Balint: Post gender? Not a chance

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A friend relayed a conversation she'd had with a male politician recently. He said he didn't really support the efforts of Emerge Vermont — a left-leaning political training program for women candidates; he believes there's no need for it.

"We're post-gender," he remarked — or some such nonsense. He wasn't commenting on the empowerment of transgender people. No, it simply wasn't a priority for him to elect more women because, he explained, women have already made so many strides. He also didn't think that electing more women would change political conversations. Oh, please!

One need only look at the train wreck that is the ACA repeal movement to see that it is an extremely gendered issue. When the first Obamacare repeal bill was drafted by the House of Representatives, not a single woman was involved in the drafting. The result? Women's health care needs were essentially ignored. The bill was a direct assault on cancer screenings for women, basic gynecological care, reproductive health, and pregnancy-related healthcare.

As I've discussed before in this column, poverty is also a gendered issue. Across the country, women are much more likely to live in poverty than men. Women are still paid less than men — decades after this issue first became a battle cry for feminist activists. In terms of housing, one of the biggest demographic groups in desperate need of affordable housing is single moms with young children. Women are drastically underrepresented in Congress and in corporate board rooms across the country. Just about any political issue one examines has a gendered aspect to it. It's simply ludicrous to say that we're "post-gender."

Even our late night talk shows are extremely gendered in their humor. I'm a big fan of Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert. I think our comedians are actually doing some of the most daring, courageous political commentary in these deeply disturbing times. I start my day by reading several newspapers; then I stream the late night comedians' new commentary while I make dinner.

With the entry of Samantha Bee into this arena, I've become much more aware of just how often the others' commentaries are focused around the male perspective. And male genitals. Noah, Meyers, Kimmel and Colbert almost always have at least one phallus joke in their routines — and often more than one in each show.

This became even more noticeable to me when Seth Meyers added a segment on his show called "Jokes Seth Can't Tell" starring Meyers and two of his female staff writers: Jenny Hagel and Amber Ruffin. Ruffin is African American and Hagel is gay. They tell the punchlines of jokes that Meyers feels uncomfortable telling as a straight, white man. The juxtaposition of these jokes with the usual late night fare help illuminate the extent to which the usual jokes are grounded in

and shaped by a male perspective.

I deeply appreciate these comedians and their daring, spot-on candor about our political mess. But I think it's important that we acknowledge that the jokes are primarily written by men and geared toward a male audience. Only 18 percent of writers on the 11 most successful late night talk shows are women. This clearly has an impact on their jokes.

We're not post-gender, folks. We haven't reached parity; we're not even close. I know that when any group starts to gain more political power — even a modest amount — those who've had that power for so long feel threatened. And when they give voice to those feelings, they say things like, "We're post-gender."

Becca Balint writes from Brattleboro on history, politics and culture. She currently serves as the Senate Majority Leader in the Vermont State House. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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