On the eve of the launch of her book In Praise of Difficult Women, author Karen Karbo shares why Amy Poehler, 'Subversive Difficult Woman', is the perfect example of why we shouldn't be afraid to be more of a bitch.
THERE ARE A HANDFUL OF CONTEMPORARY WOMEN comedians whom I always mix up—but never Amy Poehler. Perhaps because she looks like a cross between Alice in Wonderland and a cute cartoon frog contemplating a felony. There’s that arched eyebrow, that deadpan stare, that curled corner of the lip. She’s very sweet looking—but beware. Amy is one of those difficult women who hides under cover of adorable amiability, but when pressed, can throw some world class shade faster than you can say “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night.”
In Yes Please, her sort of a memoir, she tells a story about the time she was flying to Toronto with Tina Fey and Ana Gasteyer to shoot Mean Girls. They were in first class and during the hour-long flight were chatting in a lively (loud) fashion as girlfriends often do. A White Businessman of a Certain Age in a fancy suit was seated nearby, and mistook first class for a library. Fancy Suit was peeved at what he clearly viewed as disruptive visiting among the women. After they deplaned, he pushed past Amy and she did that thing where you say “Excuse me!” but what you really mean is You’re The One Who Should Be Saying Excuse Me, Pal.
Fancy Suit said, “Excuse ME? Excuse you!” He then told Amy that because she and her friends had been yammering during the entire flight, they shouldn’t have been allowed in first class.
Amy was enraged. She spun around and dropped a few F bombs. He turned on his heels, to get away from this madwoman, but she ran after him, shouting and cursing that he wasn’t better than she, and that he could keep his entitled opinions to himself.
Brief digression for a sexism check. This nonsense wouldn’t have happened to a man, so why is it happening to a woman? Is there any doubt that if Amy, Tina, and Ana had been three show biz-y guys talking sports, Fancy Suit—far from deciding that women who converse with each other in first class should be banished—would have wanted to join in on the Monday morning quarterbacking, stat swapping, and Super Bowl ad recounting? (I just decided our hypothetical guy makes commercials.)
This altercation took place in the early 2000s, before the iPhone-equipped masses became citizen journalists eager to record a celebrity losing her mind in an airport (the better to create memes, GIFs, and #SNLStarChasesManInAirport). But still, Amy Poehler was a public gure: a young woman who appeared every weekend on Saturday Night Live. Tabloids were around, and surely someone could have snapped a picture of her looking unhinged.
Like many women (me) she could have easily complained under her breath, but otherwise kept her objections to being patronized to herself.
Because so often, that’s what we do. We stay silent, rather than cuss someone out and chase him down the moving walkway. Even difficult women who are stubborn, brave, outspoken, and won’t take no for an answer tend to let this kind of thing go. Men, however, do not let this sort of thing go. That’s why there are bar fights and the situation in the Middle East.
There are complex biological and sociological reasons why we ladies prefer to go along to get along (I’m guessing). But the one reliable woman-taming weapon that never loses its effectiveness is slinging the b-word. For some reason we think we will melt like the Wicked Witch of the West if someone calls us a bitch. The only time it’s okay to be called a bitch is if you’re about to get busy with a hot guy who growls “you’re one sexy bitch.”
Ugh. Even then. I totally take that back.
In 2008, Tina Fey hosted SNL and did a guest spot behind the Weekend Update desk, doing her best to take the sting out of the word and make it a rallying cry. It will come as no surprise that the bitch was attached to Hillary Clinton.
“Some people say that Hillary is a bitch. I’m a bitch, so is this one. (Nodding at Amy.) Bitches get stuff done. Bitch is the new black.”
Not that this did any good at all. The morning I wrote this I was in line at Starbucks behind two girls who were maybe 19. One was tormented about whether she should tell her lousy boyfriend that itwas uncool when he flirted with someone else while she was standing right there: “I don’twant him to think I’m a bitch,” she sighed. Amy would have totally told that girl to cuss him out and chase him down the street.
This extract was taken from In Praise of Difficult Women - Life Lessons from 29 Heroines who Dared to Break the Rules - Nevertheless they persisted, written by Karen Karbo, published by National Geographic.