role model.’ No­body is re­ally say­ing that about comics— be­cause we’re comics. I have an obli­ga­tion to my­self to be vul­ner­a­ble and not say things or do things that aren’t au­then­tic. I think with that re­spon­si­bil­ity you get the best ver­sion of me. No mat­ter what you do, you’re go­ing to piss peo­ple off. Whether you are talk­ing about fem­i­nism or your gov­ern­ment, you’re go­ing to up­set some peo­ple. I fig­ure that if you’re go­ing to up­set group A half the time and group B half the time, at least 50 per cent of the time some­one is OK with you.”

Like what hap­pened to you on­line re­cently. “I did this en­tire in­ter­view about fem­i­nism and how pro-fe­male I am and how my whole ca­reer is a love let­ter to all that. And I had one sen­tence about how women are so multi-faceted, and so smart, yet you see a lot of women mak­ing lazy vagina jokes. The vagi­nas aren’t lazy; the jokes are. I’m in com­edy clubs, and I hear th­ese jokes of­ten. And a cou­ple of blog­gers got up­set. When you’re a woman and you say one thing that women dis­agree with, they want to cru­cify you. Never mind the book, the spe­cials, the en­tire in­ter­view that was pro-women; you say one thing that hurts their feel­ings and there­fore they want to see you die. And that is a big prob­lem with hu­mans in gen­eral. We love to tear peo­ple down; we love to tear women down.”

Girl Logic is based on the premise that women and men think dif­fer­ently. Do you think that that is a bi­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ence or a so­cial con­struct? “I think it’s both. It can’t be fully so­cial be­cause women have ovaries and a bi­o­log­i­cal clock and pe­ri­ods, and in terms of safety, women aren’t as strong as men phys­i­cally. But a big touch­stone of the book is that women have to be so many dif­fer­ent things to so many peo­ple at once, and it’s be­cause of th­ese ex­pec­ta­tions that we’re con­stantly fil­ter­ing out what works for us—past, present and fu­ture. It’s this con­stant mea­sur­ing your­self against other peo­ple, against other women, against how you want to feel ver­sus how you do feel, be­cause you’re ex­pected to be a cer­tain way and act a cer­tain way, which is ex­haust­ing, and we do it nat­u­rally. And so a nor­mal per­son might say ‘Why do you care about what other peo­ple think? Just be your­self.’ And I agree with that, ex­cept that of­ten­times what so­ci­ety, men or other women project on you can have detri­men­tal ef­fects, phys­i­cally, emo­tion­ally and ca­reer-wise. You know, like ‘She seems like a slut’ or ‘She seems stupid.’ And then they treat you that way. And some­times you don’t get a chance to prove them wrong. And we deal with this on a minute-by-minute ba­sis. ‘She’s blond so she must not be smart.’ ‘Oh, she’s a dif­fer­ent colour so she must not be XYZ.’ It’s a con­stant strug­gle: How much do I want to take in? And we suss out and do this nat­u­rally. That’s what girl logic is.”

Talk­ing about fem­i­nism seems dan­ger­ous—not only be­cause non-fem­i­nists will get mad at you but be­cause other fem­i­nists will. “That’s a very real thing. I have talked about this in hushed tones with other women. One of the huge dan­gers peo­ple face in this move­ment is other women. And peo­ple can roll their eyes at that, but Abra­ham Lin­coln said, ‘A house di­vided against it­self can­not stand.’ Women are al­ways pit­ted against each other, and women pit other women against each other. Be­fore I knew about the move­ment or Glo­ria Steinem or any of the lit­er­a­ture, I was al­ways the kind of woman who stood up for her­self and didn’t un­der­stand why I shouldn’t be treated the same as the guys. I def­i­nitely thought I was smarter and fun­nier, and I just didn’t take any shit. That’s not to say that shit wasn’t put on me. I only started us­ing the word ‘fem­i­nism’ maybe two years ago, as a way to make it more ac­ces­si­ble, but talk­ing about fem­i­nism doesn’t mean any­thing if you aren’t do­ing things to move that is­sue for­ward.”

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