Let's all listen to Janeane Garofalo now

Bitch magazine interviewed feminist comedian, Janeane Garofalo recently and I found a number of her comments pertinent. Maybe Toxic Twitter will hear them from Garofalo or Bitch instead of from the rest of the feminists who’ve said this stuff 80 billion times before. Maybe not.

The interviewer, Andi Zeisler asks Garofalo about the trend of framing cosmetic interventions as empowering. Her response:

That’s the sign of the times. It’s just inevitable, as people live longer. It’s not empowering, but there is something to be said about feeling good about the way you look. That’s fine. I’ve had Botox and that’s fine. I’m waiting for the Logan’s Run laser, you know? The laser that went over people — I will do that. I’m serious. I will not frame it as empowering. I would rather look better to myself than worse. I will never be a person who really gives a shit that much. I don’t dress very nicely. But I wouldn’t mind, as I get older, not looking at certain reminders of being 51.

Is this really such a radical notion these days? That wanting to look “nice” or “attractive” is fairly normal, but getting Botox or breast implants still isn’t empowering for women? Apparently it’s bigoted. I say people are, 1) stupid, 2) looking for excuses to target prominent feminists and shut them up.

Zeisler says, “But is there a difference between being honest and matter-of-fact about it, as you’re doing, and this emerging culture of consumer feminism where these things are framed as empowering because it’s a choice?”

Why yes! There is a difference! (Again, you’d think people were intentionally misunderstanding these arguments so they’d have an excuse to silence feminists they don’t like…. Hmm…)

Garofalo says:

I don’t think it’s emerging. I think that’s been there since Jayne Mansfield and before. Now, granted, that was a much different era, but there has been a long history of nonsense talk. What’s empowering about some artists is they own their own companies and they have their own record labels. That’s empowering. But there is no denying that pandering to the “male gaze” isn’t empowering. There’s also no denying that people feel good about themselves when other people feel attracted to them. That’s just pure human condition stuff. That’s biology. But don’t misunderstand what you’re doing.

The male gaze isn’t empowering???! Did you hear that, internet? BURRRN HERRRRR.

Zeisler also asks about the fact that Garofalo has been targeted more than many other activist actors and comediens. Her response:

Being female has a lot to do with it. Plenty of men have been targeted, but being female means you’re really gonna get it. It takes almost nothing as a female to incite vitriol. If you say you’re sorry, they’ll pile on more, which I didn’t understand at the beginning dealing with these people. Never say sorry if you’re not wrong. If you’re wrong, of course, apologize. But in today’s culture, with the culture of cruelty online, it takes nothing to get shat upon, which is why I try to stay out of it. I am fine with selling fewer tickets to comedy shows, I’m fine with people thinking I fell off the face of the earth, if I don’t have to be on social media.

I’ve learned the same. The times I’ve tried to apologize, it seems the apology is not only ignored but used as an excuse to amp up the pile-on. Don’t apologize just because you’re being bullied. Just because the people who are mad at you have supporters doesn’t mean they’re right and, in general, people aren’t attacking feminists because they want justice — it’s because they want to silence feminists and to stifle debate. Fuck that noise.

She goes on to say:

I don’t have a thick skin. Stuff doesn’t roll off me. During Iraq, that was a very traumatic period—all the death threats, the criticism, the mockery, had a very significant, negative effect on me. It’s painful to be criticized, misunderstood, and lied about. I still get heckled occasionally and it hurts me. Even if I don’t like the person who just heckled me! I have a need to be understood, as we all do.

Now, I do have a fairly thick skin. But that doesn’t mean the viciousness doesn’t impact me. It does. The kind of social media pile-ons that are so common nowadays are always traumatic. I don’t say that in an exaggerated way. It really takes a toll. They are always emotionally draining. They are always a time-suck. They are always stressful and upsetting and horrible. Even when you don’t engage. I and many others have pointed out that on mediums like Twitter, people seem to dehumanize one another. They believe it’s acceptable to say really vicious, hateful, repulsive things to those they disagree with (and then frame those attacks as “critique,” in order to defend their misogyny, libel, what have you). But it’s not. And dehumanizing women online in order to hurl verbal abuse at them will never achieve the supposed justice being sought.

What I do know, having been faced with an inordinate level of hate online, is that none of these attacks have convinced me that my analysis is wrong. (What’s particularly strange, in fact, is that attackers seem to assume women haven’t, you know, thought this through before. It’s like they believe my analysis and ideology only just occurred to me yesterday, rather than understanding that my writing comes from decades of feminist thought and years of studying, thinking, writing, research, and reading on my own. I completed a Masters degree in Women’s Studies and was 30 years old before I ever published my writing online. This is not my first rodeo…)

What’s most frustrating is, as Garofalo points out, being misunderstood. I could (and likely will) spend a lifetime correcting misrepresentations of my work. That is a huge waste of time, of course. One thing I’ve learned is that when people misrepresent you and your work, they often are either not capable of understanding or they have no desire to. Their preference is, in fact and in most cases, to misunderstand, because it provides them justification and ammo in their vitriol.

I know full-well that many of these attacks aren’t really about “me.” They are a lesson for other women and young feminists: “Don’t speak out — see what happens? You’re next…” The only solution is for us all to keep speaking out, regardless of the names we are called and the ongoing efforts to silence us.

These arguments Garofalo makes are basic, obvious arguments. If you can’t handle the truth, maybe you need to think about why that is rather than virtually clawing the eyes out of the woman who dares say it. Or, you know, before trying to get her fired or no-platformed. Just a thought.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.