After years of stigma, feminism is back in the news, and Bridget Christie has turned her anger into a force for good. Kirstin Innes finds out more
It is 11 on a Thursday morning. We – a good 100 of us, if not more – are packed in to Stand 1, having negotiated the fankle of roadworks around York Place, for a comedy show. We are not really your typical comedy audience.
Beside me, a huddle of excited ladies in their fifties and sixties in some nice floral frocks share bar stools and orange juice in a venue more suited to late-night pints. There are some idealistic-looking teenage girls in the corner, and a little boy and his father sitting together in the front row. The room is full to bursting; every available seat has been used up and every bit of wall space is being leaned on.
We’re here for Bridget Christie’s show, A Bic For Her, a look at the absurdities of gender inequalities that still persist across the world, and perhaps an attempt to reconcile feminist anger with the business of being a comedian. Christie has taken her title from the well-known pen manufacturer, who recently rolled out a line of pastel-coloured ballpoints,delicately contoured to fit a feminine grip.
On stage, Christie amps this already ridiculous idea up to 11, in a skit where the Brontë sisters bemoan their inability to finish their masterpieces as those big masculine pens just keep slipping from their hands. She is daffy and deadly all at once; a comic avenger in skinny jeans, rock star eyeliner and a Patti Smith T-shirt, charming the audience with wonderfully silly physical comedy and absurd riffs that conceal some properly pointed shivs (definitely not carved from feminine-friendly pens) about far more serious issues – stoning, female genital mutilation and trafficking. Not really your typical comedy fare. The set builds into a truly moving tribute to Malala Yousef, by way of Beyonce, Margaret Thatcher and a few reactionary old sexists like Sir Stirling Moss and John Inverdale. She leaves us engaged, sides split, adoring her.
“It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?” she says, slightly shell-shocked the next morning, when I congratulate her on yet another five-star review. “Especially ‘cos I started talking about feminism as a way of ducking out of mainstream comedy for a while. Last year’s show was going to be my last for a while as my kids are really small, so I thought I’d just do a show about something I wanted to talk about, assuming it wouldn’t go down very well at all, and somehow I got a book deal and a Radio 4 series [Bridget Christie Minds The Gap] out of it. And the response to this year’s show has been huge. I mean – it’s been full every day, with a real mix of audiences. Did you see that little eight-year-old with his dad in the front row – there weren’t even any women with them, making them be there. I think there really is something in the air. Feminism is making the front pages again, after about 20 years of having been really stigmatised.”
In person, Christie is muted, much more serious than her stage persona, although her big gorgeous boom of a laugh is never far from the surface. It takes me a while to work out that she’s not being guarded with me; it’s that she’s fully engaged with a subject that means a huge, huge amount to her.
“Feminism – it’s sort of engulfed me over the last year. It’s all I ever think about,” she says, quietly and intently. “Right now, this is all I’m interested in talking about. This is where I am. It’s sort of limitless really. If I wanted to talk about this forever, I could. There’s so much to talk about. That’s the depressing thing.”
Christie is the youngest of nine siblings, five of whom are girls, and her mother was a very strong influence in their lives. “I suppose we were probably quite dominant in the house, and all my sisters are really bright and clever and independent. And I always have been as well. So I suppose, without thinking, from a really early age I was a feminist, although I may not have walked around saying, ‘I’m a feminist.’ I would have always pulled people up on sexism; I remember doing that at 14, 15. It’s always been present.”
This vaguely defined presence crystallised for her last year, when a cluster of events on the same day, capped off with a horrendously misogynistic and sexualising review, on which she sought legal advice, brought things to a head for her. “You hear women in the UK say, ‘Well, we’re OK here, we can do whatever jobs we want,’ but there’s still this undercurrent of misogyny that sits there, really nasty and quite dangerous.
“Oh, that review was so weird and awful; if I was a young female comic, I think it might have made me give up. But I’ve been going for ten years now. It’s depressing to say you’ve become immune and used to something like that. But I have. And while I was shocked, I thought, at least I have a platform. Even if not many people come along to a show about feminism, it’s a platform, and I can talk about it. I’m not trying to make feminism funny though. I’m a comic, but I’m not trying to use humour to make issues that I’m actually angry about ‘accessible’. If people come for the jokes and go away having thought about something for the first time, that’s all I can ask.”
As we talk, it becomes clear that Christie’s personal feminism is about equality and action; it’s instinctual rather than academic or tribal. “It’s a human rights movement,” she explains. She is an active campaigner for the removal of lads’ mags and porn from the bottom shelves of newsagents, where they can be seen by children (in a very funny riff in her show, she describes how once, weeping and slightly drunk, she cleared an entire shelf into the nearest bin. As no-one bothered to stop her, she now does it a couple of times a week and has never been caught). But she objects to their visibility rather than their existence. She’s fervently anti-censorship. “I don’t believe in that. I just don’t want my kids to grow up seeing these images and thinking that’s what women are for. And it wouldn’t be a problem if it were balanced; if there were just as many men in those silly poses. But then, men would never do that because they’re getting well paid for doing other things.”
Her childcare demands prevent her from doing much though, something she’s very aware of. “I think of myself as very small scale. All I can do is publicise things wherever I can: like the charity Refuge, which does amazing work with victims of domestic violence. And in a way, I’d probably rather be doing that than comedy. When it quietens down – which it will, I have no illusions about that, I’m not naïve – then I can commit time to doing proper work, like the women I admire do.”
She seems genuinely down about this, sits in silence for a second. What about the huge audience she reached today, though, I ask. What about the little boy and his dad? Christie’s face comes back to life.
“And they’ll have a conversation about it after, won’t they? Actually, that little boy in with his dad, in the front row, really having a good time – that’s probably worth the whole run for me. That’s made the whole run worth it.”
Originally published in The Scotsman