Nobody deserves to be harassed in the workplace, but it seems like more and more women are having this happen each and every day. Jen Grant, a Toronto-based comedian, spoke out about what happened to her rather than saying nothing.
Grant was sexually harassed during a set she did at a corporate event. Post-show, she took to her blog and wrote about the experience with a post simply titled “I was sexually harassed at work.”
In her post, she wrote: “I am interrupted by a male… saying to me, ‘There’s a 51 percent chance that my buddy here will have sex with you and I will take the other 49 percent,’” and she describes him as using a “rapey” voice. She then walked off the stage in tears, something she said she had never done in 16 years of performing.
While support began rolling in from all over, there seemed to be one opinion that skewed from the rest. Jeff McArthur, a co-host of the The Morning Show on Global Television, said that female comedians should be “prepared” for behaviour like this and that it was “a part of the job.” One person who shared her story of sexual harassment as a female comedian during this segment was Toronto-based comedian Jess Beaulieu, who I had the chance to chat with. Jess told me, “Comedy has consistently been known to be a sexist, often terrifying place for females and its toxic environment has been talked about here and there for decades. With the rise of women’s voices on the internet we now have a platform to speak our minds.”
Each and every day, female comedians are silenced by their male counterparts for being “too sensitive,” basically gaslighting women into thinking their feelings are wrong or that they are overreacting. Jess explains, “Comedy has long been a boys club and the boys do not want to give up their power, and they can maintain their power by silencing women. Oppressors do not like change because that means they will be held responsible for their actions.” But the fact of the matter is, more and more female comedians are battling misogyny, standing their ground and not taking sexual harassment in the workplace anymore.
The biggest problem seems to be that audience members don’t seem to realize the difference between heckling and sexual harassment, which changes the dynamics very quickly. Jess breaks it down.
Sexual harassment: Typically gender-specific, sexual in nature and threatening in a way that builds on the ingrained, sexist power dynamics between a man and a woman, because usually it is a man harassing a woman. The comments made tend to be about a woman’s body — “Nice tits!,” what a man would like to do to her sexually — “I want you to suck my dick” or generally misogynist in nature — “You don’t even look like a woman you’re so ugly.”
Heckling: Heckling isn’t gender-specific — “I hate that movie!” usually is in response to your act — “That joke sucked!” and non-sexual — “Your hat is stupid!” Heckling is also not violent and rarely results in a person in the audience threatening to kill the comedian on stage. If that does happen, and it has before, I would consider that to be a physical threat and security or the authorities should be called.
Although male comedians have been quick to support both Jen Grant and other female comedians who have come forward with their stories of sexual harassment in the workplace, it is still an ongoing battle that the comedy landscape must face for inclusivity on how to make it a safe space for all. Jess explains, “Male comedians are also guilty of sexually harassing female comedians, so I think for starters they need to practice what they preach,” For starters, Jess tells me that bookers should immediately kick out any man in the audience who sexually harasses a female comedian or they should avoid booking other comedians who have reputations for making women uncomfortable.
While Jeff McArthur, a co-host of the The Morning Show, has gone on record apologizing, he has still refused to have a direct discussion with an actual female comedian about this issue, which Jess tells me is problematic. “I do believe in forgiveness but forgiveness needs to be earned. Jeff McArthur took a step forward when he apologized but then he went on his radio show and invited a male comedian onto his program who is notorious for sexually harassing women to discuss sexual harassment in comedy.”
Sexism and sexual harassment exists in comedy and it’s time to open the dialogue on what it’s like to live the life of a female comedian. Jess tells me, “I’m sure if a male comedian had to live the life of a female comedian for a week he would understand how different that is.”