Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Just lean away, forever, please

You know what's really messed up?

Using White Feminism (TM) to bully other women.

I know this happens literally all the time every day in big and small ways, but I'll cut right to the chase on this one. I'm talking about the reaction to Jessica Williams saying she ins't ready to take on the job of hosting the Daily Show after Jon Stewart's departure.

If you're engaged in social justice on Tumblr (and other places, but that's my frame of reference), you were well aware of the many calls for Williams to take this soon-to-be-open gig. I was one of them! I agreed! Williams is awesome and hilarious and her filling that seat would be incredible.


Williams herself said in a series of tweets that she's not ready. When someone, of their own volition, says something so plain like this, you should respect the clear boundary they've drawn and move on. It's not the same as the executives saying she's not's from her own mouth (or hands at her keyboard, but ya know.)

Apparently, this isn't good enough. In a piece published at The Billfold, Ester Bloom wrote:
Jessica Williams, respectfully, I reject your humility. What on earth does “under-qualified” mean when it comes to being a comedian? You’re smart, you’re funny, you’re self-possessed. Is there something I’m missing?
And how insulting that so many press outlets took her tweets at face value despite the fact that they were displaying clear symptoms of Impostor Syndrome, a well-documented phenomenon in which men look at their abilities vs the requirements of a job posting and round up, whereas women do the same and round down, calling themselves “unqualified.”
...All Williams needs is a pep talk. Get Luvvie in a room with her, and Jazmine, and Amy Poehler and Lena Dunham. Get Paul Feig in there too, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, and George R. R. Martin. Get her the best Lean In group of all time. She will emerge as from a funeral pyre, naked and coiled in dragons, ready to lead. 
Um. Did she really just say that Lena Dunham needs to give a black woman a pep talk?



Anyway, I'll let Williams response speak for itself because it was pitch perfect. Among the many things she explained about this, she said:

Bloom (@shorterstory) edited the piece to include an apology at the end, but still the damage here is done. A whole piece was written in which a white woman questioned if a black woman was really sure if she meant the "No" she said. And it was done in such a public way which only adds to the grossness of it. Honestly it feels like the grown up, higher profile version of saying something like, "Wow, Rachel, are you SURE you want to wear that to the dance?" in front of your whole group of friends in the middle of the cafeteria, when your friend shows you a dress on her phone that she likes and you this is hideous. You can say that it's "well intentioned" or whatever, but it's not only questioning someone's choice; it's using social pressure to do so.

It's no wonder that Williams called the piece "insulting."

Examples like this are why I will always be listening and learning and trying to stay in my lane as a white lady writing about gender. This isn't what solidarity looks like.

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  1. Yeah, that was gross. I was among the many rooting for Williams' to take over Jon Stewart's duties, and I maintain she would have been Uh-MAZE-ing at it, but if she doesn't feel ready for that kind of role and the responsibility that comes with it, then she doesn't feel ready for it.

    It's one thing to say "Aww, that's disappointing" and another thing entirely to say "No, you're wrong and here's why." I'd be wholly pissed off myself.

    Jessica Williams would have been a FANTASTIC host.. if she WANTED to be. But she doesn't. So she'll probably go and be a fantastic something else or another, because she's fantastic.


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