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TEEN ESSAY: Taking gender out of formula for success

Published: Sunday, November 25, 2012 at 2:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, November 25, 2012 at 2:17 p.m.

The first time I saw Gilda Radner was the day her “best-of” DVD arrived in the mail and my mother sat me down to watch one of her childhood heroes on “Saturday Night Live.” I latched on to the vigor and passion that spurted out of her performances. She was so hilarious, and I wished with every fiber of my being that I could be like her someday.

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LUCY SLAVIN.

I knew, right then, that I wanted to be on “Saturday Night Live.” She was my first true role model and had everything that I wanted: Intelligence, charm, wit and talent.

I adopted this zest for performance and theater without realizing I had it easy then. I was born a ham that could liven up in front of a camera or audience and immediately get attention. Radner never had it that easy.

She probably went to audition after audition, maybe even being turned down for not being pretty enough. She got onto “Saturday Night Live” because she was smart, quick and enthusiastic, just like all of the men on the show.

Former cast member and movie writer Kristen Wiig recently said, “I’m not trying to be a funny woman, I’m just trying to be funny.”

Radner did not receive her position as a cast member for being a funny and silly girl, but because she was just plain funny.

These ladies are different from the feminists I thought existed and, yet, they are still indeed feminists.

Growing up, “feminist” was not a comfortable identifier for me. I associated the word with a woman protesting her days away in front of corporate buildings and shaving her head to try to banish the conception that certain hairstyles identify someone as a certain gender.

I, being a child, loved my long hair and dresses and felt like this woman with a picket sign was trying to rip my girly ways away from me. It seemed like she thought my feminine tendencies were holding me back, while all I thought was, “Gosh, twirling in dresses is so much fun.”

I do not know where I picked up this image of what it meant to be a feminist, especially as it is something that both my parents identify themselves as. Still I find myself having to hammer this image, this misconception, out of my head, while remembering that many of my intrinsic values and beliefs are in fact feminist ones.

Wiig, her “Bridesmaids” castmate Maya Rudolph and other comedic actresses have expressed their opinions on feminism in the media more empathetically recently because of misogynistic quotes from male comedians saying, in one form or another, “Women aren’t funny.”

Either these men are not paying attention or just refuse to recognize not only that women can be just as hilarious and quick-witted as men, but that talent has nothing to do with gender.

These women are such an inspiration to me, not only for making me laugh during stressful times in my life, but also because they persevere through the doubts of any woman in Hollywood being able to be more than just a pretty face.

These women must still, occasionally, put up with opinions and misconceptions bred hundreds of years ago; they sometimes have to fight to have their talent recognized, just like Gilda’s generation.

I want to be like them so badly, which is why it saddens me so much that there are people who ignore them simply because they are women with careers in comedy.

But I do believe that progress is made by these talented women every day, and perhaps when I have the chance to catch laughs in the limelight, I will catch them because I’m funny, and it will not matter that I am a woman.

I have new views on feminism now which will guide me on my journey into the “Saturday Night Live” spotlight. It does not symbolize working toward being a powerful woman, it means attempting to be a powerful person regardless of any social, gender-related or racial difference among the majority of the population.

Feminism does not mean attempting to eradicate any “typical” physical or behavioral differences between males and females, nor does it represent a view that women and other minorities deserve special treatment allowing them to more easily climb a ladder of power.

Maybe that word meant these things at a certain point in time or even now to some individuals. However, to me, feminism is about unity, it is about everyone receiving equal opportunity and recognition.

Just like the workplace should not belong to just whites or just men, the idea of feminism should not belong to just women, it should belong to everyone as a belief that working together and listening to good ideas, no matter who they come from, will help society to flourish.

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