Balancing Act: Making Room (Complete With Room Service) For More Women’s Voices

By Heidi Stevens
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Columnist Heidi Stevens shares some of her thoughts on how recent events are helping women change the landscape of what is reflected in news, entertainment even comedy.

Chicago Tribune

My favorite tweet of 2017 comes from a woman named Mattie Kahn.

“Women’s lives,” she tweeted Nov. 20, “aren’t men’s teachable moments.”

What that says, to me anyway, is the shame-filled apologies (Louis C.K., Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose), the stepping-aside-to-consider-my-actions (Harvey Weinstein, Russell Simmons), the reinvention tours (Billy Bush) are depressingly insufficient when you consider the careers and lives forever altered in their wake.

Women aren’t practice dummies, here to help men hone their life skills. And our days of treating them as such, I’m confident, are dwindling.

We are hearing and amplifying women’s voices in ways that matter: Christiane Amanpour will appear where Rose once did; Robin Wright will take the lead in “House of Cards” in Kevin Spacey’s absence.

These aren’t just lemonade-out-of-lemons moments. They’re shifts toward a culture that includes women in spaces traditionally reserved for men. When our news and entertainment and comedy and insights are just as likely to be delivered to us by a woman as they are by a man, our worldview becomes bigger, more complete, more accurate.

It’s time.

Which is one of the reasons I love the new humorist-in-residency program at the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

The brainchild of writer Anna Lefler, the residency program invites two humor writers to enjoy workshops, writing solitude and room service in southwest Ohio. One applicant, juggling motherhood and career, opened her pitch letter: “I haven’t slept in 12 years.”

The inaugural winners are Karen Chee, a recent Harvard University graduate from New York who interned for “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” and Samantha Schoech, a copywriter from San Francisco who’s writing a book of humor essays tentatively called either “People Really Like Me” or “It’s All My Fault.”

“There is so much value in women telling their honest stories and not feeling like we have to pretend to be something we’re not, daintier or nicer or cleaner or more put together,” Schoech told me. “For me, humor is a way to get at that honesty. Humor is the vehicle, but it doesn’t work unless there’s some truth to hold on to.”

A program that recognizes and reinforces that is worth its weight in gold.

“It’s so crucial right now for there to not only be women who are willing to speak up, but also room for them to be speaking and people willing to listen,” Chee told me. “The responsibility shouldn’t just be on women to speak more loudly, but also on people to take the time to listen and hear women being funny or thoughtful, instead of putting them in whatever box we think they should be in.”

More than 400 writers applied for the residency. Schoech and Chee will be guests at the workshop April 5-7, and after that ends, get to stay free at the University of Dayton Marriott for two more weeks of interruption-free writing.

“I can’t imagine a better tee-up for intense writing and creativity,” said Lefler, who sees the program as a catalyst for emerging comedy writers. “The winners are going to be primed and positive and stuffed full of motivation and ideas.”

It’s all sounds heavenly.

“My life, like most modern lives, is a very scattered thing,” said Schoech, who has 11-year-old twins and works as program director for Independent Bookstore Day. “I don’t get hours and hours of time to think about things.”

The residency program, which will take place biannually, is open to all humor writers, regardless of gender.

I just happen to love that this year, of all years, its inaugural year, the residency is filled with two women. And I can’t wait to see where they go from Dayton.

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