For the past six-and-a-half years I've had a job hosting Chelsea Lately on the E! network. I am always asked what it's like to be the only female in a so-called "boys club." Until now, I have dismissed the assumption that my experience in late night TV is somehow different or exceptional because of my gender. To me, it's never been about being a woman in a man's world; it's been about delivering a consistently funny and entertaining show each night.
However, this past Sunday I was referenced in a New York Times piece ("Bullish on Boyish" by Bill Carter) about Jimmy Fallon and his taking over of the Tonight Show. Specifically, the piece was about Jimmy and the expectations that have been placed upon him as he takes the reins of a legendary franchise.
Understanding all of that, I obviously didn't expect or want to be a focal point of the piece, and I really just appreciated the photo of me at the top of the article placed alongside my late night contemporaries that featured my new haircut -- the feedback has been overwhelming. What bothered me was that when I was listed in a paragraph with the late-night hosts, I was the only name put in parentheses. Mr. Carter wrote, "(The only female host in late-night is Chelsea Handler, 38, on E!)."
I wanted to confirm what a parenthetical suggests, so I looked up the definition. The first few definitions that came up were: incidental, subordinate in significance, minor or casual.
The particular paragraph I was mentioned in was about the competition Jimmy faces for younger viewers. Depending upon whose research you look at, I share the distinction of having the youngest average viewership with Colbert, The Daily Show and Conan. So from a purely statistical standpoint how, in this paragraph, could I only be mentioned as an aside? Was it because I'm a woman?
I don't expect everyone to like me or my show, or even watch my show -- most nights I'm my harshest critic both professionally and personally. And while much of the press has kindly acknowledged my contribution to the late-night landscape I feel over the years, several media outlets have marginalized my presence in the late-night game. I imagined my sustained on-air presence would eventually triumph over any possible gender biases. Plus, I don't have the energy or desire to pick a fight with every journalist. I think anyone who has ever heard me speak knows how I'd rather spend my leisure time.
I'm speaking up with the awareness that some will roll their eyes or dismiss my point. Yet it would be a disservice to all of the hard working women in entertainment, including Joan Rivers, who was the first woman to have her own late night show. Not to mention how this minimizes the efforts of the 100+ staff members who work hard on my show every day.
And just as I don't want to be inconsequential in any late-night discourse, I also don't want to be singled-out and lauded merely because I am successful "for a woman." I only want to be acknowledged for having worked hard to build an equally significant audience and fan base to those of my peers. I believe the success of any woman should never be qualified by her gender.
This isn't about Bill Carter. This is about being noted as a parenthetical, reaffirming what I feel has been an underlying, yet consistent inconsistency with how I am handled as the only woman in a traditionally male field. My only goal when I started this show six-and-a-half years ago was to offer viewers another voice to end their day with (even if my show is on E!). That's the appropriate use of a parenthetical.