Bringing Up Baby: An Open Letter to Jon Stewart

Dear Jon,

It is with tenderness, regret, and hope that I pen this proclamation of devotion and disappointment. Our unrequited affair began nine years ago, when I was a freshman at Northwestern University, the very incubator of your colleague Mr. Colbert, who was nevertheless no apple to my eye. “Who is that man of intelligence and charm?” I inquired of my roommate after my first viewing of The Daily Show. These affections only deepened with time. And yet recently, your show has troubled me. My unequivocal idolatry deteriorated when I realized your jokes have a decidedly… frat boy flavor. Penis jokes, hooker jokes, stripper jokes, you know how it goes. Occasionally funny; usually insulting; often enough to make me downright uncomfortable. Two years ago, in an unpublished piece entitled “The Daily Show Turns Pornographic,” I blamed the increase of these jokes on your writers’ frustration with President Obama. Oh, the mental gymnastics it took to get there! Lies and self-delusion! I wasn’t ready to face the truth.

At that time, there were zero female writers for The Daily Show. Today, two of sixteen are female. Last year, Irin Carmon wrote a reported Jezebel piece that characterized your show as “a boys’ club where women’s contributions are often ignored and dismissed.” In response, the female employees of The Daily Show composed a letter that indicated genuine feelings of deep insult, and The Daily Show website characterized the Jezebel story as an “inadequately researched blog post that clings to a predetermined narrative about sexism at The Daily Show.” An interesting accusation, considering that the article was reported, not just researched, and that the predetermined narrative existed only in older news stories that few (certainly not me) remembered or knew about in the first place.

In response to the letter, the mainstream media breathed a sigh of relief and swept the whole episode under the carpet, while others pointed out that the defense from your female employees is irrelevant to the irritatingly nuanced nature of the problem. But nowhere, dear Jon, did anyone accuse you, really, of being sexist. The problem, it seems, is systemic. The comedy world is not as welcoming to women, and our notions of what’s “funny” are shaped by a male-dominated industry. Or, as many have suggested, women just aren’t funny. Either/Or. Same difference, right? But I’m not here to talk about jokes. This blog is about babies.

This past August 11, you accused Fox News’ Megyn Kelly of hypocrisy because she attacked a radio host for demeaning maternity leave. You, Jon, said that “she’s making quite a spirited argument that workers are entitled to certain benefits.” You then spliced clips that show Kelly’s disdain for “entitlement programs and mandated benefits,” thus revealing her hypocrisy. You concluded that “they’re only entitlements when it’s something other people want.”

The United States is the only “developed” country that lacks mandated, paid parental leave. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, new parents who have worked for a company with at least 50 employees for at least 12 months may take three months off, unpaid. Since this flimsy job protection is technically an “entitlement,” and since Kelly’s comments (ambiguously) implied that she might support federal paid maternity leave, they were hypocritical.

But what interested me most about this segment was that I had never seen coverage of parental leave before on The Daily Show. This coverage, however, was not a lampoon of our country’s shameful policies. Indeed, it seems “female issues”—workplace discrimination, underrepresentation in the media, economic inequality, single motherhood, gender-based violence, and countless issues relating to health and reproductive rights—are mostly ignored on The Daily Show, minus occasional nods to abortion, birth control, and Planned Parenthood (thanks in large part to “Women’s Issues” commentator Kristen Schaal). And on those occasions that issues of reproductive health are covered in-depth, it is often insulting, or from a conspicuously male perspective.

Take, for example, this recent skit about Jason Jones’ vasectomy:

And in this skit, we get a brief mention of maternity leave buried between Wyatt Cenac’s flirtations with his female interviewees:

But wait! I found a detailed skit about healthcare in pregnancy! Oh, right. It’s about nipples and vaginal secretions. (Did I already say something about frat boy humor?)


Occasionally your guests are female, and sometimes even pregnant, so pregnancy is inevitably mentioned, albeit awkwardly, as in this interview with the pregnant Maggie Gyllenhaal:

Try as you might to resist categorization as anything but “comedian,” The Daily Show is the primary source of news and commentary for many of your viewers. I know your strong stance against torture, because you talk about it a lot. Your support of gay marriage and gay rights is hard to miss. Coverage of immigration issues abound. Your pro-union stance is obvious. But your thoughts on the institutional discrimination of half the nation? Not so nuanced. Your coverage of bills, laws, and policies relating to this institutionalized discrimination? Limited.

