Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

Matt Rife, Jo Coy, and the Devaluation of Femininity

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Waterloo chapter.

I love the Golden Globes for the same reason I love all award shows: the fashion. But this year’s show had me replacing my routine “did you see so-and-so’s dress?” with something a little more angering.

Comedian Jo Coy ruffled many people’s feathers, including mine, with a couple of his jokes as host of this year’s show. Most notably, his joke about Barbie: “Oppenheimer is based on a 721-page Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the Manhattan Project, and Barbie is on a plastic doll with big boobies” he said.

The reduction of this movie — its portrayal of the feminine experience and the weight that it carried for many women — was enough to make the audience cringe. The joke was sexist and gave into practices of dismissing femininity as lacking in substance. It essentially implies that, despite the messages of the movie, the most significant thing about the film, and the women on and behind the screen, is their bodies. Or, that because they are women, they cannot say anything important. Despite the film literally being about the unattainable standards women are held to, Jo Coy decides it still falls short. Suddenly, Coy became public enemy number one with many predicting that his career would not survive this flop.

Which has got me thinking about another comedian’s recent fall from grace: Matt Rife. Let’s face it: he has never really been all that funny. But his stand-up special that came out in November — and opened with a domestic violence joke — was especially disappointing. Rife tells the story of a restaurant he went to where he was served by a woman who had a black eye. He goes on to say that perhaps the restaurant should have had her working in the kitchen “where nobody had to see her face”, although “if she could cook, she wouldn’t have that black eye”.

This joke would be problematic if anyone told it, but for many, it’s especially disappointing coming from Rife, who owes his success to his largely female audience. The joke is terribly sexist, relying on tired clichés of women belonging in the kitchen. Plus, domestic violence is never a joke. Most painful about it is that, while many comics make edgy jokes successfully, Rife’s falls flat because it just wasn’t funny, much like Coy’s. For a comedian who built his success off the support of women, Matt Rife seeking to alienate his audience by making — in his own words — a special that’s “way more for guys” was a strange move. Besides the suggestion that he’s only famous for being attractive and not for his actual comedy, why does he dislike the fact that his audience is made up of women? What’s the deal with his new obsession with catering to men?

That’s why Joy Coy’s Barbie joke reminds me of Matt Rife’s hatred for his fan base: they are both examples of the devaluation of femininity.

I think both situations are indicative of the greater issue concerning how we devalue women, their interests, their depth and their complexity. This is the case in many more places than comedy like music, movies, TV, sports, hobbies, and fashion. Whenever anything is enjoyed by a majority feminine audience, it loses its perceived depth, its strength, its merit, and its importance. We don’t respect it because of its perceived femininity. That’s why I think we tend not to take pop music seriously, or why men don’t tend to listen to women musicians, or why we refer to shows and movies with primarily feminine audiences as vapid and trashy. And I think this is especially true in a space like comedy, where women have always been devalued and called unfunny, simply because of their gender. So, when Matt Rife, and perhaps others too, see that his audience is made up of mostly women, it’s assumed that this must say something about the quality of his comedy. Rife wants to be taken seriously as a comedian — which I’m not sure will happen if his special is any indication — but his women audience prevents this, in his and society’s eyes. So, his reaction is to reject his women audience and misogynistically suggest that they are shallow and only like him for his looks. That’s why Jo Coy is able to look at a movie like Barbie and write it off as substance-less: because it was made for and by women. And he relies on sexist strategies of reducing women to their bodies to do so.

Rife is irked that his audience is made up of women and that some of them might only be following him for his looks. But the truth is, there’s nothing wrong with having an audience made up of women. And Jo Coy’s reduction of Barbie represents society’s failure to treat things associated with femininity with any respect. If Rife wants to escape an audience that “aren’t fans for the right reasons”, and if Coy wants to survive this flop, they should write better jokes.

Leela Sylvestre

Waterloo '28

chai latte enthusiast. cares way to much about pop culture. likes sharing opinions no one asked for.