Why Amy Schumer is a Total Feminist
She’s been called “fearlessly feminist” with “one of the most important and freshest comedic voices coming squarely from a woman's perspective.” And yet she’s managed to reach this break-out success on the predominately male network, Comedy Central.
While the network’s audience is 60% male, the premiere season of Inside Amy Schumer scored higher ratings than the network’s two other premiere shows, the Jeselnik Offensive and Kroll Show. Schumer’s ratings among men aged 18-34 beat the male-led comedies by 16 and 12% respectively and her special “Mostly Sex Stuff” was the second highest rated on the network in five years.
As the ad buys for the network are targeted towards men, the fear of alienating her male audience with her decidedly female-oriented content is a legitimate concern. But it hasn’t stopped Schumer from trying to bring women to the network. On this she has said, “Do I want women to watch and am I sending a message? My instinct is a little bit to whisper ‘yes.’ That doesn’t seem like something you’d have to whisper, but it really is.”
While she may have to hide this agenda from network execs, her largely sex-focused comedy that muses on casual sex, gender roles, and even sexual consent, creates an opportunity to discuss issues of feminist concern in a male-dominated space. Leaving some feminist critics to wonder if under the pressure of maintaining the male gaze, her “female-centric take on bro-comedy,” does more to perpetuate and reinforce gender stereotypes than it does to challenge them.
In using her existing platform to bring her “astute observations about what it’s like to be a woman” to the attention of her male audience, she is actually calling on men to question, or at the very least notice, the insecurities and inequalities that women face and their role in maintaining them. While at the same time, she is also sending the message to women that we should find these insecurities as ridiculous and ultimately laughable, as she portrays them to be.
In my favorite clip from the last episode of the season, Schumer plays a magazine executive at fictional Glamo magazine, ordering her staff to come up with 500 hottest sex tips to include in the next issue. Among the most ridiculous, here is my personal favorite:
While clearly taken to an extreme, the tips brainstormed in this meeting don’t feel as far-fetched from actual sex tips in women’s magazines as they should. Here Schumer is highlighting the manifestation of yet another female insecurity encouraged, if not created, by women’s magazines – the concern that we aren’t good enough in bed and that there is always more we could do to “drive him wild.”
Amy hosts a gang bang in the name of feminism “to prove that women are not objects.” When she sees the more than a dozen men who responded to the Craigslist Ad, the reality of what she’s about to do sets in and she decides to cancel it stating “I hate that women are objectified but I’m feeling like I could do a little less to prove that point.” When one of the participants expresses his relief that the gang bang is not going forward, explaining that she’s not his body type, she quickly changes her mind and instructs everyone to come f*ck her. To which he replies, “don’t you find it to be a little unfeminist that you only wanna have sex with me because I’m not that into it? Sounds like you wanna be objectified don’t you think?” In response to this Amy’s head explodes, followed by a series of illustrations and photographs of famous feminist women’s heads exploding as well.
Here she uses the gang bang to poke fun at the idea that women can objectify themselves in the name of empowerment while also pointing out the often real dilemma that women are more interested in men who reject them, even self-proclaimed feminists. Through pointing out our own insecurities with our bodies and the tendency to attempt to overcome these insecurities with sex, she is not excusing men’s role in contributing to these insecurities but holding women accountable for their own interpretations of empowerment.
Schumer also likes to play with the reversal of gender roles, most obviously in her sketch, Lunch at O’Nutter’s, a male version of Hooters, complete with tight-fitting uniforms and overly flirtatious waiters. She’s invited a male co-worker along who, in the wake of a break up, is able to successfully lift his spirits by winning the “wet nut contest.” In one clear-cut example she’s able to highlight the absurdity of how common place and accepted the objectification of women has become and how ridiculous attempting to reverse this objectification onto a man would be.
One of Schumer's most popular sketches involves a group of girlfriends running into each other on the street, bombarding each other with compliments, followed by self-deprecating responses, such as:
“Look at your cute little dress!”
“Little? I’m like a size a hundred now. Anyway I paid like 2 dollars for it. It’s probably made out of old Burger King crowns. I look like a whore locked out of her apartment.”
Until a mutual friend approaches them and in response to the compliment immediately thrown at her, she replies with a simple, "Thank you." To which the entire group responds by committing mass suicide.
This is perhaps Schumer's best depiction of the female friend dynamic which encompasses the tendency to be constantly encouraging of others, while belittling your own accomplishments, and refusing to acknowledge the positive reinforcements your friends offer. Schumer so perfectly pinpoints this bizarre and incredibly common habit of ours and allows us to laugh at it while questioning why we are so unable to accept praise from even our closest of friends.
On Body Image
In short commercial-like sketches, Schumer creates a series of fictional diet and exercise regimes geared towards women, each more ridiculous than the next.
Starting with a Slap Chef, a dieting program in which, “one of slap chef’s world class chefs makes you one of their signature dishes, then before you can say ‘slap chef’ they knock it out of your stupid mouth” – a play on the range of dieting programs such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and Nutrisystem, marketed primarily to women. Then there’s Sleep Gym, a gym membership that knocks you unconscious while physical trainers move your comatose body through vigorous workout routines, taking all of the hard work out of fitness. And lastly the most extreme, Sever Spine, which eliminates your bulky nervous system to help shed a few pounds.
In the ridiculousness of these three short sketches, Schumer is pointing out the insane pressure women feel to stay fit and lose weight and the existing ridiculous workout routines and eating programs that repeatedly suggest women aren’t able to control how much we eat or workout, and ultimately what we weigh, without them.
In her standup routine, Schumer jokes about the gray area of rape, or what she calls “grape.” Stating that “we’ve all been a little raped” she goes on to describe waking up hung-over in the morning and being surprised by who is lying next to you, something male comedians have referenced for years, but goes on to note that what just happened was “not totes consench [consensual].”
While rape jokes have been a topic of widespread debate since Daniel Tosh’s controversy last year, in this case Schumer’s joke is not a personal attack nor is it condoning rape in general. Schumer has stated in interviews that she’s experienced this “gray area rape” herself, as so many of us have. She is not implying by any means that it is okay, she is simply stating the fact that it happens, to a lot of us. She hopes by mentioning something that is so rarely discussed, she is allowing both men and women to think of sex while intoxicated as a complicated issue, one she hopes to imply that's actually really not okay.
Schumer herself identifies as a feminist, and while she may be less than perfect in tackling some of these issues (and let’s not forget, sometimes so are we) it works to our benefit to commend her for trying. She may not be able to singlehandedly transform comedy into a feminist art form overnight, but if she manages to get a single dudebro to question the everyday sexism he partakes in, or a whole gaggle of them to at least notice it, then perhaps it will work to our benefit to have her on our side.