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Lizz Winstead
Lizz Winstead
Photo by Mindy Tucker

Lizz Winstead on Florida and Feminism After #MeToo

We live in the Zone now.

The Zone — a widespread allusion to the 1979 film Stalker popularized by leftist comedy podcast Chapo Trap House and further propagated by the Weird Twitter hive mind — is a useful, catch-all reference to the United States' current state of moral confusion. It's a place where the values we previously held dear have been thoroughly inverted and the once-unthinkable is increasingly regarded as routine. In the Zone, the horrific and the comical have ceased to be distinct, becoming a single, all-consuming force that inspires equal parts terror and malaise. It's a place where reports that the president of the United States had an extramarital affair with a porn star registers as a mere blip in news cycles rife with perpetual cruelty and contemptible behavior.

Comedian and activist Lizz Winstead has been aware of the Zone — or at least the broad, shadowy outlines of such a place — for decades. As the co-creator and former head writer of The Daily Show, Winstead was among the first to recognize the comedic potential in parodying the TV news media, mocking it long before it lost widespread respectability. Years later, as a cofounder of Air America Radio, Winstead offered one of the lone platforms for voices of dissent in a nation driven mad by the collective trauma of 9/11.

Nowadays, Winstead is best known for her activism surrounding women’s reproductive rights. In 2012, she founded Lady Parts Justice League (LPJL), a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness of legislation aimed at curbing access to reproductive health care. In addition, Winstead and LPJL work to draw attention to local organizations fighting on behalf of women’s health care and similar causes, albeit on a smaller scale.

"People often talk in federal terms or general terms and don't realize that when it comes to reproductive access, so much happens on a state level. And for people who are really, really working on social justice issues, so much of that is in state legislatures," Winstead explains. "So when [LPJL] comes to a town, our whole point is asking, 'Where are the cool activists? Come and table at our show, and then come and talk after the show. We know you need more people to help you do it; you just need to build a stronger base.' Having fun and creating community is what we're all about."

For the past few years, LPJL has taken the battle out of the courtroom and into the comedy cellar, organizing tours and shows to benefit and raise awareness of local abortion providers and the myriad services they offer. Sunday, February 11, Winstead and standup comedian Ian Harvie will take their talents to the Kelsey Theater in Palm Beach County. The show — You Should Smile More! And Other Man-spirational Things! — will be one of Winstead’s first performances in Florida following the emergence of #MeToo, the most prominent and visible feminist movement in recent years.

Noting that the show will be lengthier than her usual sets with LPJL, Winstead takes a deep breath before adding that #MeToo has given everyone — comedians and otherwise — a lot to digest and discuss. In her time speaking with friends and peers about #MeToo, she observed that many of her conversations were with male friends who had been taken aback by the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in American culture.

“I've had male friends who were like, 'You know, that never happened around me,'” Winstead says. “Men who are predators, not only do they pick a specific kind of woman, they also avoid a specific kind of man: Somebody who could see through their bullshit or who would not tolerate that, they're not going to do that in front of you. It takes so much calculation for these predators to work their game that it keeps a lot of people in the dark.”

Much of the public conversation surrounding women’s rights and bodily autonomy revolves around #MeToo, but Winstead warns there are still many grim problems being overlooked in state governments. In Florida, a concerning chunk of state financing is being funneled into what Winstead calls fake clinics, or so-called women’s health centers that offer misleading consultations and information regarding birth control, abortions, and STDs.

“They don't do exams, they don't provide health care, and they won't refer you if you ask about access to abortion,” Winstead notes. “[A Florida court] struck down your 24-hour waiting-period ban, which is really good, but 70 percent of the counties in Florida are still without a clinic that provides abortions.”

Even against daunting circumstances, Winstead’s work across the nation as both an activist and a comedian has allowed her to hold on to hope. LPJL was named for a particularly Zone-worthy moment in 2012 when a female Democratic representative was reprimanded on the Michigan House floor for using the word “vagina.” Her male counterparts suggesting she instead use the phrase “lady parts.” The struggle for a woman’s right to choose existed long before Tea Party politics and Donald Trump, and it’ll be here long after.

“As a person who brings people together, it feels hopeful every time I step out onstage and there's a couple hundred people who are with me on a journey who say, 'You know what? I am still here. I am fighting, I'm with you,'” Winstead says. “With Lady Parts Justice, I can use humor, call out hypocrisy, go on the road, do everything I do, and then add the component of saying 'I just told you all this shit, and now here's what you can do to get out there to change.' That feels, to me, like I've just hit the mother lode of where I want to be.”

Lady Parts Justice League Presents: You Should Smile More! And Other Man-spirational Things! 8 to 10 p.m. Sunday, February 11, at the Kelsey Theater, 700 Park Ave., Lake Park; 561-328-7481; thekelseytheater.com. Tickets cost $15 to $30 via holdmyticket.com.

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