I avoided social media after the White House Correspondents Dinner. Every time I logged on, the top posts and comments were about Michelle Wolf’s monologue and the backlash she was facing for it which stirred in me such impotent dread that I refused to think about it. Stuck in my throat, like a scream that couldn’t get out, was the taste of the now all-too-familiar cocktail of stomach acid, infuriation and hopelessness. (It’s been a ubiquitous drink of mine the last two years, served everywhere like Cosmopolitans in the early 2000’s. Let’s just call it “The Moscow Tool.”)
It’s not unusual for comedians to be criticized for their material or accused of going too far. I happen to disagree with the critique in this case, but not enough to be disturbed by it. I could debate that making fun of a “smoky eye” is more about a fashion choice than someone’s looks–like making fun of Jeff Sessions’ white hood as opposed to his height. I could argue that none of Wolf’s jokes were without precedent—that they weren’t much different in tone or content from anything that’s come before at the WHCD, like jokes about Chris Christie’s girth or Stephen Colbert’s monologue calling out George W. Bush. I could even wonder out loud if perhaps the difference here is that Michelle Wolf is a woman and that this is just another example of the blatant sexism in comedy, in entertainment, in politics.
But I won’t. Because none of that stuff explains why my stomach feels like a paint can that’s just been mixed at the hardware store—and none of this is actually about Michelle Wolf or her monologue. This is about the persistent gaslighting of America’s women by our president and his administration—and this time, the media at-large is complicit in it.
Let’s back up for a minute and look at what happened. At a dinner celebrating first amendment rights, one of the invited speakers was criticized for exercising hers. At a dinner where everyone present is a comedic target, we are being told that a comedic target deserves an apology. In the midst of all of this, there is more outrage over the fact that Wolf made fun of Trump for saying the word “pussy” then there ever was when he bragged about grabbing women by theirs.
No wonder my stomach is upset: the media is slamming on the brakes, reversing course on reality like a getaway driver in a heist movie. And they’re trying to take us further away from the truth.
Sara Huckabee Sanders is a liar. So were her predecessors, Sean Spicer and Anthony Scarmucci. These people invented “alternate facts,” and they continue to spread them from the White House. Liars don’t get apologies, they get fired. And if their boss won’t fire them, then we the people need the media to call them out—and if the media won’t do it because it’s suddenly insulting to say someone should be a on a softball team (which, by the way, if you think is an insult, maybe it’s YOU who owes an apology to all of the women who play softball), we need to call them out, too.
We cannot get complacent about the lies and double standards we are being made to stomach on a daily basis. They are destroying our democracy. It began with “crooked Hillary” who “rigged a primary” and should be “locked up.” It continued with the launch of “alternative facts.” And now, the Republican wing of the House Intelligence committee is claiming there is no evidence of the Trump/Pence campaign colluding or coordinating with Russia—even as members of the Trump/Pence campaign plead guilty to illegal activity concerning Russia.
For women, this disheartening quagmire is unfortunately nothing new. Since Petruchio told Katherine to say it was the moon and not the sun, we’ve been forced to endure these types of assaults on our experience. When we speak our truths—the truth—we are rarely believed. We are gaslit by progressive men who tell us they care about women and people of color and the LGTBQ community but then dismiss fighting for our rights and our lives as identity politics. We are dismissed by male bosses and co-workers who tell us that the sexism we face at work is our fault or just in our head. And now, a female comedian is being called out for identifying sexism, spotlighting hypocrisy and (gasp!) refusing to call someone else pretty.
But as women we carry on—calling out the truth, naming things for what they are, even in spite of the stomach aches and the screams stuck in our throat. Not because it’s easy or because we are always believed. But because it’s the only way forward.