On the Daily Show website, my search for “childbirth” yielded one result, “birth” a bunch of clips about Birthers, “parental leave” yielded zero results, zero again for “maternal healthcare,” “paid maternity leave” yielded just the Megyn Kelly skit, and “gender discrimination” turned up five videos, none of which had to do with gender discrimination. (You don’t want me to show what a search for “breastfeeding” turns up.)

Perhaps it’s unfair that this letter is addressed to you rather than overtly sexist colleagues like Bill Maher. But I appeal to you precisely because you’re not sexist. I believe your female employees’ defense of your character. From their letter: “How else to describe him? What’s the word that means the opposite of sexist? That one.” Perhaps it’s this description that emboldens me to voice these thoughts.

This is not a personal accusation of sexism. This is about underrepresentation. Below is a skit from The Daily Show about the silenced voice of women in the media. It’s a critique. Yet The Daily Show is part of this problem. When your jokes are written by fourteen men and two women, there is a gender bias, plain and simple. Coverage of political issues that are more relevant to women will be overlooked, intentional or not.

Am I asking too much when I ask for better?

by Katherine Don
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29 Comments Have Been Posted

This is a great post! I

This is a great post! I haven't watched enough of the Daily Show to have recognized this trend for myself, but it's disappointing to think that someone who isn't sexist is still unaware of the sexism that his show and his coverage of certain news stories and not others perpetuates. Thanks for pointing this out!

Good article :)

This is sad, but it takes people like us to say something about it and bring these things to the writers' attention. It wouldn't be too hard for them to ease off a bit on sexist jokes, and for Jon to apologize openly for any jokes which he advertently or inadvertently meant to be degrading to women. I admit, I haven't seen the show in a while either, but there's a reason for that.

I was watching ...

... but now I'm not for somewhat different reasons (The occasional appearances of the ever-annoying Olivia Munn, for one), but I will count this great report as another reason not to watch. Yet, I will still watch whenever the under-featured Kristin Schaal appears (via the website). She's the only correspondent on there who's uniquely funny.

Ugh, yeah, Olivia Munn is

<p>Ugh, yeah, Olivia Munn is terrible! I do think Samantha Bee is uniquely funny, though. And Wyatt Cenac very often too.</p>

I understand that YOU don't

I understand that YOU don't think that Olivia Munn is funny, but just because you dislike her style of humor doesn't make her any less of a woman. This is interesting stuff coming from "feminists." I don't have anything wrong with Olivia Munn, and I'm happy that the representation of women grew when she joined the show. Don't try to make it seem like she doesn't count because you find her "annoyning." She's still a woman with a woman's voice.

Dear anonymous,

Nobody is denying that Olivia Munn isn't a woman with a woman's voice, I think what our commenters here are trying to say is that she is a woman with a woman's voice that they find particularly annoying. Katherine here is trying to argue that even though there are women featured on the show, the show overwhelmingly speaks with a male voice that cuts off women's input. Olivia Munn may be an enlightening reporter on the show (I've never seen her), but she can't make up for the voice of the show itself.


I find TDS worth watching, but they definitely need calling out now and then. What burned me is having Ron Paul and Andrew Napolitano on and never mentioning their "abortion is murder". stances. How can you let them say they are for "freedom for all" without adding, "unless you have a uterus and are fertile." No pot for you, you might be pregnant and then it's attempted murder.

Accusations like this make people hate feminists and feminism

Hold on. So, because Jon Stewart doesn't cover gay rights enough he's an enemy of the LGBT community? Because he doesn't cover African American issues as much he's racist? Because he rarely mentions Judaism except to make a joke he's anti-Semitic...against his own heritage? Do you see how ridiculous this seems?

I mean, are you actually serious? This is a political comedy show. It's not his duty to report on every single women's issue out there. If he does report on abortion or Planned Parenthood, it's because it's trending in the political sphere, which is what he focuses on for his politically based show. Otherwise, he's going to focus on other issues that have been getting more attention in the political world. Furthermore, never once has the thought that The Daily Show might be sexist crossed my mind. I watch The Daily Show religiously, and as a proud feminist, I have never once been insulted by any gender-related jokes he or his show have made.

