I didn’t “get” Joan Rivers until I was in my twenties and trolling Youtube watching clips of old comedians doing stand up. Until that point I knew her only as the doll like old lady who delighted in shredding the images of popular stars and was gleefully engaged in a vitriolic one-sided feud with my eternal beloved.

Joan Rivers made her living skewering the rest of the world. No one and nothing was off limits. She unleashed insults so homophobic, transphobic, racist and misogynist that Fox News probably thought of making her an anchor. While many, including the old bag herself, would claim that this was all to “shed light” on the disenchfranchised it was difficult to swallow. I mean the woman once tweeted Rihanna about her beating at Chris Brown’s hands. She was tasteless and had the tact of my dog off the leash in a butcher’s shop.

Her climb to fame was drenched in the tears of a helluva lot of people and her vicious anti-women approach to life was often repugnant.

So no, she is not a feminist icon.

But she was pioneer for comedians and women.

There’s a difference there. That’s pretty important for us all to understand. A feminist icon tirelessly works for all women. They practice the feminism they preach. A feminist icon can be a pioneer, but a pioneer, particularly a woman pioneer, doesn’t have to be a feminist icon.

Maya Angelou. Feminist icon.

Leni Riefenstahl. Pioneer.

Joan worked within the system (though not so far into the system that she was a dirty Nazi like good ol’ Leni). Even in her 60s updo and mod dress she was one of the boys. Playing into stereotypes and than savagely subverting them with a husky voiced quip that ignored all race, religion and creed. She helped create a new brand of stand up comedy and built inroads into that boys club that allowed women like Roseanne, Margaret Cho, Sarah Silverman and Wanda Sykes.

The kind of comedy she practiced was arch. A heavily stylized rhythm and beat we just don’t hear nowadays, but with a startlingly modern underpinning. It was, to some extent, the purest kind of comedy. There were no taboos. No subject or person was off limits. Even her own plastic surgery was fair game.

Though I’m not sure why she would have wanted to attack it. It might end up being the longest surviving part of her legacy–even if its six feet under.

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