The White House Correspondents' Dinner is a highly anticipated affair; journalists, celebrities, and government officials all gather to celebrate the the First Amendment in the United States. But in spite of its celebration of a free press and free speech, the event is still pretty much a boys club — after all, only five women have hosted the White House Correspondents Dinner before 2018.
On Saturday, April 28, that number is going to change by a single digit as Daily Show contributor Michelle Wolf will host the 2018 WHCD. But Wolf's selection to host the event is an anomaly to the overwhelmingly male WHCD host alumni. She'll be the sixth woman ever to host the annual affair in Washington, D.C.
As a tradition, the WHCD began in 1921, but its very first female host didn't get selected until 1992. That's when comedian Paula Poundstone became the first female host for the event. In 1993, Elayne Boosler hosted the WHCD, becoming the second woman ever to do so. Then in 1999, a solid seven years later, Aretha Franklin became the first woman and music performer to entertain at the WHCD. Prior to that, it was mostly a comedian gig.
It took another decade for a woman to host the WHCD when, in 2009, comedian Wanda Sykes hosted the event. Sykes was not only the fourth woman to ever host the annual dinner; she was also the first openly black lesbian to do so. It took another six years when, in 2015, SNL star Cecily Strong hosted the WHCD. For a tradition that has been taking place for 97 years, the WHCD has had only six women (including Wolf) as hosts.
Yet in spite of the gender disparity in representation, the women who have hosted the WHCD have been reluctant to highlight the skewed number between male and female hosts. While speaking to Elle magazine in 2015, Poundstone said, "The more you marginalize yourself, the more others will do the same to you. I'm a comedian. I do the job. Whoever can carry you out of the burning building gets to be the fireman. You have 15 seconds to be funny. After that, you're off and running — or not, whether you are a man or woman."
But she also highlighted how the press covered the event and singled her tuxedo out. "In the newspaper the next day, they had the balls to write about [the tuxedo]. I think that might have been the one time that I ever thought about the fact that I was a woman," Poundstone said.
While indirectly referring to media's focus on women's looks in the same interview, Poundstone wondered aloud, "Would they have done that for any other performer? Did anybody talk about what [Don] Imus wore? Or what Jim Morris wore the year before me? I just remember being struck by how much ink they wasted describing my outfit. Who gives a sh*t?"
Celebrities have spoken out about sexism in comedy but the WHCD's history of predominantly male hosts lays that disparity bare. That said, there's some good news. Slowly and steadily, the tide is turning for women who seek a chance to wow their audiences at such affairs.
Gradually the years between women hosting the WHCD are closing. Just look at the dates: The first time the WHCD had a woman host was in 1992 followed by 1993, 1999, 2009, and 2015. You can see a shortening gap between the years. Only three years after Strong hosted the WHCD in 2015, Wolf will now take her place.
Three years may seem like a lengthy time to some. But, in this context it also points out how more and more women are hosting powerhouse events like WHCD. Perhaps, in the not-too-distant future, people may not have to wait another whole chunk of years to see a woman host the dinner.