Is the Daily Show sexist? Don’t believe (all) the hype.

Jon Stewart is on my TV a lot. Photo by Erin K. O'Neill.

“Men hire men,” my dad said to me when I was home for Independence Day.  “And women hire women. That’s just the way it is.”

Whether my dad was strictly accurate (or not) misses the point.  The gross generalization—that hiring for jobs is largely based on gender—is the center of the brouhaha surrounding the blogosphere and the “Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” America’s premiere source for fake news.

I fucking love the Daily Show.

I’ve been watching the “Daily Show” since Craig Kilborn was the host, and he left the show in 1998. I plan my life around watching the “Daily Show” four nights a week—because if I miss the 10 p.m. airing I catch the rerun at 12:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 1 p.m., or 6 p.m. the next day. My biographers, should I ever have any, will probably point the influence of the “Daily Show “in my chosen career of pursuing real news (hint hint, biographers).

Thus, when the feminist blog Jezebel decided to make a very thorough, if flawed, critique of the “Daily Show’s” dearth of female on-air “correspondents,” I was devastated. Or, to put it in the 140 characters or less I wrote on Twitter: “This is the most upsetting news EVER!!! EVER EVER!!!” (sic).

It’s the fake news apocalypse. Or, as Jon Stewart himself might say, it’s a catastrafuck.

Because I was just a little worried that it was true.

Irin Carmon, who writes for Jezebel, went to great lengths, and through a lot of anonymous sources, to make the point that institutionalized sexism, or discrimination based on gender that is a result of adherence to existing social norms and organizational rules and not active prejudice, is alive and well at the “Daily Show.”

Jezebel’s article quotes the show co-creator and former executive producer, Madeleine Smithberg, as saying that she doesn’t think the show is sexist, and blames “larger societal forces” (Jezebel’s words) for the gender disparity.

And, in some ways, the numbers don’t lie: of the 50 “correspondents” the “Daily Show” has featured over the years, only 11 have been women.

Like my dad said: “Men hire men.”

A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless because I’m still angry with him for even suggesting it, said that maybe women just aren’t as funny as men. Since the “Daily Show” is predicated on humor, it would make sense that more men make it on-air. He sent me an article by Christopher Hitchens from “Vanity Fair” called “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” Apparently, a side effect of the ability to grow tiny humans kills any ability to be funny.

“For women, reproduction is, if not the only thing, certainly the main thing,” Hitchens wrote. “Apart from giving them a very different attitude to filth and embarrassment, it also imbues them with the kind of seriousness and solemnity at which men can only goggle.”

Excuse me?

Well, it was all just fuel for the fire. I was furious—not only at my friend for sending me such an odious article, but at my own blindness. How could I have been such a fan of the “Daily Show” and not seen what was right in front of me? Were smashingly good and hilarious critiques of Fox News really enough to justify overlooking such discrimination? Was I condoning the male-dominated media landscape by default because I had not even realized that all of my fake news idols were men?

I thought about it. A lot.

And then the backlash in the media started. Jon Stewart himself mentioned on-air that “Jezebel thinks I’m a sexist prick,” and Slate’s Emily Gould accused Jezebel of using accusations of sexism and the female predisposition to petty jealousy to boost page views. The New York Times wrote a piece on Jezebel’s willingness to take a “media heavyweight . . .  . to task.”

I found the open letter to “People Who Don’t Work Here,” written by the female staffers of the “Daily Show,” to be most enlightening. “The ‘Daily Show’ isn’t a place where women quietly suffer on the sidelines as barely tolerated tokens,” the letter said. “On the contrary: just like the men here, we’re indispensable. We generate a significant portion of the show’s creative content and the fact is, it wouldn’t be the show that you love without us.”

I would rather take their word for it than anyone else’s.

I am, in the end, conflicted. I think that the “Daily Show” could have saved itself a lot of agony if it had not refused to comment for Irin Carmon’s article.  I think Jezebel did a huge amount of reporting, but instead of deferring to a journalist’s obligation to the truth, they decided they had a bone to pick (Jezebel may be a media organization, but it’s a blog of opinion writing with a feminist slant, which can lead to a lack of fairness).

This may have all been blown way out of proportion. Welcome to media in the twenty-first century.