Calm down, lighten up, and remember that Jon Stewart is not attacking women, despite the fact that some jokes may be crude. He is not a sexist by association, just like he's not a homophobe or a racist or an anti-Semite by association. Coincidentally, articles and accusations like this actually turn people away from the message we as feminists are trying to portray. Keep in mind that being equal doesn't mean that everyone should like us or that everyone should give us equal coverage on shows. You can't control everyone's inclusion of women in the media. You can't tell a comedian that his act isn't funny or is too insulting--it comes with the territory of comedy. And you can't expect every single person to be wildly enthusiastic about women and their issues at hand; it's simply not realistic. Sometimes someone being not sexist enough.

Yelling about non-sexists not liking us or talking about us enough is not going to win anyone over; on the contrary, it will most certainly repel people, including devoted feminists like myself. Let's try focusing on more important issues at hand, shall we?

Don't worry; I definitely

Don't worry; I definitely read the comments policy. I am aware of your stance on comments. I do not feel like I attacked Katherine Don, nor do I think I yelled at her, and I certainly do not object to analyzing pop culture.

It does concern me when people call out others for not being pro-women enough. Yes, Jon Stewart does address women's issues from time to time.

I think the problem with Katherine Don's article is not that she hasn't presented a good case. She has certainly done her research and given lots of examples. I still find issue with her point, though.

Jon Stewart was, is, and will remain a political comedian on the political comedy The Daily Show. While it may be tempting to put Jon Stewart on a pedestal because he seems to be one of the only voices of reason in a political world that is continually and rapidly going to the crapper, I believe that calling Jon Stewart out for being sexist by association is simply not fair. Jon Stewart is, in fact, not a god of the liberal mind-set. He has his own opinions and jokes, and it is not his responsibility to fairly cover all aspects of minority life in America. If he's Jewish, why doesn't he cover Jewish issues more? If Wyatt Cynac is so popular, why doesn't Jon Stewart report more on black men and women getting disproportionately long jail terms, for instance? Just because there have been 3 fairly successful female correspondents does not make Jon Stewart obliged to publicly support women at every show.

While I would agree I can see why some might be insulted by his jokes, I would like to remind you that they are harmless jokes. Oftentimes when seemingly sexist or crude jokes are made, they're poking fun at MEN rather than at women. When women's issues are illustrated from a male's point of view, it's a compliment Jon Stewart or the correspondent is paying to WOMEN; it's not an insult! By looking light-heartedly at these situations, or by looking at them from an absurd male point of view, they are saying that (1) we respect women enough to not have to, if I may, pussy foot around otherwise sensitive issues, and (2) do you see how ridiculous men are when trying to understand women's issues?

In respect to the second part, if men are indeed seemingly insensitive toward pregnancy, et al, then perhaps Jon Stewart's show pointing out the ridiculousness to them is a step in the right direction. I will repeat what I said before, and that is when people call out a figure for being not non-sexist enough, as Katherine Don has done in this article, people are completely and utterly repeled from feminism. It's like you're saying you're never satisfied and you never will be. It's like, no matter how non-sexist a man is, he's still in danger of being admonished by feminists.

Jon Stewart is first and foremost a comedian. As the letter the women of The Daily Show wrote shows, many women contribute much to the show. His show is not absent of a female voice. I would suspect female workers at The Daily Show are rarely, if ever, insulted by crude humor that sometimes pops up.

I think it's important to study how gender and sexuality are being portrayed in popular and contemporary media. However, I think this article, while well-presented and interesting, is not helpful. This is not a teen drama show, this is not even a sitcom; this is a political comedy, in which Jon Stewart presents trending news. Accusing him of not being a big enough ally of women's issues because of his comedy is ridiculous, and it's going to make similarly minded men (those who respect women but don't announce their respect every second of every day) avoid feminists and feminism at all costs. This is a perfect example of crying wolf.

I find it interesting that

I find it interesting that even when someone presents their qualms in a very polite, nuanced, and reasonable manner, people are going to pop out of the woodwork to say, "Your anger is why people don't like feminism."

