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A R T I C L E S* &* S P E E C H E S
INTERVIEWS

Interview with Sandra Bernhard
Excerpts of an interview conducted by Marianne Schnall (1994)

MS: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR POLITICAL BELIEFS?
SB: Well, I'm very much a humanist. I'm very much pro-choice. I'm very much, I think, politically correct, I mean - not because I want to be, just because I am. And I just believe in people living their lives and having privacy. I think that's, to me, the most important thing in this age, is just to let people be. I think if people don't have their freedom and their basic needs met, there's nothing much to really address until those things are taken care of.


MS: YOU'VE ALWAYS BEEN VERY OUTSPOKEN ON BEHALF OF WOMEN'S RIGHTS. HOW DO YOU VIEW THE STATUS OF WOMEN TODAY?
SB:I think, really, a lot of them are allowing themselves to fall back into a really complacent, dangerous place. I think that in the late sixties and seventies, when feminism kind of was on the up sweep, there was an awareness of things that we're losing again. I mean, I just saw some little ad in New York Magazine for some restaurant that showed a woman pressing her tits together, like, you know, "Come to this restaurant." And it's like, why? Is that what you're going to find when you get there? Like this big bust sitting at the bar waiting for you, to suck your d--k or something? And I don't think people are aware of it. That kind of stuff, pre-feminism, was acceptable because we just hadn't had our consciousness raised. And now that supposedly we are conscious people and that kind of stuff happens, it's very unacceptable. And I think the right wing fundamentalists and those women think that they should be there to serve their men and just shut up and not really express themselves, and I think that that plays into a lot of helplessness for women.


MS: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF ALL THESE DIFFERENT CLASSIFICATIONS AND DISPUTES OVER DEFINING FEMINISM? CAN YOU IDENTIFY WITH TODAY'S FEMINIST MOVEMENT, OR HAS IT BECOME TOO -
SB: Fractionalized? Well, I don't know. I think you have to take the basics of feminism and the kind of outline of it and do what you do with it. Because you have to make things work for your own life and your own choices in life. So I think there's just kind of basic rules and regulations of what's right and wrong for women and being a woman. And making them work for the individual. Which is why I've always been opposed to groups. Because I can't believe that the doctrine of group is going to work for every single person within the group.


MS: IT ALSO SEEMS LIKE SOME OF THE GROUPS COMPETE WITH EACH OTHER AND WE CERTAINLY DON'T NEED WOMEN AGAINST WOMEN.
SB: Yeah, and then there's always that thing too, which is kind of like an excuse for women to once again be bitchy and competitive, you're right. Under the guise of something supposedly positive.


MS: IN OUR PREVIOUS INTERVIEW, YOU SPOKE ABOUT THE INCREASING FANATICISM OF THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT, AND WITH THE MURDERS OF ABORTION DOCTORS AND CLINIC WORKERS, THINGS SEEM TO BE GETTING OUT OF CONTROL. I WOULD BE INTERESTED TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT THE CURRENT STATE OF THE ABORTION DEBATE.
SB: Well, I think we had twelve years of politicians who were running this country who took the power away from women again. And created a sense of panic and fear amongst middle America, to a certain extent, because the bottom line is - when the world becomes chaotic, when the world seems out of control, I think people go far back into that whole patriarchy of thinking that men need to take control of the situation, in a domestic way. So, I think a lot of it stems from that. Just the world kind of condition. And it's really up to couples, to individuals, once again, to have a trust between each other and make those decisions within the home. And I think it also all boils down to a lack of education in school. I think that kids need to be educated about sex and sexuality and if they're going to have sex, learn how to protect themselves and not get pregnant, because why should a kid be told they have to keep a child? But at the same time, why shouldn't they be smart enough and savvy and educated enough to know how not to get pregnant in the first place? And it's just this keeping the minorities down, keeping the masses down. And I just think until kids are educated, until people become aware and have a general awareness, this kind of stuff is going to continue to go on in our society.


MS: IN THAT SAME VEIN, DO YOU THINK THE GOVERNMENT IS DOING ENOUGH TO SUPPORT AIDS RESEARCH AND PROMOTE SAFE SEX?
SB: I don't think they are. I think, once again, it starts really in the schools. And until there's some kind of general policy where at a very early age, kids are really clearly educated about how to protect themselves, right from there, there's just really no hope. Because once people have in their minds that this is just a game, until something, God forbid, happens to them, they don't take it seriously and they just don't care.


MS: WHAT EFFECT DO YOU THINK AIDS HAS HAD ON SOCIETY?
SB: Well, I think it's caused a certain amount of homophobia. I think it's caused a return to false values - i.e. the right wing, the fundamentalists - where "If you're a good person to begin with, this wouldn't be happening". Well, they're not good people. I'm sure they fuck around as much as anybody. It just didn't happen to affect them as directly. So, there's this whole sense of judgment and who's right and who's wrong and who's moral and who's going to be punished and plays into that whole kind of stupidity and ignorance, once again.


MS: I KEEP WONDERING IF THIS WHOLE ABORTION DEBATE CAN EVER REALLY BE RESOLVED, WHEN YOU HAVE THESE PEOPLE WHO LITERALLY THINK THEY'RE ON A MISSION FROM GOD.
SB: Right. Exactly. I don't know how that resolves itself. I don't know if it ebbs and flows and goes away again or if it just always stays there and flares up. I don't know. I don't know how we control that.


