When I think of what it must be like to be a prolific writer, I get so overwhelmed. And that’s just thinking about it. What Anne T. Donahue does makes the word prolific look lazy anyway, so let’s just say seeing all her work makes me wonder if maybe she’s secretly three different women who are all equally hilarious and talented and sharing a pen name.
Anne writes for Buzzfeed, The Guardian, Canadian Living, Hello Giggles, Huffington Post, Toronto Life, Thought Catalog, The Conversation, Sportsnet and Yahoo!- and there are so many more but I’m stopping there because that’s so many different outlets and you get the idea. On top of all the Internet writing, she maintains her incredibly popular Tumblr, writes for a CTV sitcom and does a podcast called Bevs with Anne, which you should subscribe to immediately.
It’s truly a wonder she had any time to do this interview, but I’m so glad she did. The world would be a better place if it was filled with more Anne T. Donahues.
How do you define Feminism? Is it a part of your life?
Feminism to me is the belief that men and women are equal, and the movement towards making that happen. And is it a part of my life? Absolutely. There’s such a long way to go in terms of equality, it’d be ridiculous not to identify as a feminist. And that goes for men, too.
As a comedian do you find the standards are different for you as a woman?
Oh man. I don’t know if I say either! I’m just somebody who writes a lot and tries to make people laugh. But regardless, in my experiences as a television and web writer, I’ve been really lucky to have only been treated as what I am: a writer. I mean, yeah, there have been times where I’ve been called on for my input “as a woman,” but that’s fine- that’s always in the context of, “I’m writing this thing, and I want to make sure I’m not being offensive.” Which I appreciate! Oh my God, if everyone did that, we’d all enjoy jokes and TV and everything so much more, and there’d be such a great discourse. So I’ve been so lucky in having found nothing but support and encouragement from that community- like anyone else working hard (I hope).
That being said, my experiences in music journalism were much different. There’s an amazing community of music journalists (all of which I’m still friends with, and whose work I really love), but it took me a while to really recognize them. When I was first starting out, there were a few male journalists who’d prod me on feminism and dismiss the word and belief entirely (and dismiss me, as a result), and there’d be bands who would throw interviews trying to be smooth, cool, etc. It sucked. But since then, I’ve had less and less of an issue- I think because of my distance from it, but also because I’ve become more comfortable shutting down some of that bullshit. In that if you’re an idiot, I’m not interested in speaking with you. Which has made life in general much easier, actually.
You talked frankly and beautifully about being diagnosed as bipolar. What do you hope people take away from your willingness to be so open?
Well thanks very much! Honestly, when I was first diagnosed in October it was a mix of relief (like: I had an answer! I could actually feel better!) and fear (does this define me now?). Writing my first piece on it actually helped me work through those two views, and help me take control of the situation. There’s a huge stigma in terms of mental health, which is horrible because most of us have dealt with a mental health crisis or disorder in one way or another. We look at mental health issues as being a sign of “weakness,” or, on the flip side, we over-romanticize them, which is another mistake since it also deters you from getting help or admitting you need help. (I promise you will still be an interesting person or a good writer or a funny human if you are also keeping your brain properly tuned.)
When writing what I did, all I wanted was to take control of my own situation. I wanted to prove to myself- and honestly, to anyone else- that I could still be me, while still being diagnosed and being on medication, which I will always be on. I also wanted anyone younger who felt like they were battling something to know you can get help, and you can get treatment, and you can be exactly the same, only better functioning since you aren’t carrying around this weight anymore. That’s what I’ve found my openness has done for me: it’s a huge weight lifted. I don’t like to write about it without purpose (what’s the point?), and I don’t like to indulge it (it won’t change anything), but I don’t ignore it, either. If I’m feeling shitty, I’ll acknowledge it, and do something to thwart that.
Because ultimately, here’s the thing: you are still the same person you were before being diagnosed because you A) have always had that disorder, like it or not and B) you will always be you. The difference between help and not is awareness and getting the tools to work with whatever it is you’ve got. It’s like diabetes- you’d never look at someone taking insulin and judge them, so don’t expect to be judged for the treatment you need for your mental health. And if you are judged, whoever’s judging you is an idiot (and remember- we’re not interested in speaking with idiots). It’s been over 10 months since I “came out” as bipolar, and the only person who said something upsetting was no one. No one has ever said anything less than supportive and normal and great. In fact, the topic itself has only ever come up if we’re talking about mental health- or if I bring it up.
What do you think women can do to be more supportive of one another?
WE NEED TO STOP SHAMING EACH OTHER. What’s up with that?! What a colossal waste of time! There’s no one “right” way to be a feminist. You can like cupcakes and be a feminist, you can bind your breasts and be a feminist, you can wear polka dots skirts and shave your head and still be a feminist. Right now we’ve got bigger things to worry about other than whether so-and-so is a feminist because she wears heels. And that goes hand-in-hand with judgement: who cares if someone likes Taylor Swift (she rules, by the way) or if someone else likes this thing, or that thing, or has that hair, or has that body type, or anything.
Care if someone says you’re not equal to men. Care if someone wants to hurt other people. Care about not being treated like meat and property. Care about rights. But if we’re fighting each other over things like pop culture and bangs, we’re setting a terrible example for anybody younger than we are, and we’re wasting valuable time. Judging only squashes people, and all of us women have been squashed at one point or another. It feels like shit, and we know that. Let’s stop doing it to each other. And then, from there, let’s begin to celebrate that diversity is that makes us free and great.
How do you think we can improve our fight for equality?
This is so hard because sometimes when you think about it, you think about the logistics and the specifics and it feels overwhelming. I mean, what: 2013 years and we’re still not really equal? That’s so royally fucked. But that being said, that defeatist attitude helps nobody. Yes, things suck. But on the flip side, there’s a generation of girls (and boys!) growing up who are learning about feminism and equality from the starting gate. That’s amazing! And I think that’s the key- educate our generation, yes. But let’s really focus on the up-and-comers. They are ALREADY changing the world, and it’s the greatest. People like Tavi Gevinson and Ruby Karp are instilling hope and values on a daily basis. So let’s empower teen girls before they go through what we did: feeling horrible from puberty (or before) onwards. And keep in mind: doing that will enlighten boys, too- so maybe we can finally avoid a generation of the guys we went to high school with.
What books or media have had an impact on your life?
I was obsessed with Live From New York, the oral history of SNL, when it came out. I was in high school- this was pre-Internet, pre-Twitter, pre-everything, but it gave me hope that you could make a career out of being weird and making jokes. (Which I desperately needed to know in 2002. Trust me.) I actually re-read it last year and I loved it just as much, which is the best, obviously.
Other than that, I think SNL in itself had a huge impact. I don’t do sketch or improv, but watching people earn laughs for pop culture references was such a beacon when I was in high school. Also, Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda, which I grew up watching reruns of. I was lucky to grow up in a house that taught me I could do anything career wise and I didn’t need to get married to be happy or complete, and these shows really accompanied that ethos. When things were going south in 2011-2012, my Mom would call me and be like, “Just put on Mary Tyler Moore and calm down.” Even now, when I get upset or I’m tired or cranky, it’s become such a comfort thing. And of course, the writing is just so great.
Follow Anne on Twitter @AnneTDonahue.