March 9, 2012 / Opportunity, Safety

A Misogyny Double Standard?: Louis C.K. and the Correspondents’ Dinner


The following article is cross-post from the blog “Big Think” with the express permission from the author.  The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.

There are few people I disagree with more than Sarah Palin, but I’m surprised that the famed Correspondents’ Dinner this year will feature the comedian Louis C.K., who’s said some extremely hateful things about Palin and her “retard” baby, as he called him.

I don’t want to repeat the descriptions here, even under cover of astericks, because I’d rather not be subjunctively related to them.

Among his milder comments he describes things he’d like to do to and on Palin’s “fat tits” and thought, in another context, that her having given birth to a baby and then campaigned was “disgusting.” He made much out of variations on how Palin was a c***.

These are real side-splitters, aren’t they? I had to pick myself up off the floor from the paroxysms of laughter that these Wildean witticisms on retards and lewd acts on Palin’s tits induced in me.

I don’t watch Louis C.K.’s act.  Some friends tell me that he’s often funny, and that they were pretty surprised to read his Twitter and other statements on Palin.

One friend finds him funny, but felt that he was a really poor choice for the Correspondents’ Dinner, which is the high-wattage DC event of the year, like politics’ version of the Oscars, because Louis C.K. routinely ridicules even his own children. It wouldn’t be the first time that an incendiary comic has ruffled feathers at the Dinner.

Whatever the case, I’ve observed anecdotally men who act as if their progressive street creds have earned them a free pass to talk like misogynists when the mood strikes them—as if a feminist sensibility of not trashing people on account of their sex wasn’t a core part of our values. There are self-policing exceptions. Ralph Nader has called out sexism among the liberal ranks, but much of the swagger goes uncriticized.

Others act as if they’ve got a license to be misogynists, when their misogyny is directed at a non-liberal.

I’m not understanding, or buying, the double standard, here. There are a hundred reasons to disagree with Palin. Her being a woman isn’t one of them, so check the misogyny at the door. This isn’t what we’re about.

One problem with these statements about Palin, of course, is that they’re not funny. It’s not hard, actually, to tell the difference, in real life, between something that feels funny and something that feels hateful. Seems to me that people have a pretty good intuition for that. Comedians poke fun all the time, and their efforts make us laugh, they don’t make us wretch—even when we’re the ruthless objects of the joke.

Another problem is Twitter and the open mike of talk radio. They seem to induce these phantasmagoric, stream of consciousness worlds, where weird, ad hoc, and sometimes ugly material surfaces.

The Tweeter, sitting alone and perhaps drunk, or the host, sitting in a small empty room in front of a mike, just says whatever bubbles up from his mind at that moment, without the gatekeepers of an editor or an imagined audience. No, it’s just you and the mike, just you and your I-phone.

It’s deceptively cozy, anonymous, solitary and informal. But the problem is, it’s also indelible, permanent, and massively amplified and circulated within two seconds of your comment. We get the worst of both worlds: spontaneous, rashly-conceived comments that are indelibly permanent and ubiquitously “broadcast.” In this way, some hateful, impolite materials works its way back into mainstream discourses.

Another issue is the abuse of humor as a social and political genre, using it to reinforce a sincere, negative feeling while pretending it’s all just a joke.

When I was growing up one of the most common bleats about feminists was that they never found anything funny.

In a rebuttal to that statement, all the feminists I knew found extremely funny this joke: “Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? A: That’s not funny.”

Occasionally, rather than provoke a new thought, or just a laugh at the social absurdity of it all, comedy is used as an alibi for the expression of contempt.

“It’s all a joke,” we get told when this happens, or “you just can’t take a joke.” The phrase can become one big Get Out of Jail Free card to declare not-funny, witless derogations with impunity. It really short shrifts humor, which is critically important to a healthy democracy, I think.

And I’ve seen how that worry about being judged Not Funny or a Bad Sport can silence young women, especially, who will tolerate jokes that aren’t all that joke-y for fear of being seen as militantly humorless.

After you hear that kind of criticism long enough, it wears you down. You just start “taking it,” as a young woman once described it to me—the comments from male “comrades,” even, that disrespect you, and your sex, because it’s too damn hard to risk the social ridicule of looking un-funny, as if you take your own dignity seriously, or something.

Now’s a good occasion to reinforce that there isn’t any double standard for misogyny, there’s only one standard—whether you’re targeting Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin or one of Atilla the Hun’s wives.

And, you know what? All this stuff—it really and truly… isn’t funny.

Join Our Email List

Be the first to know the latest initiatives from The New Agenda to improve the lives of women and girls.

Thank you for joining our list! Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.

  • Marille

    Pamela really enjoyed this outstanding analysis on humor as political strategy. looks like a threesome of weapons against women on their way to power: physical beauty but dumb, intelligent but ugly and humorless, that would be the one with acceptable physique, high intelligence just missing the sense of humor which gets us at ease.
    And you added all the layers how the social ridicule really works. thanks.

