by Alice Wilder

Emily Gordon is a writer, comedy producer, and former family and couples’ therapist, and listening to her podcasts feels a little like free therapy. For me as a teenager, Emily is this reassurance that everything is going to be okay. I mean, she dated a cult member in high school and is now happily married! She co-hosts the podcast Indoor Kids, produces the Meltdown, and writes for Rookie Mag. Here are some of my fave pieces of her work from Rookie:

on rituals (religious and otherwise)
on communication
on sexuality and sex
on sexism & gaming culture

Recently, I got to ask her some questions about feminism, comedy, and the Internet:

Were you a feminist as a teenager?

No. I was almost anti-feminist. I was an awkward-looking teenager who liked to hang with the boys and be cool, and I would look at the “cutesy” girls in my high school in their adorable dresses and think, “I am nothing like them.” In truth, I just didn’t feel confident enough in myself to wear dresses and flirt, but in my head, I turned it into “cool girls vs cutesy girls.” I expressly refused to wear skirts or clothes that fit. I wouldn’t do anything that would be considered “girlie.” It’s not that I wasn’t fun to be around, I just thought that the only way to be truly accepted by all the cool dudes in my life was to hide the fact that I was a girl. This is why I’m so fond of sites like Hello Giggles and Rookie–sites that embrace the girliness of being female, without sacrificing any of the feminist values.

It wasn’t until late college that I started thinking of myself as a feminist (SO LATE!). Until then I was like “It’s everyone for themselves– why should I support other women?” That being said, me being an anti-girlie, tough girl in combat boots and huge band shirts didn’t go over super well. I would often be told that I could be pretty if I wanted to, which just made me dig my heels in deeper.

It seems stupid now, but I think it was the path I had to take to arrive at being a feminist.

Was there a certain moment when you decided to reject the perfect southern lady facade?

Well, not one moment. And I didn’t even realize how much I’d embraced the perfect southern lady facade, on my own terms, until I was in my 20s. It was when I got really ill and had to be hospitalized that I realized how much I’d been faking being well around my friends and boyfriend. Why? Why was I trying to hard to convince the people closest to me that everything was fine when it clearly wasn’t? Would they really reject me? Would they walk away from me if they knew I was sick? Getting really sick helped shake up my beliefs and start taking care of myself and be more honest about myself to others. It’s still a problem sometimes, in fact. I have to continually remind myself to be honest and open about how I’m feeling and whether or not the people around me deserve (rather than “can handle”) knowing that I am not perfect.

Could you talk a little about your work with domestic violence survivors and perpetrators?

When I was in graduate school I did two practica (one step below interning- you are more there to assist than to actually do stuff yourself) in DV. For the first one, I worked as a court advocate, helping to support women who showed up to testify against their husbands and boyfriends who were on trial for DV. Offering resources, reassuring them that they would be safe, being their cheerleaders–testifying against someone you love must be incredibly different.

For the second practicum, I helped out at a court-ordered therapy group for men who had been convicted of DV. I mostly observed but spoke up a bit to help lead the group by the end of the experience. That was extremely eye opening. I wanted to believe I had been understanding of what survivors of DV had gone through, but working with perpetrators taught me that I had actually been pretty close-minded. These men were charming, witty, rich, poor–there were a million types of them, but none of them were people that I would have looked at and thought “Oh, he’s a batterer.” It helped me have more empathy for the female survivors. It really can happen to anyone.

You’re pretty active online and open about your life. How do you deal with negativity and invasion of privacy online? Do you find some of it to be specific to your gender?

Well, the basics are that I like myself (and that’s been a journey in itself), so there’s really nothing you can say to me that I haven’t said to myself and then dismissed. I also just try not to engage. If someone is being shitty to me in YouTube comments or on Twitter, my first step is to try to shame them with kindness, and my second step (which I often start with) is to just ignore. Sometimes I’ll retweet shitty comments so that their lame shitty message reaches my followers, not just me. If it gets bad, I block. A lot of comments I get are about my gender or my appearance, but it’s nothing that makes me want to a) stop being active online or b) stop being a woman. It feels kinda hack when YouTube comments are filled with people talking not about [Indoor Kids co-host] Kumail‘s performance but my appearance, even though I know he’s funnier than me, but there are worse problems in the world.

If there’s a day that gets really intense, I close my computer and go outside. The online world is huge, but it’s not your real life. It’s good to remember that sometimes.

A lot of your writing is about personal relationships or experiences. How do you decide which parts of your life to share with the world and which to keep private? Has there ever been a time where you regretted sharing something online or in a public setting?

Hmmm. Well, sometimes I am uncomfortable with the stuff that I share online, but if I’m writing an essay or talking about something important to me, I do it anyway. Taking risks is always important. As a therapist, I learned that self-disclosure should only happen with a client if it’s in service to the client (and not just because you want to “tell your tale”), and I try to keep that in mind in my writing. I’m pretty strict about the boundaries I do set online. If I am telling a story about myself, I will sometimes keep a few details just to myself- even if they would make the story better, those are the parts that belong to me. I parse things out like that. I also picture my Mom or my sister, the two women I’m closest to, reading or listening to what I’m saying. I’m very open and silly with them, but if I can see it hurting them, I won’t say it/write it.

We edit out stuff on our podcast that either of us feel uncomfortable with. There was a whole run of stuff on the James Gunn podcast that was really funny but way too personal. Of course I have regretted saying stuff online or on a podcast or whatever, but once it’s out there, it’s out there, and all you can do is accept it. And move on.

Although you’re not a comedian per se, you work in comedy. Do have a “feminism and writing Emily” and a “Meltdown comedy/Indoor Kids Emily,” or do they intersect?

Hmmm, good question. I hope they always intersect. They’re all pieces of me, and for many years the feminist part of me might have been compartmentalized and separated from “work me” or “relationship me” or “comedy me,” but the older you get, the more all those pieces start melting together. But that doesn’t mean that I try to be militant in all areas of my life. I can laugh at misogynist jokes if they’re in context and funny; I can watch someone be a self-destructive mess on stage and not feel the need to “fix” them. Comedy helps me not take things so seriously, writing helps me know myself more, and feminism helps me see the world in an inclusive, bigger-picture way. It’s not my job to force you to see my perspective, it’s my job to live my perspective.