MS: WHAT DO YOU THINK IS AT THE ROOT OF THE BIGOTRY AND PREJUDICE IN THIS COUNTRY AND AROUND THE WORLD?
SB: Fear. Absolutely. Fear that somebody different may have some kind of control over them. Basic insecurity of not feeling good enough about themselves to begin with, so they have to find the underdog to take out their aggressions on so they feel better about themselves.


MS: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF BILL AND HILARY CLINTON?
SB: I think they're really fantastic and I'm really, really, disturbed at how beaten and abused they're getting by the right wing. And I've never seen a President be so incredibly disrespected and abused and exploited as he is. And I think that he's done as much as he can do to undo the damage of the past twelve years and I have a lot of respect for him. And I really, really love Hilary Clinton. I think she's very cool. I mean, she may be a little precious about certain things, but at least she's out there and she's involved. And she's an incredibly smart woman.


MS: IS AMERICA LOOSENING UP?
SB: Well, certainly part of it is. The part that always has - the young, the people who've always been in touch with their emotions, the kind of hip people. But the rest of it? No. They're running scared. Why do you think the right wing is so fucking powerful? Because people want to feel safe. They don't want to deal with their emotions. They don't want to hear about homosexuality, they don't want to hear about the ghetto, they don't want to hear about people suffering, they just want to have their dream. But there's no room left for that particular dream. It's gone, it's over. People have to adjust to what is happening now. And they have to become compassionate. That's something people don't want to deal with.


MS: YOU WORK IN SO MANY DIFFERENT ARTISTIC MEDIUMS. DO YOU SEE A COMMON THEME IN ALL OF YOUR WORK?
SB: Yeah, well, I think they're all coming from kind of the same place emotionally and they're always very reflective of what I'm thinking and feeling at the time. I think that somebody like me basically thinks similar things all the time, about culture and the way society evolves and the humanistic side of everything. It's a lot to take in, especially with so much media thrown at you day after day. I think that's always kind of a constant theme - how far can we go? How much can we absorb and still have some piece of mind? When you're watching CNN and you're watching the news, and they're really hawking their wares - which is stuff like O.J. Simpson - how many days in a row can you watch that and feel good about yourself and the world? I mean it's extremely confusing and painful. And I'm somebody who can absorb a lot, but I wonder how much the average person can really take it in and interpret it and live with it. And those are always big concerns of mine. So, that's kind of an ongoing theme in my work.


MS: NOT TO BE HOKEY, BUT WHAT I ALWAYS COME AWAY WITH FROM YOUR WORK IS THE BASIC THEME THAT EVERYONE NEEDS TO BE LOVED, WANTS TO LOVE OTHERS AND THE IDEA OF BEING TRUE TO YOURSELF. YOUR ART IS ALWAYS VERY UPLIFTING. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF THAT WAY?
SB: Absolutely. I always try to focus on that because I think at the end of the day it is what everybody needs. I mean, if you come home to a household of chaos and anger and fear, you're not going to feel protected from the world. I think that it's up to families - I mean, those, to me are real family values - protecting each other and loving and soothing and listening to each other so that people can work out those kinds of overwhelming concerns and confusions that they get out in the world. And if you don't have that kind of protection at home, I think that there's really nowhere to turn.


MS: YOU'RE SUCH A STRONG PERSONALITY, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG KIDS WHO ARE GROWING UP IN THIS ERA ABOUT BEING STRONG AND STANDING BY YOUR CONVICTIONS AND JUST REMAINING SANE?
SB: I think, really, exploring history. And understanding recent culture and far reaching culture. Things that have led us to the way we live our life now. I think it's really important that they just know what happened through the fifties and the - well, I could go back - I don't know how far back we should really be going, but for myself, I know that growing up in the sixties and the seventies it certainly seemed more simplistic and easier to digest. So, I think it's focusing less on the present and the future and delving more into the past, to have just a better understanding to what led us to where we are. I think when you have a knowledge of history, it's very soothing - when there's continuity in your life, it's soothing.


MS: ARE YOU AN OPTIMIST OR A PESSIMIST?
SB: I think I'm very much an optimist. I don't think I could do my work if I didn't believe there was some kind of hope for humanity. But I'm also very fearful and I'm also cautious, because I think that there are a lot of dangerous elements out there, from the right wing and from people who just don't really care about the environment and don't care about each other. You know, kind of all the basic things that in a way come from the bible, you know? Those things were all there for a reason. You really can't turn your back on the basics of how you treat each other and how you treat the earth. I'm not saying that I'm like some high priestess. I do things, I'm sure, that are damaging to all things, but it's certainly not on purpose. And if I knew a way around it, I would try to employ it.


©Marianne Schnall. No portion of this interview may be reprinted without permission of Marianne Schnall .

Marianne Schnall is a writer and interviewer who has worked for many publications. Marianne is the founder of the women's site Feminist.com and the co-founder of EcoMall.com, an environmental site. Through her diverse writings, interviews and websites, Marianne hopes to raise awareness about important issues and causes.

 


 

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