Letter From The Editor | summer 2004
So What About That Election???
Here is a variation on the “if you were stranded on a desert island…?” question. Let’s assume, for the purposes of this exercise, that aside from or in addition to a person whom you might bring, you’d also be able to grab a few books and DVDs or videos.
What would they be?
My choices are easy. The entire BBC TV collection of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders episodes (who happen to be the creators of “Absolutely Fabulous”), the movie “A New Leaf,” circa 1971, a 1990 sleeper ﬁlm called “In the Spirit,” a collection of Tracey Ullman specials, a copy of Delusions of Grandma by Carrie Fisher, the script from “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in The Universe” by Jane Wagner (along with anything else Jane has written), interviews by Ruby Wax …
And the person I’d bring? Hands down, Elaine May, the funniest woman alive.
Now what about all those great male comics, past and present? From the late Alan King to Richard Pryor to Dave Chappelle to Jon Stewart, there are many men whose humor crosses all lines and cracks everybody up. And yet … we wondered about this idea of women’s humor, especially right now. Much of the stuff that passes for humor in comedy clubs and on television is awfully funny to our brothers and husbands and fathers, and yet many women sit there scratching their heads. How could he ﬁnd that funny? Too often perhaps, some of the most aggressive humor we hear seems targeted at women.
Gina Barreca explains it all on page 38. A professor of English literature and feminist theory at the University of Connecticut, Dr. Barreca received a B.A. from Dartmouth College, an M.A. from Cambridge University and a Ph.D. from the City University of New York. (Credentials like that are hysterically funny to some of us.)
Barreca is also the author of I'm With Stupid with Gene Weingarten. One man. One woman. Ten thousand years of misunderstanding between the sexes cleared right up. She famously says that when co-author Weingarten learned that she was an expert in feminism and humor … well, he found that pretty funny.
Former Time magazine White House correspondent Nina Burleigh also weighs in on the topic, and includes a behind-the-scenes story of how her sense of humor once got her into some very hot water.
Elsewhere in this issue, we look at matters quite weighty. Elaine Lipson (page 44) argues that organic foods and agricultural policies go hand in hand with feminism. In Europe, women led the campaign against genetically modiﬁed crops. Here, women are just beginning to exert their power in demanding that healthy, locally grown foods be available.
Martha Mendoza, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, sent us a personal story (page 74) that, quite honestly, stopped everyone who read it at Ms. right in their tracks. Mendoza is no wild-eyed political advocate. She was a mother of three who found herself happily pregnant, right here in the United States, with her fourth child. At 19 weeks, Mendoza’s baby died in her womb. What she went through, and what her story reveals about the health-care system in the U.S., is stunning. I promise you will never read the phrase “partial birth abortion” in the newspaper again the same way.
Finally, a brand new story from the award-winning writer Amy Bloom. As you may know, we have just named Amy as our new ﬁction editor. She is on the hunt for great new ﬁction from established and new writers and has been alerting literary agents from Manhattan to San Diego. So she happened to show me this new story of her own weeks ago. It is a tour de force and I insisted we publish it, while Amy complained — loudly — that she wanted Ms. publishing other writers’ work, not her own. I barely won this round, but readers are in for a treat. And we have great ﬁction from some surprising new writers set for the next issues.
Over the summer, Ms. will be throwing some parties around the country. For dates and places, check with us at www.msmagazine.com. As we go to press, we are also thinking deeply about the prison abuse scandal in Iraq that is shaking all of us to the core. Some key women’s voices will weigh in on this horror in our fall issue. Stay tuned, watch the website, send e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org and thanks for reading Ms.
— Elaine Lafferty