I was listening to Lenny Bruce: Let the Buyer Beware the other night after having just watched “Gloria,” and I felt a kinship between you two, in terms of how you both confront hypocrisy in society.
I think it’s the use of humor. Now here’s something I’ve been thinking about: how laughter comes out of seeing two things coming together and unexpectedly making a third. Laughter is said to be the only free emotion. You can compel fear. You can even make someone feel they’re in love if they’re isolated and dependant for long enough. But laughter is free. And that’s very important to me because I’ve grown to only trust places where laughter is alright. If it’s a place full of false solemnity, you know you’re in trouble.
One of the interesting aspects of the film is the way in which you expand the definition of the feminist movement by speaking to everyone who’s experienced inequality, not just women.
Well, that’s it. That’s the key. I mean, you can’t go on thinking half the human race is somewhat unequal to the other half, and not have a wrong worldview of everything else. It starts the hierarchy, and then you’re cooked [LAUGHS].
Why is it important to question hierarchies?
What I’ve learned is that unless it’s an emergency, like a fire or brain surgery, hierarchy is not necessary, and may be damaging. If you have a hierarchy, you’re repeating the strengths and weaknesses of one person without allowing for the accumulative strength of a group. And you’re also not learning from each other’s stories. What’s so valuable about HBO is they tell stories. We learn from stories. We do not learn from statistics. If you hear a statistic, you will make up a story to go with it, because our brains are organized on narrative. And you may very well make up a wrong story because you only have one fact, which is a statistic. If you hear a story, you learn and retain it.
Speaking of stories, you’re quoted as saying, “I made feminists older than myself feel uneasy as I wandered around in the ‘70s in miniskirts and boots, with a button that said ‘Cunt Power.” Why did you do that?
It’s what movements do! In lots of different ways, we take words that are used against us and use them in a positive way. ‘Black’ was a negative word, and the Civil Rights Movement took it and made it positive. ‘Gay’ was a negative word, and the movement made it positive. Today, young women are doing ‘slut walks’ because in Canada police officials told girls that they wouldn’t get sexually attacked in the street if they didn’t dress like sluts, which is like blaming the victim. So there are like 45 cities now in which there have been slut walks. In London, young women were carrying signs that said, “A Dress Is Not a Yes!” It made me laugh out loud!
It’s taking a negative and saying, you call me that? Okay, I’ll take that and make it positive. And, you know, pre-patriarchy, “cunt” was not a bad word; it has the same linguistic origin as the word ‘country;’ because the idea was ‘a mother country.’
You’ve said, “I wasn’t crazy, the system was crazy.” Is the system still crazy?