By Spencer Blohm
Amy Schumer is one of the most successful comedians of the 21st century. You could say she’s one of the top female comedians, but defining Schumer by her gender would go against what she stands for in her comedy. Schumer has a show on Comedy Central called Inside Amy Schumer (check here for listings), which is a network that has an audience that is 60 percent male. Despite these numbers, Schumer’s show pulls consistently high ratings that have only grown.
Schumer uses her bits to provide social commentary on the absurdities of the female experience in 2015. Her brash and overtly sexual style has generated backlash from some feminists, while other feminists praise Schumer for bringing the issues women face to a mainstream audience and into the conversation through humor. With her first starring role in Trainwreck (which she also wrote), due out on theaters July 17, Schumer has become nearly ubiquitous in pop culture this year.
Is Amy Schumer Really a Feminist?
Some critics have said Amy Schumer is not actually a feminist, and accuse her of exploiting the issues faced by women for laughs. One particular joke cited by feminists as offensive has Schumer playing a sensei instructing her pupils on “Female Emotional Combat”. They argue this joke perpetuates the stereotype that women are driven half insane by their emotions and manipulative in relationships.
Although most of her humor is self-deprecating, her critics point out that she is still the typical standard for female beauty: white, blonde, and skinny. They argue that since she fits the standard of American beauty, her sexual jokes are well-received.
While some criticism of Schumer’s material may be deserved, to say she is bad for feminism may be too bold. Feminism, like all ideas, has evolved since its conception. Many issues from the battle for equal rights still remain, but they have taken on a new shape since the dawn of the age of media overstimulation. Defenders of Schumer say she is the poster-woman of modern Feminism.
What Actually is “Modern Feminism”?
The biggest difference between “traditional” feminism and “modern” feminism is the attitude toward men. Many of the early feminists had an attitude of hatred towards men, and rightly so due to the oppressions faced by women. While this attitude was vital for pushing the movement forward, it cultivated a culture of exclusivity. Only women were feminists and one had to have a “women vs. men mentality.”
There are some women and men who hesitate to define themselves as feminists, but are still conscious and supportive of the issues women face. These are the modern feminists; the ones who see men and women as equal in every way, and therefore support full equal rights.
One of the key components of modern feminism is owning one’s sexuality. The old guard of feminism sees comedians like Amy Schumer as perpetuating the idea of women being sexual objects, but others see it as sexual liberation. It’s a similar battle to the one fought in the past by Madonna and currently by Beyonce in regards to people taking issue with their overtly sexualized look and it’s supposed contrast to their beliefs. Coming perhaps full circle, Madonna has recognized these parallels and invited Schumer to open for her upcoming shows in Madison Square Garden.
Schumer often jokes about the ridiculous body standards faced by women, as well as the sexual standards. One of her most powerful, and criticized, jokes is her joke on “Grape”, which is her word for the gray area of rape. The joke explains how every girl has experienced a sexual situation that wasn’t “go to jail” rape, but wasn’t exactly consensual. She cites a college hookup or forced intercourse from a boyfriend while she’s half-asleep as examples, which are two situations that resonate with women. Instead of poking fun at rape, this rape joke sheds light on a spectrum of rape most people don’t even give a second thought, which is why Schumer is a modern feminist.
Schumer is not the first female comedian to use sex or vulgarity as part of her persona, nor will she be the last. As she continues her rise to mainstream fame, the debate as to whether or not she is a feminist will become more polarized. The fact that she is so vocal about being a confident woman who loves herself shows that she is a true modern feminist.