Amy Schumer has no shortage of recent achievements: She had a gig at Carnegie Hall, she created the popular TV show Inside Amy Schumer, and she's writing and starring in her own movie. But her most incredible accomplishment is how she convinced us all that feminism can be really funny.
Her stand-up and sketches skewering gender double-standards have made her a feminist hero, a savior for all oppressed by this sexist world. “It would be really hyperbolic to compare Amy Schumer to Jesus, but Amy Schumer is basically exactly like Jesus,” Meredith Haggerty recently wrote on Splitsider.
Yes, Schumer’s critique of misogyny is what makes her comedy feel so redemptive. However, it’s not what makes her great.
That comes from the way she indicts women too.
Schumer goes beyond the expected takedowns of bad, dumb men to include the ways in which women are a party to sexism. It's upon this edge that her comedy rests, morphing it from a pablum P.S.A. announcement to a potent social critique.
Schumer's first skit to go viral was about a group of female friends who absolutely can't take a compliment from one another. "Are you drunk? I look like an Armenian man," Schumer says when someone compliments her hat:
This bit isn't just about how horrible women are to themselves — and they are! — it's also a critique of our sensitivity to looking good. We're hesitant to admit it because we know how easily such an acknowledgement can create a sense of imbalance among friends.
Also on her target list are the "cool girls," those ladies who are totally down with whatever guys like, be it cheeseburgers, strip clubs, or football:
These are the women who roll their eyes at uptight women who just don't know how to "hang." But their sense of liberation is an illusion — one that Schumer's comedy shatters — because they aren't actually guys.
Then there's the recent sketch in which Schumer plays an actress named Amy Lake Blively who appears on a late night talk show:
In it, we get a great send-up of the flirty, borderline inappropriate male host (a staple of network TV) and a certain blond actress (her name rhymes with Lake Blively). "Blively" performs femininity by being both unthreateningly goofy and golden-limbed sexy, a shtick that's been besotting men for years and is read by women as pure artifice.
But Schumer's critiques of women might work best when concealed within a critique of men.
Take this season's "12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer":
Here we watch a jury of men debate whether or not Amy is hot enough to be on TV. It's a hilarious takedown of entitled masculinity — so funny that it is easy to ignore the way in which we are all implicated when watching it. Because by the end of the clip, we're all rooting for the jury to decide that she is, indeed, hot enough. Remember, it's not whether or not a woman's hotness should determine her eligibility for a television show that is on trial, it's whether Schumer is hot enough for hers. We all, Schumer included, want the answer to be yes.
Here's the thing: Women are active participants in the patriarchy. We buy tabloid magazines that meticulously track other women's weight and their love lives, even if we don't want to be judged by ours. We go to Soul Cycle so we can take sexy selfies of ourselves wearing bandage dresses. We have our pubic areas waxed so we can wear skimpy bikinis, and we talk about getting "back" our bodies after childbirth — as if our real bodies went somewhere else. We obsess over our kids, turning motherhood into an unnecessarily large job packed with extracurriculars and neatly arranged bento boxes for school lunch. And then, possibly our worst sin of all, we swear that none of it was a big deal.
This is not an indictment of those activities, or an attempt to draw lines in the feminist sand. It's just a reminder that all this isn't just happening to us.
In her 2005 book Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy writes about "why young women today are embracing raunchy aspects of our culture that would likely have caused their feminist foremothers to vomit." She's talking about the types of women who swear that stripping is empowering, who say they like to look hot for themselves. We like to think this is our choice, that we are sexually liberated — but is this really the case for many, if not most, of us?
What Schumer's comedy does so well is push us not only to observe the misogyny around us, but to take notice of the ways in which we've internalized it. Her work reminds us how large that specter of the hotness is, and how firm a grasp it has on all of our aesthetic and moral imaginations — not just the dudes. In her best moments, she exposes the spot where vulnerability and outrage over this hotness meet, that part us that wishes we were just a little bit hotter and then hates ourself for it.
She's showing us to ourselves, and we have no choice but to laugh about it.