Too Many ‘Weak Woman’ Jokes in this Audience

by Grace Evans

Author Diana Spechler performed Saturday night at The Liar Show in Manhattan. Of the four storytellers, Diana was the only female performer. She told a story that she had previously published in the NY Times, about an ex-boyfriend who was slated to star in a reality show called Arranged Marriage. I read the story before attending the show. Spechler’s writing is funny and self-aware, and I thought that the outrageousness of the story would play well in front of an audience.

But seeing the story performed live was a completely different experience of the same narrative, largely due to the audience’s reaction. I felt like there was judgment repeatedly cast on Diana’s choices, in a way that didn’t occur for the male storytellers. Though it appeared in the guise of a joke, the question “do you really think that a woman would degrade herself for a man like this?” popped up a few too many times over the course of the night. That and the fact that many an eating disorder joke was thrown around, which is the subject of Diana’s newly released semi-autobiographical novel. I felt like there was a noticeable difference between the way that Diana’s performance was received and the way that the male storytellers’ performances were received, and I don’t think it is going too far to say that it was because the issues that were present were women’s issues.

Diana spoke about how she did crazy things for her ex-boyfriend, but in an omg-can-you-believe-how-crazy-I-was tone. It seemed like the audience appreciated the story, but didn’t necessarily identify with or support Diana’s role in it 

I spoke to Diana afterwards, and she had some really cool things to say about women’s issues and feminism: “Feminism, one of the best things that ever happened to our country, can be a source of shame for women. It feels shameful to admit to anti-feminist longings-wedding fantasies, weight loss attempts, dreams of pregnancy-even if those longings are real.”

Perhaps that’s why the “weak woman” jokes kept popping up at the show. The audience wasn’t able to reconcile a strong, successful woman with what they deemed fragile behavior. But Diana firmly believes that feminists feel those things too: “It’s so important to admit to who we are, even if who we are is who we worry we shouldn’t be. I did something dumb-fell for a jerk, vied for his love that he was never going to give me, and daydreamed about marrying him. I guess that because I have a master’s degree, and because it’s 2011…I’m supposed to be above submitting to a man who doesn’t deserve me. But of course I’m not above it at all. I hope that sharing my story helps other women feel less alone and less ashamed.”

I couldn’t believe that this funny, outrageous story had the mild, pleasant reaction that it did, but perhaps it is only indicative of the way women’s issues fall flat in a public sphere that isn’t populated by women and feminists.

Diana Spechler’s second novel, Skinny, attempts to tackle similar female issues in a way that demonstrates that all women are susceptible to weakness. She told me: “With my book, [which is] a story about eating disorders and body image issues, I had a similar goal in mind. Plenty of educated, strong women suffer from eating disorders. It’s detrimental to pretend that eating disorders belong exclusively to 16-year-old girls with butterflies tattooed on their ankles. I hope that my book is a reminder to women who suffer from eating disorders that they’re not the only ones.”

(Note: The picture is of Vaughn De Leath, said to be the first woman to speak into a microphone in 1919. I wonder what kind of response she got to her stories on air.)

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