Attacking non-sexists does in fact repel allies to feminism

Not Trying to Be Unwelcome

Thank you

Much appreciated reply, thank you! I do apologize to Katherine Don if I initially seemed to be attacking her, as well. That was certainly not my intention, for I definitely thought the article was well written; I simply disagreed with the sentiment behind protesting a non-sexist.

Having lived, studied, and worked in countries where feminism is still considered a bad word, even among women who fight for equal rights, I am extra sensitive to people calling out a comedy show that has, at the very worst, a somewhat male lean. There are issues out there that need more addressing. Some are in popular media, while some issues are more serious. For instance, I've received grades lower than my less motivated and less eloquent male partners, simply because I was female and my old-fashioned East European professor preferred to see males at the top of the class. Even worse, I've worked with female orphans in a country where most girls in their situation go into sex trade.

So, while I too am passionate about noticing and studying trends in gender and sexuality as is presented in popular media, I remain convinced that the issues Don has addressed in The Daily Show are interesting, but they are unfortunately not entirely helpful and are even a bit harmful. We've got a lot of good things going for us right now in America, and Jon Stewart has never once in my book been considered a threat to women.

Anyways, thanks for the replies and for hearing me out, as well.


Thanks, Mac, for fielding these comments. Your responses are more or less what I would have written, which saves me some time :) I disagree with most of Amanda's points (what's this thing with me attacking people for not being not-sexist enough? Apparently this is a MAJOR problem), though one point I found interesting and indeed wanted to address in the post -- that since Stewart makes jokes about coverage in the mainstream media, his biases (in terms of under-representation in coverage) should theoretically reflect theirs. Although in practice I don't think this happens, since he clearly has certain pet topics, like torture.

Amanda, I totally agree with

Amanda, I totally agree with you. John Stewart's show is entirely about the most popular political issues of that specific day. The absence of "female" issues does not make the show or the writers sexist. It only means the mainstream is not talking about women's issues, which we all know is actually a problem. I also agree that because he's not constantly talking about immigrants, minorities or any other group does not mean he is hateful, or even dismissive, of that group. I'm sorry, I'm at a complete loss here. I know that all issues of sexism and bigotry are important, but really? At this moment we've got people calling women "desperate" and "attention whores" for publicly accusing a presidential candidate of sexual harassment and assault.

I'm forced to agree. I love

I'm forced to agree. I love the Daily Show and Jon Stewart. It's funny, witty, and hits a lot of good points. Still, the lack of woman issues addressed on the show is a problem. The writing cast is smart enough and do enough research to make effective pieces on female social problems. Comedy needs to stop being a male dominate world. Thou I do have to say that there are an even number of female guest as their are men. Even the clips the feature the correspodants have females in a large speaking role. The Daily Show is guilty of having what many shows lack, a woman's input.

Female guests

Dear Rebecca A -- you wrote that the show features just as many female guests as male guests, which is not true. Halfway through 2010, there were 63 male guests and 13 female guests.

Dead On

I find everything you just said to be 100% true, even so when you compare The Daily Show to The Colbert Report. I've always suspected Stephen is a proud feminist while Jon doesn't really think about it much. Jon has said a number of times that he's just a comedian, that he's not really worried about influencing people either way, so it kinda makes sense that he doesn't exactly provide a, "well-balanced newscast" if you will.

Still, it is really difficult seeing him be so passionate about topics he does feels strongly about, but women's topics are presented as, "Oh, and this happened"...

I totally agree about Stephen

I totally agree about Stephen .... his show, unfortunately, also has very few female writers and guests, but he references "female issues" with far more nuance, and his (few) female guests, once in a while, are actually involved with "women's issues"


I'll need to think more about this article in general, but one thing I can say is that I thought I took the vasectomy piece in the complete opposite way. Since birth control is generally seen as women's responsibility, I liked that they did a piece advocating vasectomy. It's often viewed as emasculating and while I think that Jason Jones does at one point say "cut my balls off", the overall conclusion was "hey, don't want kids? try a vasectomy!" not "you'll never be a man again!" which is good.

I Agree

I agree with your reading of the vasectomy piece -- I thought that as an individual piece, it was positive. For the purposes of this article, I used it as a representative story of the general trend to foreground the male perspective in coverage of reproductive health issues.

