So, you watched Aditi Mittal’s Netflix special and didn’t like it? The content didn’t stir a lot of people and the jokes just ran in circles. They were left feeling disappointed. And that’s okay. I felt similarly about Kanan Gill’s Amazon Prime special. And that’s okay too.
I’ve periodically disliked a few acts from stand-up comedians I deeply admire. Everyone from Louis CK (gasp) to Mike Birbiglia to Jimmy Carr to Chelsea Peretti have delivered segments I’ve not warmed up to. And. That’s. Okay.
But I don’t hear people just hating on the content Mittal spewed out in Things They Wouldn’t Let Me Say. They’re hating on her apparent ‘loudness’.
There’s a reason why Amazon Prime did not give Aditi Mittal her own special. And its on Netflix now.
— Bajirao Bhide (@bizzarebhide) July 19, 2017
I’m going to be unpopular for saying this but I’ve always thought Aditi Mittal was more aggressive than funny.
— Dhruvi Shah | Alice (@dhruvis) July 18, 2017
Society has always had a bone to pick with ‘loud’ women. ‘Cross your legs’, ‘sit straight’ and ‘speak softly’ have been the adarniya rules of raising a girl in the family. Even a whisper turned voice is frowned upon. So, of course, no one’s going to really nurse a soft corner for an Aditi Mittal taking up an entire stage in all her loudness.
But what is this ‘loud’ business? What does it even mean to be ‘loud’? Me thinks it’s not the volume of voice, but the volume of space one takes up in a social sphere.
According to polls, Hillary Clinton was not popular because she was ‘too shrill’ and ‘too sure of herself’. Her leadership skills completely disregarded, she lost likeability polls because she ‘just wasn’t feminine enough’. Basically, the former Secretary of State was loud. She made people uncomfortable. She took up space. And she aimed to take up the most powerful space in her country – the Presidential chair in the Oval Office.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have main-babe-and-never-side-babe Serena Williams. Smashing aside points and grand slamming all competition, queen Williams has established her sphere on and off the court. And yet, she’s had to deal with bouts of sexism and has had her femininity and ferocity questioned.
Anne Helen Petersen, in her book Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud, details essays of these women in the public sphere who’ve claimed their space with their loud inner and outer voices, dismissing regressive ideas of femininity.
But there have been some ‘loud’ women who have, over the years, learnt to turn the hatred to support. Beyoncé overcame hurdles in a highly sexist industry with all her brazen glory to take her throne and how. Instead of pretending to conform to pop-star masala, she cooked her own broth and added five layers of of unapologetic salt. Too salty for you? Go starve somewhere else, said Beyoncé.
Even before Mittal’s Netflix special hit the screens there have been a flurry of comments on her special’s YouTube trailer that range from “Her voice is so fucking annoying I can’t even understand this curry muncher ” to “Only watching this shit if she kills herself at the end” to “unfunny feminist crap”.
In comedian Biswa Kalyan Rath’s Amazon Prime special, Biswa Mast Aadmi, he used loud narratives, fervent body language to emphasise his punchlines – same as Mittal in her special. And yet, there’s not a single deplorable comment about his apparent “loudness”. Why? Because when a man raises his voice, he’s just talking. But when a woman does it, she’s “loud”. Mittal’s desperate and angry to take control of her own narrative through her Netflix special and it’s apparent. So why won’t the audience let her? Woe to the woman who does not dial it back?
People make movies we love and movies we hate. Similarly, comedians create content we love and content we hate. Why does the audience come down harder on a woman for failing than at a man? We were celebrating Netflix’s move to break the glass ceiling by getting a female comedian on board in response to the 14-aadmi army by Amazon Prime. But who said that because a woman was given one opportunity she has to work double hard to prove herself? Mittal does not owe it to anyone but herself to do what she chooses to do with her air time. She had no point to prove that she deserves the opportunity she received, irrespective of whether stood against an opposition of male stand-up comics. She’s just an artist going through the ups and downs of her career, standing her ground through them all and being as bleddy loud as she wants to be.
Aditi Mittal is loud and unapologetic about it. But that’s not an insult, just an adjective. You don’t have to like her work to learn to shut your tongue about how she chooses to take up space in the public or personal sphere.
If loud women make you uncomfortable, get used to it. As my favourite loud woman (and activist) Mona Eltahawy says, “I am a big fan of discomfort, it questions our privilege.”