While some celebrities took to media outlets this weekend to publish farewells to us all, others put pen to paper (er, fingers to keys) to address more specific targets. On Friday, The Huffington Post published an op-ed from Chelsea Handler about her frustration with the recent New York Times piece “Bullish On Boyish” by Bill Carter. The NYT piece focuses on NBC’s attempt to drive a younger audience to The Tonight Show with the help of new host Jimmy Fallon and, while it makes plenty of references to Fallon’s late-night competition, only one name is listed in a parenthetical aside. And that name just happens to belong to the only woman with a late-night talk show.
The Chelsea Lately host expresses concern that the parenthetical reference is an example of the media marginalizing her late-night presence because of her gender. She writes that the use of parentheses implies, by its dictionary definition, that the information is “incidental, subordinate in significance, minor or casual.” Given that the paragraph in which her name was mentioned discussed younger viewership, Handler argues, “I share the distinction of having the youngest average viewership with Colbert, The Daily Show and Conan. So from a purely statistical standpoint how, in this paragraph, could I only be mentioned as an aside? Was it because I'm a woman?”
Handler expresses thanks for being included in the image that ran with the piece, and she admits some may see her complaint as a minor point. However, statistics on the under-representation of women in the recent Women’s Media Center report are a reminder that marginalization of women is very much a reality in the entertainment industry. (For instance, men were quoted 3.4 times more often than women in front page stories on The New York Times.) With the overt sexism of the ’50s and ’60s no longer deemed acceptable by society, many argue that sexism now appears in smaller, more innocuous ways (like a parenthetical), which are no less frustrating when added together.
Speaking to The Wrap about Handler’s piece, Carter explained that his article was not meant to be a comprehensive examination of late night, and he adds that Craig Ferguson and Arsenio Hall have “better gripes” because they were not referenced in the piece at all. Still, one could see this as implying that, unless a woman is the most marginalized in a given situation, she should not speak out.
Handler wraps up her piece with an explanation of the complexities of being the only female in a field dominated by (mostly white) men: “And just as I don't want to be inconsequential in any late-night discourse, I also don't want to be singled-out and lauded merely because I am successful ‘for a woman.’ I only want to be acknowledged for having worked hard to build an equally significant audience and fan base to those of my peers. I believe the success of any woman should never be qualified by her gender.”