Chelsea Handler: Frenemy, Candid AF, Needle Mover — Needle Movers

In 2017, Chelsea Handler was included as part of Bazarr.com’s Womxn Who Dare series. Her contribution? “You don’t have to be friends with womxn you don’t like, but you do have to be a sister to them.”

Words by LaKay Cornell. Illustration by @meaghanpelderkin.

Assuming we believe this to be true, it’s a good thing because I have never liked Chelsea Handler, but I am 100% glad she is out there running her mouth in support of the things I care about. And I’ll keep fighting so she has that right.

Let’s back up a bit. When her first book came out in 2005, so many people I knew loved it. So I read it. And I was unimpressed. I remember thinking that she wasn’t that great of a writer and people were just infatuated with how open she was about her wild sex life which we all had in our 20s and just didn’t talk about it that publicly. I’m not even sure I finished the book.

What I could not have understood then was how much talking about it publicly mattered — even if the style wasn’t my favorite. I never watched her show, Chelsea Lately, and each time a book came out I ignored them for the most part. I do remember reading, at least parts of, Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang because it came out while my mom was in cancer treatment, and I felt like something irreverent would help me feel better. Since I don’t remember one thing about it, I’m guessing that was not the case.

If I think about it now, it wasn’t that I didn’t think Chelsea Handler was a feminist or that I didn’t think she should be allowed to say the things she was saying in the way she was saying them, it was that I just didn’t like her.

And then in 2016, in response to the election, Chelsea Handler published an essay on Thrive Global where she said:

America is a free country, and we are free to differ on public policy, but what kind of a womxn votes for a white, entitled rich guy who has spent his entire life working the system for excess personal profit…”while insatiably groping strange womxn for personal pleasure while Hillary Clinton — arguably the most qualified presidential candidate in modern American history — was standing right there in her pleated pantsuit waiting to lift America up out of its 240-year ‘winning streak’ of male dominance and patriarchy?

All at once, this person whose lewd brashness had annoyed the everything out of me for years was saying the things I was saying — except no one was listening to me (well, no one I didn’t have a personal relationship with). But they were listening to her. And I was so glad she was there — not censoring herself, not fact-checking, not intellectualizing — but in pure unencumbered Chelsea Handler boldness.

Her primary call to action was, “We can do better than this.” And she lists an array of grievances with how womxn have been showing up in the world. They were all things that any feminist would likely agree with and none of them things that would survive the scrutiny of most Gender Studies classes. Which, is a lot like just about everything else Chelsea has said. And yet, when I read down the list, tears welled in my eyes. As I read every item, I thought, “Yes! We DO need to stop _________.” I felt solidarity; like someone else out in the world could also see how ludicrous it was that 53% of White Female Voters voted for that that pussy-grabbing asshole.

I was also glad she was there to take the vitriol that spewed from the internet in response to her essay. She was used to it after all. (The more judgy parts of me might have even thought she deserved some of this over the years…) When you created an entire brand on saying things that shocked people and caused strong reactions, what was one more thing? She told the world her parents forced her to have an abortion and that it was the first time in her entire life they acted like parents. She published a horribly titled book and subsequent comedy special, Uganda be Kidding Me and has admitted that she didn’t really get why people were aggravated with the title. And, as previously discussed, she told the whole world of the sexual escapades of her 20’s as pretty much the first publicly huge thing she had ever done. She made people think. No one could disagree with that. People either loved her or hated her. And now, with this essay, I had the feeling of hope — that the people who loved her might get their asses in gear and do better.

This essay propelled Chelsea to Feminist Icon status and led to the profile on Bazaar.com mentioned in the opening, inclusion in The Future is Feminist, an anthology of feminist essays by pop-culture feminists, and explaining to Governor Mike Huckabee what being a feminist is.

I still don’t like Chelsea Handler. I don’t want to be friends with her. I’d rather have a beer with the boring professor-like white dude she had on her recent documentary than her. None of which matters because, as Roxane Gay reminds us, We are not here to make friends.

This is what is so rarely said about unlikable women in fiction — that they aren’t pretending, that they won’t or can’t pretend to be someone they are not. They have neither the energy for it, nor the desire…Unlikable womxn refuse to give into [the temptation to be the girl who likes every fucking things he likes]. They are, instead, themselves. They accept the consequences of their choices and those consequences become stories worth reading.

So what’s a strong feminist womxn to do with the fact that there are other strong feminist womxn I don’t like — besides continuously telling the judgy-voice in my head that I’m working for a world where they have the right to do all of those things that annoy me?

I’ll go back to Ms. Gay for the answer to that question as well:

Perhaps, then, unlikable characters, the ones who are the most human, are also the ones who are the most alive.
Perhaps this intimacy makes us uncomfortable because we don’t dare be so alive.

Indeed. Perhaps. That needs a lot more intellectualization on my part. Or maybe it doesn’t — maybe the biggest thing I’ve learned from Chelsea Handler is that it’s okay to just say exactly what you want to say — be loud, be curious, be aware of the bull-shit — just be real. She has certainly inspired me to become more of myself, which, as Kierkegaard once said, “is the most difficult of all tasks.”

Originally published at https://www.needle-movers.com on April 14, 2020.

I expand in the words written by others and write words to change the narrative.

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