Inside Amy Schumer: Just enough feminism? Or not feminist enough?

Curator's Note

Popular discussions about Amy Schumer’s Comedy Central series, Inside Amy Schumer (2013) sometimes focus on how feminist it is. And although the show does feature sketches from a female perspective and critiques misogyny and sexism, I’m not sure how feminist it is. But as someone who is also a funny person, it is quite often some of the funniest stuff on contemporary TV. Take for example the accompanying clip from Schumer’s second season. The butt of the joke is military bureaucracy and the obstacles in reporting sexual assault in the armed forces. Schumer’s sketch includes the ways in which female soldiers are pressured not to report, as well as the ways in which assaulted soldiers endure character assassination, and the failure of the military’s judicial review processes. To me, this dichotomy of the “rape jokes are protected speech/women just don’t have a sense of humor” debate that I see taking place in the media is frustrating. I am particularly interested in engaging with others about how feminist is it in simply writing a sketch that enumerates the experiences so many women already know to be true; does the humor lie in the ways women and other marginalized groups of people recognize how ridiculous this treatment is, while also being sadly familiar for women who have experienced sexual assault? Additionally, the sketch’s ending leaves so much to be desired. The sketch ends as it begins, a couple sitting on a couch playing video games. In this way Inside Amy Schumer creates content that ensures, the equilibrium of the situation is restored in the same ways a network sitcom does, reducing discomfort or disruption of the status quo to the audience. If the sketches on Inside Amy Schumer did little to return equilibrium to the situation, and went instead in a disruptive direction, would the sketch be more, or less, funny?


Thank you for this, Diana. I think these questions (what counts as "feminism," can there be an actual "rape joke" that "works," etc.) are important and complicated. I just started watching Inside Amy Schumar (only on Season 1) and have had a similar reaction--confused why it's being lauded as "feminist" and also, often times, laughing a lot. I was particularly horrified when, during one of the stand-up portions of the show, she made the "everyone has been raped a little bit" joke. Just horrifying, and definitely *not* feminist. I am equally confused as whether or not this sketch counts as "feminism." Or, rather, how is it *funny*? The video game obviously makes the content (like the straight white couple) more palatable, but I'm not sure it's funny OR feminist. Like you, I'm left with more questions than answers. My final thought is that if it is feminist, it is a mainstream feminism that lacks attention to intersectionality. Of course, it is horrifying and not okay for women to be assaulted or raped (ever, ever ever), but I believe an intersectional feminism would also not necessarily support working hard to keep women (or anyone) in the US racist, imperialist military. Protecting US female soldiers ignores the women (and men and children) abroad who those same women are complicit in violencing. Thanks for the post.

This is a complex text and topic – thanks for the post Diana. I'm not sure if I can definitively answer the questions you're posing, but I find the detail with which the sketch goes about its social critique of the culture of the military fascinating and applaudable. At the end of the sketch, for example, the boyfriend returns, declaring, “I checked the message boards and it doesn't say anything, so obviously you did something wrong and it's probably best you don't play. Okay?” In her powerlessness, Schumer can only make a disgusted face and continue watching the game. While this ending may seem unsatisfying, it smartly ends where it began, yet with Schumer, and the audience, now in knowing disbelief (and, hopefully, outrage) at the kinds of institutional practices that go unchecked in our society, not to mention the ignorant and oblivious persons (sometimes loved ones!) that uphold the status quo (i.e. the boyfriend). It's hard to tell if the sketch would have lost or gained any of its humor with an ending that gives us a more direct, literal confrontation with the issue, but where its humor might not have been affected it's constitution as a subversively toned, satirical social critique would surely be altered. The confusion, anger, and loathing seen on Schumer's face are the attitudes we empathize with as an audience. By continuing these emotions up to and through the end, the sketch deprives us of any feel-good closure that might dissuade us from thinking anything more about the topic after the sketch concludes.

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