Written by Isy Suttie


Changing attitudes towards women

Actress and comedian Isy Suttie takes time out from plaiting hair and bitching about her female contemporaries (sarcastic licence alert) to muse on the portrayal of women in the media.

I must get asked, “So what’s it like to be a woman in comedy?” in one out of two interviews. That’s good: it definitely used to be a lot higher.

Once an Australian newspaper enquired gleefully, “So what’s it like to be a woman in comedy? Is it all bitching behind each other’s backs, or sitting in dressing rooms plaiting each other’s hair?”

My new ploy is to either treat the question as if the emphasis is on the word ‘comedy’, as if they’ve asked, “so what’s it like to be a man in bricklaying?” and I answer that I love my job and am very lucky.

Either that or I employ a tactic of mum’s: when she doesn’t want to answer something, regardless of whether it has a yes/no answer, she just says, in a very drawn out way, “Yeeeeeeees”.
“How are the runner beans Mrs Suttie?”
“Um – bye.”
Mission accompli.

This obsession with the idea that women must have it so much harder in comedy, poor things, is symptomatic of a wider attitude towards women in entertainment.

Almost every advert depicts women as the ones who come in with their hands on their hips, tutting as their husbands mess up yet again.

If the director’s kind (or a woman) you might get to give a wry smile as if to say, “What do I see in you? Men!” Either that, or the advert ends with a kid saying, “Thanks, Mum!”

Mum put a carton of orange juice in my pocket. Mum serves dinner even though she’s stressed.
The latest McDonald’s adverts feature a man talking about his fantasy burger which he then finds out already exists, while a woman sits next to him and looks vacantly at him.

Because so many couples share childcare these days, these adverts in particular seem sweetly nostalgic. I can’t believe they’re still being made, they’re so far from mine and my friends’ worlds.

Of course I find it offensive that women are portrayed as the only gender who could possibly know what to do when their kids get mucky from football or are hungry, and so should men. But I feel distanced enough from the bizarre categorisation of women as warm, humourless child bearers to also find it funny.

Women are ethereal fawns who must gaze vaguely at a distance from the men, then step in, with quiet courage, to mop up the mess. Either that, or it’s “zany slag”.

Something I find harder to laugh at is the amount of sitcom scripts and shows in which women have little personality and are just there to do the same as they do in the adverts: hand-on-hip, head-cocked-to-side, sparkly-eyed, fresh faced, vague disdain, but on a lower budget than the ads.

Sometimes, rather than a name, the part is simply called “The Girlfriend”. At the heart of it I think rather than simple misogyny, there’s a reluctance from male writers, particularly older ones, to depict women as flawed – which is key to any funny character.

Women are ethereal fawns who must gaze vaguely at a distance from the men, then step in, with quiet courage, to mop up the mess. Either that, or it’s “zany slag”.

There are loads of fantastic male writers who write brilliant, complex parts for women, like Sam Bain, Jesse Armstrong, Matt Morgan, Robert Popper, Arthur Mathews, Graham Linehan to name a few.

In my favourite sitcom of all time, The American Office, all the parts completely transcend gender – it’s just made of joy and silliness.

Mostly I don’t think about the 2-D parts, just like the adverts.

But when I get asked again about “what it’s like to be a woman in comedy”, and the “Yeeeees” rolls off my tongue to confused silence from the other party, just for a moment I feel desperately sad.

Then I put a wash on and look at my husband and my toddler covered in jam*, and I can get through another day.

* Poetic licence. I don’t have a husband or toddler. And if I did, we’d all be covered in Marmite.

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Written by Isy Suttie

Isy is a comedian, writer and actress. She loves pinball, foreign lagers and exploring derelict buildings. @Isysuttie