Do I wish that the “Daily Show” would represent more females on-air? Absolutely.  Do I think that the conspicuous lack of women on the show is a result of deliberate and insidious sexism? Not at all.  I will still be watching.

Also: Olivia Munn, meet me at camera three.

Honey, you need to talk to wardrobe. The blue button down shirt you wore on the air July 1, 2010 was too small.  The buttons should not pull like that. There’s no shame in going up a size. That’s what tailors are for—they can fix that problem. No one will ever know!

~By Erin K. O’Neill

Not Jealous, Still Outraged

As I’m sure many of you can relate, when your area of study is Women and Gender Studies, you find yourself starting sentences like this, “One my favorite feminists was tweeting about [insert interesting issue here] today, and it got me thinking about…” So oblige me in saying, one of my favorite feminists, Jessica Valenti, tweeted a link to an article a few days ago by Slate’s Emily Gould about feminism marketed as “petty jealousy.” Sure, this made me curl my lip a little, and made my fingers a little itchy, itchy enough to write a comment.

Fortunately, I took a day off from it and put my feminist thinking cap on.

The thing that struck me is that she ties feminism to jealousy of other women. I’m still not sure what specifically I’m jealous of in these other women, but Gould seems to be implying the marketed feminism is just jealousy against beautiful women. Sure, feminist blogs get upset about the sexual ways in which a famous and influential woman may present herself, but many feminists are still sex positive. It’s just how that sex is presented. I mean, I wouldn’t mind looking like Olivia Munn, but the potential issue concerning her looks, or any Hollywood starlet’s looks, is how those looks are presented or used.

So, the feminist internet community’s mixed response to Olivia Munn’s new gig on the Daily show ties into the title of Gould’s article, “Outrage World.” Some feminists of the internet were irritated by the buzz around something that should have been happening for a while, more women on TV.  But most of Gould’s commentary is lost on me. She mentions that there are lots of women-centered things to be angry about in the world: “It’s certainly important to have honest, open conversations about the issues that reliably rake in comments and page views—rape, underage sexuality, and the cruel tyranny of the impossible beauty standards promoted by most advertisers and magazines.” I think where Gould is really outraged is that for these websites, these conversations are tied to page views and many comments.

Gould admits that the internet is not necessarily the place to have these arguments. She may be right. Here’s the bottom line I’m seeing in her article. At times, in this “outrage world,” feminist blogs have ads, and to keep those ads they need readership, so sometimes these blogs post stories related to celebrities, related to things like their body represents a poor ideal for young girls, or how the Daily Show may be anti-women.

Okay, but shall we think about the average feminist that is most likely looking at feminist blogs? They may not be cracking books about feminist theory, they may not know who Judith Butler, Simone de Beauvior, or bell hooks are, and they probably are most comfortable discussing the feminist issues that are covered in the introductory course of women’s studies at their college. (They’re also probably not ready to read my rant about how in a capitalist society under our current global economy it is impossible to change things like the necessary evil of needing ad sales and needing to make certain numbers to keep their companies afloat, which is related to feminism / ending patriarchy.)  The fact of the matter is, these feminists may or may not be ready for websites that rely mostly on third wave feminist theory and take on issues like most of today’s popular cultural and societal ideals. So yes, feminist blogs like Jezebel write stories about beautiful women that aren’t necessarily positive. I think Olivia Munn is gorgeous, that Samantha Bee is absolutely hilarious, but I also think that the Daily Show and other shows of its kind could use more women, be they gorgeous or not.

Gould may not think that the internet is the place to discuss important issues like rape and body image, but that’s where these conversations are happening. And sometimes these conversations happen on websites the feature articles about pop culture issues that relate to women. These articles generate interest, and that interest generates ad sales. In the long run, I’m not so sure that this is a bad thing. Sure maybe the most commented on articles are pop culture/hot lady/lame stuff related, but maybe this will also make these readers check out articles about being an activist in their own community, or the ways that limiting women’s rights limits human rights. Then readers can be outraged at pop culture and some more important issues. But in the meantime, take a breather everyone and watch a couple of episodes of Amy Poehler’s brilliant Smart Girls at the Party.

–by Sam Howard