A few weeks ago, a Humans of New York post featuring Hillary Clinton went viral. Clinton shared a memory of taking a law school admissions test at Harvard and being shouted at by men who didn’t think women belonged in the room.
“It was intense,” Clinton said in the post. “It got very personal. But I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t afford to get distracted because I didn’t want to mess up the test. So I just kept looking down, hoping that the proctor would walk in the room. I know that I can be perceived as aloof or cold or unemotional. But I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off.’”
It’s not unusual to see a Facebook friend share a Humans of New York post, but this particular post was shared over and over again by women I’m friends with. It’s easy to identify with the sentiment that as a woman, you have to walk an impossibly fine line. Don’t be a bitch, but don’t be a pushover. If you’re aggressive you become unlikable, but if you aren’t, hey, you make 78 cents on the dollar and that’s your fault.
Which is why having Samantha Bee on late-night television has been like that first gasping breath after someone performs CPR on you. Before “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” premiered in January, there were 10 late-night hosts, all of them men. Bee’s show on TBS was a chance for her to prove that women belong in the game—there was more riding on her than just the success of her single show.
So how would she approach it? Perhaps in a nice, classy dress (heels, obviously), sitting behind a desk, speaking in a carefully measured voice that conveyed authority without projecting bitchiness. She should be charming and funny obviously, and political but not too political, if you know what I mean. We don’t want to prove any stereotypes here.
Except that is exactly what Samantha Bee did not do.
“There are plenty of people who won’t tune in because a woman’s voice bothers their eardrums,” Bee told New York Magazine last January. “Their ear canals can’t handle the sound of my shrill voice talking at them about a subject. I guess I just don’t really care about those people.”
Bee is unapologetically angry. She’s angry that the media doesn’t fact check the lies that have become commonplace during this election. She’s angry that Donald Trump’s racism gets pushed to the side like it doesn’t matter. She’s mad that Hillary Clinton can’t restrain herself from saying things like “basket of deplorables.” Every week, she gets up there (in a blazer and pants) and swears and yells and groans at the things that upset her. There is nothing demure about it.
So why does this matter? Why does it matter that Bee swears and wears pants and doesn’t keep her voice level? It doesn’t, actually. What matters is that she can. Bee approaches her show how she chooses, unrestrained by a very narrow idea of how a professional woman must operate. She looks just as comfortable criticizing Clinton’s mistakes as she does calling out Jimmy Fallon, a member of the boys’ club she infiltrated, for palling around with Donald Trump.
The hard path Hillary Clinton had to walk just to get taken seriously is not a myth. But for it to widen and make room for more women, we need people like Samantha Bee to look down the barrel of being called hysterical and say, “I don’t give a [bleep].”