  • Bes

    I’ve never heard of Louis CK but he sounds like an ignorant pig. How nice of the whitehouse Democrats to give him publicity. I find it so odd that a political party that’s swallowed up the old Feminist movement is so totally tone deaf to misogyny. I expect to see Terry O’Niell, Gloria Steinem, and every woman seen in the Liberal media sitting around a table laughing their asses off at Retard and Palin jokes because they are SELL OUTS.

  • L. Anselmi

    It really does confirm every complaint women had about the media in the 2008 election, when the likes of Louis C.K. is picked as a headliner for their correspondence dinner and Maher for a democratic fundraiser.

    Yes, vile misogyny and the objectifying of women is mainstream entertainment. And if we women don’t like it, we are just poor sports.

  • M. Thomas

    There’s more than one Correspondents’ dinner — please correctly identify the event in your piece as the one being planned and hosted by the RTCA.

    People may write the organization at or contact via Twitter @rtcadinner

  • Laura

    hes not hosting the correspondence dinner, jimmy kimmel is. Hes hosting the the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Dinner, which is something not affiliated with the white house or the democratic party. might want to get the facts straight before you engage in obama bashing

  • BevWKY

    Don’t know what happened but this just came through my feeds:

    Louis C.K. cancels on Radio & TV Correspondents Dinner

    He didn’t want to do it any more? Wonder why? o.O

  • Swannie
  • yttik

    “There are few people I disagree with more than Sarah Palin”

    It always bothers me when people say that. There are like, thousands of men actually in public office right now, making decisions that impact people’s lives, and yet who do we focus on? Sarah Palin. “I hate her policies or I disagree with everything she stands for.” Really? Do we hate the way she increased funding for education in Alaska? Do we hate her work that has made Alaska nearly 100% energy independent? If people really examined the things she has accomplished, I bet there is not as much disagreement as we thought.

    It just seems like we always place an incredible amount of disagreement or dislike on women, simply because they are women.

  • ann

    Doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree with a certain woman – sexism is wrong. It’s wrong against Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, Phyllis Schlafly, Gloria Steinem, every woman.

    Avoid sexist insults. They are wrong. End of story.

  • BevWKY

    Oh, just found out more about how he came to change his mind about doing the gig:

    Van Susteren Does the Right Thing Regarding Misogynist Louis C.K.

    See, this is what I mean about the relative size or loudness of boycotts mattering as much as their focus. Then again, I think the media at large is feeling the heat.

  • Juliette


    So true! There is a tyranny among leftists that force them to begin every discussion about Sarah Plain with words like ” I don’t agree with her policies” etc.. I left the democrat party cased away by misogyny but also because I was so attracked to a public servant from Alaska who had the courage to take on a powerful and very corupt political institution know as the Murkowski’s. Leftist don’t know much about Palin’s policies. What they do know is that she made the rare and courageous choice to give a child with Down’s Syndrom a chance at life, and that makes them all a little uncomfortable; I wonder why.

  • Bes

    I see Democrats need to mumble some anti Palin comment when they greet each other as sort of a superstitious religious thing, kind of like people who mumble “Praise the Lord” continually. I find it beyond weird.

  • Bes

    Bev: That is a very interesting link. I hadn’t realized Brent Bozell was behind Louis CK getting quietly uninvited. Now there is a man who understands how to use boycott pressure on media. He has carried out more pro woman actions against Corporate Media than Feminists such as NOW.

  • Kimble

    Palin took on Frank Murkowski and won back in 2006, but how is she faring compared to the Murkowskis now?

    Senator Lisa Murkowski won her 2010 reelection bid in a historic write-in campaign against Palin’s endorsee, Joe Miller, and an unusually strong dem. candidate for Alaska. She enjoys high approval ratings in Alaska.

    Murkowski is one of the most influential republican women elected officials in the country. Murkowski is well-respected on both sides of the aisle, though she seldom makes headlines. With Olympia Snowe retiring, she could be considered the leader of the moderate wing of her party.

  • Juliette


    Lisa Murkowski is far from the self made sucess that Sarah Palin is. She was appointed to the Senate in 2002 by her father Frank Murkowski who once put a gag order on Sarah Palin when she was blowing the wistle on the corupt collaboration between Murkowski’s governors office and her collegue in the Alaska Oil and Natural Gas Conservation Committee. Palin volutarily left that position that position because she was more interested in looking out for the interests of residents of Alaska that her position and political career. But behold she then went on to win the governor ship of Alaska. Lisa Murkowski could not win the Republican primary in 2010 so she ran as an independent. She became the 2nd person ever to win a U.S. senator seat with write in votes.
    It is far more difficult to have high approval ratings as a governor than as a senator who can basically buy votes by bringing home the pork. Palin could not print money like the fed does for Obama. Her’s was an executive position and her sucess was all her own.