Chelsea Handler’s Response To Being Minimized As A Woman Deserves A Slow Clap

Chelsea Handler attending amfAR Inspiration Gala December 2013If you’ve read any of my pieces on her in the past, you know that I’m not the biggest fan of Chelsea Handler, but I’m gonna forget all that for a minute and start a slow clap for her, because she just really impressed me.

On Sunday, Chelsea was referenced in a piece by Bill Carter for The New York Times in which he discussed Jimmy Fallon‘s rise to The Tonight Show and the ongoing race in late night to score younger viewers. And when I say she was referenced, I should be more clear — her name appeared alongside other hosts jockeying for youthful viewership like but it appeared thusly:

Even with potent competition for younger viewers all over cable, from the likes of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central and Mr. O’Brien on TBS, the host NBC is clearly most concerned about is Mr. Kimmel, who is 46. (The only female host in late-night is Chelsea Handler, 38, on E!)

In a string of other names listed in a normal fashion, Chelsea’s was relegated to inside a set of parentheses, with a pointed mention of her gender. And without an explanation for why that choice would’ve been made, Chelsea couldn’t help but wonder (rightly, I think), if it was because she’s a woman. And here’s where I have to really admire Chelsea: she said something about it, via an op-ed in The Huffington Post this morning.

There are a lot of people — myself possibly included, although I hope not — who would probably have tried to talk themselves down from feeling any sort of way about a grammatical slight like that. After all, it doesn’t inherently change the quality of her show or the fact that Chelsea Lately has been on the air for six and a half years; it’s simply a matter of perception. But altering perceptions is the  crucial first step toward any type of real change, and I think that’s exactly what Chelsea is driving at by drawing attention to to a seemingly-innocuous set of parentheses.

“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.”

Maybe you still think it’s not a big deal, but it’s important to be aware that in a conversation about late night, Chelsea is far from insignificant. As she points out:

“Depending upon whose research you look at, I share the distinction of having the youngest average viewership with Colbert, The Daily Showand Conan. So from a purely statistical standpoint how, in this paragraph, could I only be mentioned as an aside?”

She’s very clear that you don’t have to like her show, but you do have to acknowledge it. No matter how dumb or tone deaf or hurtful you (or I) might think it is on occasion, you included her in a list of her peers because her viewership numbers require it. The statistics themselves place Chelsea in the same category with the names you already listed, Bill Carter, so it’s not up to you to suggest her contributions to the field are parenthetical.

And before anyone gets loud about Chelsea demanding special treatment because of her gender, she has a measured, appropriate response to that as well:

“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.”

I couldn’t agree more. I may not be on board with her treatment of Amanda Bynes‘ mental health issues or her exploitation of the tenuous relationship between Khloe Kardashian and Kris Jenner, but I can’t argue with Chelsea’s right to be judged on her impressive accomplishments instead of being sidelined by something as irrelevant as her gender.

She may not have earned my appreciation, but she’s certainly earned my grudging respect and admiration.

(Photo: FayesVision /

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    • elle

      I would definitely never hold up Chelsea Handler as a paragon of feminism but in this case she’s right and I give her respect for calling that out.

      • Kelly17

        She’s very much a feminist.

      • elle

        I wasn’t trying to say she wasn’t, just that she’s not my feminist idol, my go to celeb. You’re right I’m sure I could have worded it better. I’ll just add that I find myself unable to reconcile her particular style of feminism.

      • Alexis Rhiannon

        She’s not someone I would’ve expected to speak out, is how I feel about it. And I’m so glad she did, like I said!

    • Lindsey Conklin

      She’s not my favorite, but I really appreciate what she said. “I believe the success of any woman should never be qualified by her gender.” –indeed

      • Alexis Rhiannon

        I’d take that even further — the success of any person should not be qualified by gender.

    • Crusty Socks


      • Alexis Rhiannon

        I sense sarcasm nearby, but I can’t determine its source.

    • MCR

      The way I read the statement, what was added parenthetically is that only one late-night host is female. That fact belonged in parentheses because it wasn’t the point of the paragraph or the article, which was about the various hosts’ popularity with young viewers. The author was adding, in effect, “incidentally, all but one of these hosts is male” – which was probably intended to point out the disparity, not indicate that Handler, as a female, doesn’t really count. I saw nothing in the remainder of the article to indicate otherwise.

      • Kat

        That’s what I thought too, but now that I think about it, it is interesting that the author would place that in parenthases. I don’t see why this wouldn’t have fit just as easily as its own sentence.

      • MCR

        The sentence belongs in parentheses because it’s a digression from the subject of the paragraph.
        The author of the piece could explain what he meant to say, but it doesn’t look like anybody asked him.

      • Kat

        Actually, you’re right. I change my argument. It doesn’t belong there at all. (Oh, and by the way, I’m female.)

      • Katia

        He should not have to explain it again. As he is paid to write and should have put out something clear and valuable. I have no idea what he is saying, and where or not she belongs on the list.
        On the other hand is it bad that he points out her gender? (He did it in a weird way though ) Feminist articles always do this, “there are only 2 women but 20 men, ” etc

      • MCR

        Actually, I think his meaning is clear enough. His comment is similar to those in articles which would say things like, “The U.S. Supreme Court (which still has only one female member)…” – and those were clearly not meant to suggest the lone female Justice was somehow subordinate, just outnumbered. You might think it’s silly or pointless to mention that all but one late-night TV host is male, but mentioning it is not a slam against Chelsea Handler.

      • Alexis Rhiannon


        I see you point, but why add it at all then? Either she does belong in that list or she doesn’t. It seems like he felt obligated to add her name because she also has a popular late-night program, but didn’t feel that she belonged with the rest of the people listed. And as she pointed out, I have no idea why that would be, aside from her gender.

      • MCR

        Properly speaking, she wasn’t part of the group of people that was being discussed. The paragraph was listing the most serious competitors for late-night viewers, and may not have considered Handler’s popularity at the same level as Jon Stewart’s or Jimmy Kimmel’s. So, she could have been left out entirely.
        But Mr. Carter added a reference to the fact that only one show in this category, Chelsea Handler’s, was hosted by a woman. It was not directly relevant to the topic at hand, just an incidental comment, which is why it was placed in parentheses. Check your Cliff Notes; parentheses are used to set off incidental information. He might have skipped the parentheses and instead said something like, “By the way, have you ever noticed that only one of these hosts, Chelsea Handler, is female?” But he didn’t have to say “by the way” or “if you’ll excuse the digression,” because the parentheses took care of that.

        So why did he mention it? Again, someone could ask Mr. Carter, but I’ll suggest one possible reason. The same kind of comment is often included – frequently in parentheses – when talking about other professions which have very few female members. An article about a branch of government will sometimes throw in a similar aside about the fact that only one or two members are women. That’s not usually meant to dismiss the women politicians or suggest they are inferior, but to draw attention to the fact that so few people in this position are female. That’s what the comment sounds like to me.

    • Alexandra

      I kind of took this more to mean E! was insignificant…..since E! is not what (anyone?) thinks of when they think “late night talk show wars” type news – but good for her for standing up for herself anyway.

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