Chelsea Handler Defends Her Place in Late-Night (But It's a Shame She Had To)

In her editorial "No One Puts Baby in Parentheses," which ran on the Huffington Post on Friday, Chelsea Handler took issue with the fact that she was mentioned in parentheses in Bill Carter's New York Times article "Bullish on Boyish." To provide some context, Carter was discussing other late-night hosts who could compete for Jimmy Fallon's Tonight viewers. He dropped the names Colbert, Stewart, and Kimmel, while he sandwiched Handler in her own parenthetical aside, citing her presence as the only female host of a late-night show.

Before you write this off as "petty," allow me to wave Strunk and White's Elements of Style in defense of both the English language and Handler's choice to pick a battle. Language matters. The way we write, who we write about, and how much we write about them says volumes about the way our culture views the subject. In the case of Carter and Handler, he mentions her in a paragraph addressing the demographic challenges facing the Tonight show. In a field of male contenders for the Millennial generation's viewership, Handler doesn't even register. Instead, when she appears, it is as an afterthought, an olive branch to any potential readers who could say, "but what about women?" Carter writes:

In this context, it seems as though Carter is saying, "Don't worry about female competitors, they're lightyears behind!" The intent may not have been to marginalize Handler, but she did the right thing in addressing this mention. In response, she writes:

She continues:

Yes, Handler. Exactly. Rather than simply point out the fact that she was relegated to "incidental" status through use of parentheses, Handler attacks the whole problem, which involves having a distinct status because she is a woman. Even if the parenthetical sentence had broken through its curving bounds and entered the main body of the article, she still didn't need to be referenced as the only woman with her own late-night show. She can hold her ground as a late-night host, full stop.

This is a lesson for anyone who is tempted to use, in conversation or print, the qualification "for a ________." No matter what identifying trait you plug into the blank, it is offensive. While the individual is elevated, the group is still judged and declared unworthy.

Ultimately, we should thank Handler for not letting this one go. This is an important lesson. She is willing to fight for the rhetorical significance of her job and identity, and for the importance of divorcing her gender from her intrinsic worth as an individual.

And that's pretty profound, for anyone.