Gillian Graven

Gillian Graven

I Have Something Important to Say

I have something important to say. I will try to keep it as short as possible, but in order to prevent further misunderstanding, confusion and pain I want to be as clear as possible.

I’m going to tell you what I’ve experienced in stand-up comedy because that’s my experience, but this could just as well have been about someone else’s experience with a sport club, organization, church, student society, friend group or whatever.

This is my story.

Part I

Two years ago I started doing stand-up. I love stand-up, I think it’s one of the most beautiful and most powerful forms of art. And it’s also fucking funny. I’m proud that I can do stand-up myself on stage. But there’s also a lot of bullshit involved.

This September, I shared a opinion piece from the New York Times on the controversy around Louis CK on my personal Facebook page. This is a post that’s only visible for my Facebook friends – this is relevant. Several comedians commented on this post, one of them asked for my opinion. This was my response:

For those who have the same attitude as Dave Chapelle in his Netflix Special (if you really want to do stand-up, you will also endure sexual abuse): being able to endure sexual intimidation and abuse should never be requirements to have a shot in an industry. That this is being accepted in the standup comedy scene is absolutely ridiculous.

I haven’t been doing comedy for two years and the shit I’ve experienced because I’m a woman in stand-up is insane. Yes, this includes sexual intimidation. I therefore can’t blame women who decide to quit stand-up.

For once, listen to a woman who does stand-up. I can assure you that she has also had to deal with misogynistic shit that as a man, you’re completely unaware of. Most men simply don’t realise that performing stand-up is a completely different experience for a woman.

As long as there are comedians who believe that everything is acceptable as long as it’s legal, nothing is going to improve and in 50 years time, we’ll still be asking ourselves why there aren’t any more women in stand-up. If something isn’t a crime, doesn’t mean that we have to just accept it.

Comedians who deny that in the case of Louis CK there was an abuse of power, are in a best-case scenario unbelievably naive and worst case scenario simply misogynistic. As a woman, you can’t just reject a male comedian/comedy professional, since you’re fully aware that you run the risk of being denied shows, being blacklisted and, in short, him preventing you from succeeding. This isn’t an irrational risk – it happens here, in the Dutch stand-up scene. In addition, there are comedians who ‘forget’ how young some women doing stand-up are.

I love stand-up, but stand-up is a misogynistic scene and as long as men don’t behave better (when they themselves are guilty of misbehaving) or speak up and hold other men accountable, nothing is going to change. Let’s raise the bar a lot higher than “it wasn’t a crime”.

Part II

In October, an Amsterdam television network broadcast an episode of a Dutch standup comedy talk show, where one comedian interviews another comedian. This episode was also uploaded online and shared on social media. In this episode, the two comedians responded to my Facebook post. They used my name and talked about me. One comedian claims that there is no such thing as sexual intimidation and abuse in the Dutch stand-up scene. After all, if that were the case, he surely would have noticed it. Therefore, he claims that I’m making everything up for attention. This segment goes on for about six minutes. No one involved with the show let me know that I’m talked about in this episode. I only found out that I was named and talked about a couple days later, when I watched the show myself.

Just to be clear – I’ve been sexually abused, as a kid and as an adult. I’ve been both intimidated and sexually intimidated. What exactly happened within the stand-up scene doesn’t matter to me at the moment, because it’s not like my brain has these boxes for ‘abuse within stand-up’ and ‘abuse outside of standup’. It’s not like this doesn’t confront me with all the feelings of shame and pain and anger and powerlessness from what I’ve been through.

I didn’t deserve this and this is unacceptable. What’s making this extra cruel, is that there were adults who knew about my sexual abuse as a kid, and they pretended like it wasn’t happening either.

Fuck. That.

No one deserves this, let alone a child, and I won’t let anyone repeat it in a way that’s not only careless, painful and humiliating, but also public. This hurts me a lot. This is unacceptable. I didn’t deserve this.

I don’t believe these two comedians would have done this if they knew how much pain it would cause me.

One person publicly stood up for me. Zero people publicly acknowledged how painful and undeserved this was for me. I have no idea how many people saw the episode – it doesn’t matter – but now you can’t pretend it didn’t happen. I can’t pretend either.

Part III

In September I had the courage to stand up – and I refuse to sit down. I refuse to continue to suffer by myself and stay quiet because other people don’t want to feel uncomfortable, or don’t want to hear the truth. This doesn’t only affect me, but everyone who has experienced intimidation and abuse and hears how people talk about it (regardless of whether the abuse was sexual or not). It also affects the people who understand how painful it is.

If you’ve been abused yourself – I’m sorry that you’ve had to go through that. You didn’t deserve it. It’s not your fault. You’re not alone. Me too.

The details of someone else’s experience are in most cases irrelevant for you. I get that people are curious, but it’s up to the person who has gone through it to decide what they want to share, with whom, and when. Respect that.

Part VI

We all deserve better. We can all do better. What happened is painful, it shouldn’t have happened. But no one can change that. And – silver lining – now I have a clear example with ‘proof’ of the bullshit that’s happening. Just to be clear, both professional and non-professional comedians do things that are bullshit. Let’s not turn this into a painful memory and one of the countless incidents that doesn’t change anything – let’s make this the start of a step in the right direction.

I don’t know exactly how to go from here either – we are talking about problems that can’t be solved in one day or with one blog post. This costs time and energy. But let’s make a start. Because this isn’t my problem. This is our problem.

I know that I sound like a random cocky 25-year-old idealistic smart ass, and I am, and apparently, this is necessary. I don’t claim to know everything, but I do, for example, have a bachelors degree in Neuroscience so I have knowledge and experience that may be useful. And I believe I can do my bit. I believe we all deserve better and we all can do better.

I’m not sure yet exactly what that will look like, but I do have some ideas and we can discuss that together.

I can write another 30 parts of what I’d like to tell you, but I don’t think I will get my appetite and sleep back until I share this. So this is what I propose for now:

I could really use your support – I need your support. Whether you don’t know me at all, or only by name, or you do know me. This is how you can support me: share this. Preferably with as many people as possible. I don’t just write this for myself, but for all of us. Let’s talk about this – online and offline. Sharing this doesn’t mean you fully agree with me on everything – it simply means that you support me. I will behave respectfully when you share this and I expect the same from you.

What is not acceptable: doing something – anything – at the expense of me.

Then, to conclude, just to be clear:

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. There’s no such thing.

I’m not talking about political correctness here. Starting a discussion about that distracts from the topic at hand – don’t do it.

Emotional pain is just as real as physical pain – that’s not my opinion, that’s (neuro)science. Feeling angry, sad, hurt, confused, etc. is ok. Some things are confusing and difficult, but it’s up to you to deal with that in a responsible way. Feeling pain is not an excuse to inflict pain on others. Words can hurt too.

Words can be powerful. See: stand-up comedy.

The brain doesn’t take into account in how far something painful is legal or not – like I said earlier: let’s raise the bar to be a lot higher than “it wasn’t a crime”.

I don’t wanna walk around with a big and heavy shield and pretend I’m numb. That would be at the expense of both me and my ability to create art.

I believe that people can learn from their mistakes and can improve their behaviour, but only when they recognize that they’ve made a mistake and take responsibility for it.

I am willing to stand alone in this if I have to. But I invite you to stand next to me.

This article was originally posted here. 

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