I love watching comedy specials, and I love being feminist. So when I learned that there was a new comedy special out by Daniel Sloss that focused specifically on admonishing sexual assault, of course I was excited to watch it.
As I began his comedy special, X, it was clear he knew the severity of the issues he was talking about and was talking about them in the right way. So why, by the end of the special, despite Sloss’ set being very funny and also very accurate, did I feel uncomfortable?
The jokes were genuinely clever and appropriate for the topic. Sloss clearly did everything he could to approach the topic in an informed manner. So what was the problem?
After sitting on it for a few days, I realized the issue was that I was being sensitive -- not to the jokes, but to the issue they brought up. Sexual assault is a very difficult topic for many women to think about and a very real issue to me. As I questioned how I could find the jokes funny and still be off-put, I realized that the discomfort I was feeling from the standup was not due to the jokes, but due to the fact that it was a man speaking on this issue.
Recognizing this raised a strong internal conflict-- why did the fact that he was a man change my perception of the words he said? He executed the topic to the best of his ability and knowledge, but I seemed unable to fully get behind his words.
I hate to admit it, because it undermines many of my values, but I did not fully respect his position as an ally to sexual assault awareness. While I appreciated what he said, and agreed with it, I felt like he was stating the obvious or using the issue to his advantage in a way (whether to make jokes or to make money or to appear woke).
And I am definitely wrong for this, I know I am. I should be able to respect the opinions and efforts of those who support the movements that affect me. I should thank them for working with me to end whatever issue we are fighting. After all, Sloss was very humble about his position and repeatedly pointed out how ridiculous the situation was that he, a man, was telling a woman's heartbreaking story for laughter. But accepting the help of an ally is difficult to do, and I had never realized this because I’ve had enough privilege to face very few issues.
But I am thankful for the awareness my discomfort has given me, and I hope to make myself a better ally to other movements because of it. Sloss did his best to be a good ally, and I believe he was a good ally. Yet the emotions that came with watching him, a man -- a member of the population that disproportionately commits sexual harassment and assaults -- talk about a topic so close to my heart, made me realize the position of an ally is not necessarily about talking, it’s about listening.
I’m not saying that people who aren’t members of an oppressed or marginalized community shouldn’t be allies to the movement. What's important is that Sloss listened to the woman’s experience and used that knowledge to change himself and others around him.
Therefore, I think the role of an ally should be to do the same -- to listen first, to change yourself second, and to then help educate others third. But don’t be surprised, or offended, if your attempts to speak on the matter are seen as less than the words of those who are in the community. Sometimes it truly is difficult to accept the help of allies, without feeling like they took on your struggle from you, instead of with you.
Anya Miller is a senior at Century High School. Send comments on teen columns to Jeff Pieters. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.