Just look at the Twitter feed of Victoria Russell, aka @theblowout, and you’ll quickly realize (after you stop crying from laughter) that she’s utterly brilliant. She’s smart, frank, edgy, cool and over-the-top hilarious. One of those girls you just know you’d want to hang with- for the abs workout alone.
Of course I’m enamored with her sense of humor, but what I find even more fascinating is her serious side.
Do you identify as a feminist? What does that mean to you?
I can proudly say that I am, without a doubt, a feminist. However, that this has not always been the case. I grew up in a relatively… conservative household (typical of most in North Carolina, but perhaps this is only in my experience), and to declare oneself a feminist elicited a snide remark, even though it should have resulted in a chorus of, “You Go Girl!” Even when I went to college at the University of Texas at Austin- and was exposed to people that weren’t W.A.S.P.’s- I wasn’t even a “feminist but” (I’m a feminist but- I like to wear dresses; or, I’m a feminist but- I want to get married and have a family some day… and so on), and looking back, I’m embarrassed to admit that I probably didn’t even think about feminism. The beauty of leaving home and going to college, for me, at least, was that it allowed me to escape, in every sense of the word. I grew out my bangs after two decades, I stopped wearing denim skirts, and I got a dog. I was exposed to people and thoughts and discourse that I never would have encountered had I stayed home. Sexism and gender inequality started to affect me until eventually it seemed to be anything but a feminist was a disservice to all women- including myself.
You’re hilarious and a very real person. How did you become so funny?
Me? Hilarious? I couldn’t agree more! I wish there was a single moment I could describe (in painstaking detail, of course) when I knew I was literally one of the funniest women ever to exist – mostly because a single moment would be far easier to address with a therapist than a lifetime of ridiculous screw-ups will prove to be. Growing up as a rounder child, I learned that if you can make someone laugh it distracts them enough that they forget about comparing you to a killer whale in front of everyone else in 2nd grade.
I was a smart kid, but kids don’t care about the state history of Nevada or that you wrote three short stories about dolphins and mermaids living in a utopian paradise after you got your homework done the night before. Intelligence wasn’t going to get me invited to Sierra Henderson’s 10th birthday party, no matter how many fact-arrows I had in my quiver. Being funny, on the other hand, opened social doors. Humor was the currency I used to get invited to sleepovers and spring break vacations and asked to slow dance at the 8th grade Valentine’s Ball. So, I guess I’ve always felt like I was funny, and although I wasn’t the fittest, per se, as a kid, I adapted my ability to make myself and my family laugh and used it to survive growing up with a very short haircut and not being able to ever shop at Limited Too.
Do you think humor is different for men and women?
If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that men are born with the uncanny ability to find humor in whatever they want, regardless of… well, regardless of everything. And my goodness, do they revel in it! Unfortunately, women don’t possess such skills inherently. Women have limitations. Everywhere. There are limitations on what I can do with my own uterus, and although far less serious, there are limitations on what I can and cannot find humor in- what I’m allowed to find humor in, which is bullshit.
I’ve realized that most men are fiercely loyal to themselves and nearly as loyal to their male counterparts. Do women have limitations on their humor? Only if we adhere to that non-thought process. Can women joke about all the things men do? Of course. Should they? Should anyone? Not every joke will take, which is true no matter the topic. I don’t think anything is “off-limits” but there’s some topics that don’t make me laugh, which is the ultimate goal, right? On more than one occasion I’ve been informed that my humor is too vulgar. Someone said to me “I hate to hear such nasty things come out of such a pretty little mouth” and suffice it to say, he heard quite a bit more nastiness after that comment.
Of course I’d love my jokes to leave everyone in stitches, and if they don’t it’s okay, some people don’t like really smart, funny, pretty joke tellers. I get it, I’m on my 19th rodeo. With tact, though, I can’t think of any subject humor should be denied. I think it comes down to how you choose to use your humor, what purpose you assign to comedy. For me, humor is personal. Deeply personal. A way to reveal parts of myself that I wouldn’t know how to offer otherwise. I feel I’ve earned the right to laugh at and joke about what I’ve been through, which most often is the only reward. Thankfully, I’ve got more than enough material to remain authentic. (Thanks, Mom!)
What books or media have made an impact on your life?
It wasn’t until my 2nd junior year in college that I began the process of transforming from a passive feminist to an active one. I’d forgotten to register for classes (typical me) and I had to take a class on Women and Power in Africa. I figured I’d immediately drop it, after all a workload of more than 12 hours a semester would cut into everything fun I’d been doing for the last five years. The class was taught by Dr. James Wilson, who shaped me intellectually and widened the scope of my consciousness more than I knew possible. I know, I know! I feel a bit like Benedict Arnold mentioning a non-woman in response to this question, but please, bear with me. To make a long story not quite as long, Dr. Wilson’s class taught me about women living on a continent I can’t dream of imagining, facing adversity I will never know, demanded the power to write their own personal narratives, the ability to provide for themselves, their families and their communities. Women are capable of amazing things- and of course I knew that- but immersion in any subject is always a better teacher.