What I want to know is why

What I want to know is why Jon never interviews any feminist authors. He's always interviewing some old crusty white dude about history. Not that I dislike them ol' crusty white dudes, but if Jon is such a feminist (or non-sexist), then why doesn't he interview feminist authors?

Confused Writing, Good Content

I, too, find Jon Stewart and The Daily Show to be a frat guy punchline. At the same time, TDS cuts through a lot of hypocrisy and is often really, really funny.

Years ago, I tried to use TDS as a soft-sell current event lesson, but in a middle school classroom I couldn't use barely a single clip because every joke had to be sexual, sexist, homophobic or just inappropriate--and that didn't take into account issues like bias (I had other sources and articles to balance it; TDS was the hook for the lesson). I love Jon Stewart, but I stopped watching years ago because of my own discomfort and the off-color humor being a distraction.

Perhaps some of the reason for disagreement on Don's article is that the article itself is not as focused as it could be. While I understand the introduction is meant to humanize and personalize the piece, I find it to be a bit of a red herring. Don clearly does a bit of research (thank you) and presents quite a few examples, but the shift from her personal experiences, to the backstage tales, to the actual evidence muddles any one of those sections. They don't quite support each other, but, in my mind, battle against the other as each raises a "yes, but...." response in me. In the end, I'm not sure if I buy it.

I hope Jon Stewart reads your post!

This message was fantastic, and I'm so glad I read it. I also love the Daily Show and appreciate the ways Jon Stewart and his writers use humor to point out the inherent flaws in American government, politics and social norms. Before reading this I had definitely noticed the lack of women, but not the lack of women's issues on the show. This post was greatly appreciated, and I loved that at the end you took a stance not of condemnation or anger, but of askance--why aren't women's issues tackled more on the Daily Show? I'm sure the many men watching the Daily Show would also benefit greatly if the show included more segments about the lack of respect for women in this country (rather than poking fun at women).

Jon Stewart, we still love you. Please take this to heart, because this post speaks the truth!


give me a f#cking break. this is so stupid and pointless. yes, the humor displayed is "frat boy" and crass - it's supposed to be - and probably for many of the reasons stated above.

but here's where your argument lacks: the Daily Show, and almost all social/political/satirical humor, really, is REACTIONARY. they don't set an agenda like Fox News, and most media, they REACT to it.

so go blame the rest of media and entertainments for neglecting the babies and their mothers who apparently don't get enough attention as it is, and stop expecting a TV show to be more sensitive to your specific point of view.

i am for fairness, be it race, creed, or gender and honest depictions and representations in our media and the world at large, but this is whiny, ME, ME, ME PC liberal bullshit at its worst.

Dear explainerguy ---- you

Dear explainerguy ---- you have explained things so well, guy. I won't respond to your specific "explanations" as to why this is "me me me PC liberal bullshit at its worst" (which naturally I disagree with), but I do want to point out that you're mean. Sorry. You're mean. I hope you're not spraying other comment sections with your unnecessary venom, and I most certainly hope you don't think these types of comments serve to enlighten anybody. I'm sure you live your life in a state of constant annoyance at everybody else's stupidity, but I assure you, your current tactic will do nothing to educate others.

As a woman, I am at least

As a woman, I am at least glad that a man-run environment isn't trying to make intelligent jokes out of something they don't understand. And also I have learned, through the detailed list provided here, that "women's issues" in their entirety freak me out. I don't want to hear about female biology, and I INHABIT IT. I don't find the subject funny. I don't want to hear a man belittling pregnancy and baby stuff in daily life, let alone for a cheap laugh.

By no means did I want

By no means did I want anybody to belittle pregnancy and "baby stuff" for a "cheap laugh" --- believe it or not, pregnancy and "baby stuff" is related to policies and legislation, such as welfare programs and federal workplace policies --- issues that are constantly present in the media, and those at the Daily Show choose to either 1) make a sketch about, or 2) not make a sketch about. I must add that the Daily Show's humor is often of the kind that doesn't exclusively involve "belittling" their given subject. Also, I didn't say that men in the industry should make jokes of something they don't understand. I said that there should be more women in the industry. (though, given that there aren't, i understand your sentiment that it might be worse if insensitive jokes were made of something not understood.)

