Rachel Fogletto is a stand-up comedian local to Philadelphia who is known for her raw and unapologetic material that dips into everything from unnerving sexual encounters to brazenly confronting the absurdity of controversial issues like rape culture or abortion with her unique style of dry-dark humor. Rachel is currently the host of monthly comedy showcase Comedy-Gasm!, co-host of a monthly all female comedy showcase at Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar and co-host of the podcast Wait, Wut? To keep up with Rachel, check for appearances at RachelFogletto.com or follow on Twitter @RachelFogletto.
C.J. Asher – Tell me a little about yourself and your background. You were a gender studies major, correct?
Rachel Fogletto – I was a double major in women’s studies and psychology at Temple University for undergrad. Women’s studies is now called gender studies which probably ages me because I was in women’s studies ten years ago. For graduate school, I went to University of Pennsylvania.
C.J. Asher – How did you decide to get started in the Philadelphia comedy scene?
Rachel Fogletto – Well, I’ve always been a fan of comedy and stand-up comedy since I was a kid. I’ve always wanted to be famous when I was a teenager and I’ve always liked pushing buttons. I took a break for a while and did the whole academic thing. I’ve always wanted to help women and things like that; I did social work in grad school to be an advocate in society that way and that sorta didn’t pan out the way I planned. I found flyers for The Erotic Literary Salon at the coffee shop around campus when I was twenty four and though, “well, I’ve always written poetry so let me read dirty poetry at this place.” The more I kept going back (to The Erotic Literary Salon), the more I liked doing dryer stuff. I would tell my own sex stories but they would always be dry and cynical and would always have humor to them. I feel like everybody has sex and everybody has these awkward things that happen during sex that are really intimate but nobody wants to acknowledge it. It was fun when I could make the audience laugh at something like that and I just thinking, “let me just try to do comedy, let me see how that works.” It’s actually the hardest form of performance I’ve done, because you have to constantly punch-punch-punch and make the audience laugh. It’s very male-dominated; there’s a lot of different aspects to it, but it’s fun for me to push people’s buttons. Making someone laugh is actually one of the biggest ways you can get people on your side; you can say something they may not agree with, but if they laugh at it then you’re kinda right. That’s why I like it.
C.J. Asher – For you personally, what does “feminism” mean?
Rachel Fogletto – I have a lot of personal issues with labels. I certainly am a feminist; I grew up feminist you could say. My mother raised me practically by herself and she always raised me saying “you can do whatever you want.” She never told me “you’re a girl so you act like this,” or “you have to do that.” I was always raised with a very feminist outlook; my mother was pro-choice and everything. You could get into all of the different ways that feminists don’t agree with one another. I think a lot of people see it as a negative thing but I try to look at it as basically as possible which is that women of all walks of life, even if you’re a social conservative or, for instance, women from different cultural backgrounds or religious backgrounds. We should all basically have the same opportunities as our male counterparts. Not even just males, also if you’re a transgendered person. Everyone should have the same opportunities and have the right to feel safe. That’s kind of a big one in a lot of societies; a lot of women and transgendered persons don’t have the same rights as males to feel safe; it’s almost like a privilege. If I want to do the same thing as my male counterparts and come home late at night from a comedy show, I have this extra thing I have to worry about as a woman. I think those are the ways you can make feminism relevant to everybody, not so much the little details about “should you shave your legs” or “should you wear makeup” or these things people get really hung up on. It’s really just about being able to make your own decisions and feel safe to do what you want without getting death threats and things like that.
C.J. Asher – Do you feel that sex work, such as being a stripper or a prostitute, is empowering or exploiting women? Voluntary sex work, that is; not a situation where a woman is forced into it with threats, violence or other means.
Rachel Fogletto – I definitely feel it’s empowering if it’s a consensual act. I’m very pro-sex work and I think anybody voluntarily choosing to either be a stripper or a sex worker is a completely different aspect than sex trafficking. That happens with children a lot of times; what’s problematic is when people lump those issues into the same thing because they are two totally different issues which are both feminist issues because little girls are being seen as expendable: things that you can sell and trade against their will. That’s a totally different thing than a woman who is free making her own decisions saying, “hey, I’m okay with having sex for money.” Of course that’s empowering, there’s no reason why that wouldn’t be, but lumping it all into the same thing, like the idea of self-exploitation is ridiculous. You can’t exploit yourself if you’re choosing to do that. So obviously I’m very pro-sex work; I’ve experimented with sex work myself and I found out I’m not cut out for it. It’s hard work but it’s valuable work because people place value on it. People pay for sex workers and it’s a hard job that not everybody’s cut out to do. Something I find a lot in comedy is men degrading women who are strippers and things like that. It’s just as empowering as anything else. If you work a retail job and you have to wear a fucking uniform with a nametag and get talked down to by fucking pieces of shit, that’s degrading but you do it for a paycheck. To argue that is kind of arbitrary, I think.
C.J. Asher – What do you feel needs to be the greatest driving force for change to bring about gender equality?