I re-read writers that were longtime favorites: Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Zora Neale Hurston, but saw something different, felt something different, then. Listen, I know you’re rolling your eyes at this, I might’ve too, I guess. I could relate to what some of my literary heroines had been through, and if I couldn’t relate, at least I could empathize. This is how I initially felt a bond with womanhood.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve only added new favorites: Elizabeth Bishop, Kate Chopin, Margaret Cho, Tina Fey, and Jessica Valenti, to name the first that come to mind, have all been added with the old favorites.
And it’s not just books. The cool thing about feminism in 2013 is how accessible it is. I know, everything’s accessible these days because of the Internet. But for someone like 15-year-old me, who only encountered feminists as punchlines, the resources available and online communities that have been created are doing the part of the job of introducing more women to feminism. I read Feministing every day. There’s terrific stuff out there and I’m thankful for it.
How do you think women can be more supportive of one another?
Okay, wait. How supportive are women of each other to begin with? I think most women would describe their encounters with other women as more “Mean Girls” than “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” which I cannot understand. Growing up and becoming a woman isn’t easy, either emotionally or physically. Having to do so in a society that increasingly and urgently stresses style over substance- but only for the “gentler sex”- well, it’s a wonder that any of us make it to 18. And that’s what’s so maddening, we’ve all been there. Women the world over have had to worry about menstruation, getting pregnant, hot flashes… and those are just physical. The pressure of being thin enough, smart enough, pretty enough, willing enough- just being enough has crossed more of our minds than not. A woman’s greatest advocate should be herself, and after that- other women. The absence of empathy among, well, all of us truly breaks my heart.
I guess, speaking as someone who is deep down really freaking lazy, the easiest way for women to support one another is to not further tear each other down. We can all be so eager to criticize or blame or shame someone else, with little thought about the effects our words or actions have and continue to have upon their recipient. I often forget compliments but I’ve yet to forget an insult. I’m convinced that in order to lessen the pains and double the joys of life and womanhood more specifically, we’ve got to talk to each other. We must share our victories and lament our defeats together. The commonality of our lives as women has shocked me and made me offer more support to my peers, not less. I can’t think of anything that would strengthen the bonds of sisterhood more than realizing you weren’t the only one to read “orgasm” instead of “organism” in 9th grade biology class after all.
What women inspire you?
Just recently I added someone new- Wendy Davis- to my long list of she-roes. Gov. Rick Perry once called Wendy Davis a “show horse.” You think he’d have done that if she weren’t a woman? I surely don’t. Wendy Davis is a woman to be lauded, from all women, regardless of political leanings. I know how idealistic that sounds, trust me. But Wendy Davis has overcome her share of adversity. She is self-made, well-educated and standing up (quite literally) for what she believes in. And that’s so powerful. I’m “You-Go-Girl’ing” right along.
At the top of that list of she-roes, of course, is Joan (she’s my mom and I call her that because that’s her given name). We don’t necessarily agree on much politically, but it doest matter; she stands up for what she knows is right regardless of the consequence and has overcome things no one should have to.
My little sister, who I was sure wouldn’t grow up to be a contributing member of society (but only because she was born with a menacing and very tough older sister) is getting ready for medical school and works with women’s health organizations on top of a workload that has always been more than 12 hours a semester. She doesn’t give up when things don’t go her way but works harder.
I think, like everyone else, I’m inspired by people who have the strength to do what I can’t or won’t do. The point is that women are inspiring. Some will never consider themselves feminists, and I think that’s okay. Even the most vile people can teach us something, and in order to be as whole of a person as you’re meant to be, it’s our duty to learn it.
What changes would you like to see society make as far as equality is concerned?
Well, all of them. Feminism is constantly changing and evolving and will continue to do so until women and men are equal, on paper and in theory. So yes, women got the vote. But there’s so much else for us to get. I’ve heard “but, hey, women can work outside the home now!” which, in my opinion, is the perfect opportunity to bring up the $.23 less a woman earns per hour simply because of her sex.
Others argue that women run for president and hold high-ranking positions in their fields. And they’re right. But a woman hasn’t been president- yet. And women are CEOs for only 12% of Fortune 500 companies. I guess I’d like to see women get the same consideration that men do. I’d like to see women receiving acknowledgement (not to mention compensation) for excellence, rather than scorn. I’d like women to be held up and celebrated for whatever they choose to be: mothers, executives, mechanics, soldiers, comedians, poets, scientists, feminists.
And I’d really like to hear more cheers of, “You Go Girl!”
Follow Victoria on Twitter @theblowout.