I dunno...

The Daily show is mostly commentary on what is already in the mainstream media. I do not believe that the mainstream media talks about women's issues enough (past abortion) to really get material for The Daily Show to goof on, and I think Megan Kelly was seen as an opportunity to talk about an issue that does not normally have a voice. I understand the frustrations that people have with TDS, but I also know that their role has never been one of in depth coverage of anything past what is already displayed through cable news. I agree that women are under represented on the show, but your requests do not fit in the parameters of what the show does. Jon Stewart does not talk about things unless they are already in the echo chamber.

Yeah, but...

Do you ladies hear yourselves?!

With all due respect and I honestly could not read all of the posts but I am also a female and am shocked that we are now calling Jon Stewart out for how TDS handles 'women's issues". Are you kidding me? So instead of Jon treating the "not cute" female chef as an equal by calling her bro, he would have been more sensitive to feminist if he called her "sweetie"? How about "young lady"? Would he then be showing respect?

News flash- not ALL women are breeders and want to discuss reproductive rights or parental leave. Save that stuff for day time talk shows and lifetime. I have never written on a blog before but you "feminists" make my head want to explode. I am so embarrassed- Mr. Stewart, my sincerest apologies for my "sisters".

Ladies, pls read the below definition of feminism:
Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.

Now, pls allow me to translate this for you, it means that we do not want to be catered to and treated differently. We want to be able to sit at the big boy table and talk about sociopolitical topics that are not centered around tampons, giving birth and how much time people can get off of work if they choose to breed. TDS perfectly addresses the current topics of the day but from media outlets, not the Oprah Show (love Oprah, btw). This entire site has actually taken feminism back 80 years! Why, pray tell, would the author go to a political satire site and even look up breastfeeding?!?!?! Was there a bill being past in congress on nipples? Or was it a hot topic earlier on "The View" that day? If the answer is the latter then you have your answer.

The day Jon Stewart starts addressing "women's issues" such as breastfeeding is the day the music will die for me, an adorable, mid-thirties, lipstick wearing feminist who wants to laugh at the ridiculous of CNN covering Jodie Arris for 48 hours instead of getting to the bottom of what is going on in Syria, etc. Please don't make him start covering nursing bra's or ovaries- save that @#%* for Dr. Oz.

In conclusion, dear female empowering sisterhood, when you comment on the attractiveness of the female Chef guest and have the audacity to comment on his WIFE'S looks: "a cute, bland dental hygienist and is now taking out his misery on the 50% of his audience", you loose your "feminism" membership!!!! You, my sweets, and all the dribble on this site and posts by the readers are the exact reason there is a "systematic" problem with women in comedy, finance, technology, etc. Giving equal airtime to babies is not what early feminists fought for and is not the fight we need to continue if we expect to be treated as equals. Do you know how many videos are returned when searching for jock itch on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart web site? Zero results, just as it should be. Let's leave all the "men's issues" and all the "women's issues" for their appropriately corresponding day time outlets and let's have Johnny meet us in the middle with topics that both genders can relate equally to. Okey dokey?

P.S. I can't even address the point of women who CHOOSE to have a baby and are now demanding to be paid for it for 12 weeks while the rest of us have to pick up the slack. Can't the fact that the baby you are having to fulfill some emotional need for significance be enough? Now you want someone else to pay for your choice, expect your coworkers to pick up your slack at work and request that Jon Stewart supports you in your cause? It's YOUR body and YOUR choice so you pay for it! Sorry about that comment actually, my bad.
P.S.S. The media outlet you are looking for that deals with all of the baby talk you are so desperately searching for can be found on his WIFE'S online magazine. She has a name- Tracey Stewart. Yep, that's right, the 'miserable life making, blandy' has dedicated her life's work to dealing with "woman's issues", supporting her sisters by giving a voice to issues that matter to you breeders all while making the world a better place for woman. Why don't you check out her entrepreneurial skills and show the Stewart family some RESPECT.
P.S.S.S. YOU WILL ALSO BE CHARGED A PENALTY BY FEMINISM FOR CALLING YOUR FEMINIST SITE "BITCH MAGAZINE"! In case you haven't heard, using the term Bitch when referencing women is extremely sexist! Even the douche's at TDS know that (smile).

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