Rachel Fogletto – That’s a very big question (laughs). Gender equality, I think, means different things to different people. I guess for me it’s about finding relevance, it’s acknowledging that we should all have the same opportunities, feel safe and have the space to get those opportunities. What it comes down to is people acknowledging their privileges: men acknowledging that they have access to more spaces than women and they have access to those spaces feeling safe from sexual violence; not that men can’t be victims of sexual violence because, of course, they are very frequently. The way we think of women makes it so that men won’t report if they’re sexually abused. Acknowledging your privilege and using that as a tool to listen to what people are talking about, what things they’re experiencing and then navigating what your place would be in supporting that by maybe even asking a woman “where is my place in this” rather than trying to argue or say “well what about this or that” from your own perspective because it’s frankly not valid. I’ll even say that, putting it on myself, even within feminism, a lot of times you’ll have white feminists who won’t acknowledge the issues of women of color so there can be a disconnect within feminism because of that. Acknowledging your privilege and how that grants you access to things. For me, as a white woman, something I try to do is to acknowledge how that privilege gains me access to spaces that a woman of color may not have and she might be at a greater risk for violence than I would by a person of authority very likely. If a person of color is talking, I’ll listen and try to figure out how I would best be supportive; more than likely not saying anything at all but instead being a support.
C.J. Asher – What is your position on the comments “my body, my choice” or being “pro-choice” when, as a woman (knowing that she would be the one to get pregnant and give birth), a woman had a choice to abstain from sex to avoid pregnancy?
Rachel Fogletto – I think the concept of abstinence as a retaliation to something that’s already happened is kind of an absurd form of victim-blaming because, technically, we all have the choice to abstain not just with sex but with anything that could pose an unplanned or unwanted risk. I could say to you if you get mugged when you leave here today or if someone breaks into your car, shatters your window and steals all your shit including your phone, well, you made the choice to come into the city and you put your car in a place where you know violence happens. Does that really solve the problem of why your car got broken into by me telling you “well you made the choice to come here?” It’s an arbitrary and useless argument; it’s not realistic for people to abstain from things that benefit them. You have to drive to get your work done. I have to walk somewhere to go to work. I could get raped and someone could say “well, you made the choice to walk down that street and you knew that could happen.” I have to live my life, I have to go to the grocery store, I have to buy food and eat it. Sex is a natural and beneficial act; you could even argue that it’s scientifically proven to have other benefits besides procreation; otherwise people wouldn’t do it. It relieves stress, it’s fun and we consensually have the right to do it. Even if I wanted to go see a movie and leave my house and something happens to me, “well, you made that choice, you could’ve abstained.” You can abstain from anything and get depressed because you don’t go anywhere and don’t live a normal human existence. What point does abstinence drive other than stigmatizing a person who is the victim of an unplanned burden, possible financial or physical because pregnancy does pose a lot of health risks for some women? If a woman gets pregnant unintentionally, she’s the one who is at risk the further she gets in the pregnancy if she decides to carry it to term with such potential risks as diabetes, high blood pressure, other gestational risks and possibly dying during childbirth. To say, “well, you could’ve not had sex” is a little bit ridiculous considering human behavior patterns. It only serves to stigmatize the person, I feel, in most cases when that argument is used. I don’t feel that it’s ever really used as a form of logic.
C.J. Asher – From a feminist’s perspective, what advice do you have for young women today?
Rachel Fogletto – I feel like I’d be answering this question from a place of extreme privilege since I was brought up in a very positive household. I was always encouraged to get an education and get the things that I wanted. My mom wouldn’t let me quit anything that I wanted to quit, she would say things like “no, you can do this, don’t say you can’t do it.” I didn’t like science and math, but she would say “you can do this, don’t use that excuse.” I was raised with a lot of privilege that a lot of girls don’t get. I’d say, as a blanket statement for young women and girls, if she has a chance to do it, get as much education as you can possibly get, even if you’re not in a financial place where you can do it. There’s the internet, of course, being careful with any information you get on the internet, surrounding yourself with people who support you in goals that you have, not tearing you down and making you feel like you can’t do those things. I think, a lot of times, girls are told “you can’t do this or that” or “that’s not for you.” Women, and I can say this even by being out in the world when I left my mom, in a lot of instances we’re used to being told “no” on a very regular basis. I’m still told “no” on a very regular basis, more often than my male counterparts. I’m constantly asked “Why do you deserve this? What can you do? What do you bring to this? Why do you think you deserve this?” whereas men can ask for things and be like “I want this, I’m going to take it.” I’d say to women you deserve whatever you want, just work for it, keep going for it. Anybody who tells you that you can’t do it because you’re a girl, fuck ‘em. The biggest thing is education: the more you know, the more power you have and the more confidence you’re going to have over what you say and how you behave. When someone comes at you and challenges that you’ll have ammunition.
C.J. Asher – Recently, Emma Watson spoke before the United Nations to support the HeforShe campaign. She called on men to take a bigger role in bringing about gender equality. What role do you feel men must play in advocating for gender equality?
Rachel Fogletto – I think the biggest thing that men can do is be as supportive as possible to the women in your life: your co-workers, your family members and your partner if you have a female partner. If you have kids and you have little girls and boys, constantly promote the idea that kids don’t need to fall into their gender stereotypes. If a woman you know, and I don’t like to use the word “complain” because I feel that is a word that is negatively stigmatized, is telling you about things that happen to them on a regular basis that make them feel unsafe like catcalling, or if they say “this person talked to me in a certain way because I’m a woman and that really pissed me off” or “they were hitting on me” or “they were doing this and it was unprofessional,” believe them. If you notice the first thought in your head is to trivialize it, diminish it or question the validity of it, hold onto that thought and ask yourself why you’re not believing that woman. Consider that most acts of sexism are happening when you’re not there. Usually those acts happen to us when there aren’t other men present to witness it. That’s one of the greatest ways that were stifled and kept where we are and not having our male counterparts believe us. Listening and supporting is the best thing you can do. Take into consideration that while you might feel or react the way you do if your first reaction is that of disbelief or wanting to argue or play devil’s advocate. Consider why and think about that for a minute.