Question: How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: That’s not funny.
The “humour” here is that feminists are allegedly killjoys who can’t take a joke. If that were true, would you blame us, given that much of what passes for comedy in pop culture is misogynist, racist, and homophobic? Adam Sandler, Judd Apatow, Howard Stern, and others of their ilk make me want to hide in a cave. In fact, though, every feminist I know loves a good laugh.
Indeed, we crave good comedy because, given the awful state of the world for most women, a bit of lightheartedness is a most welcome relief. Every summer I make a trip to Provincetown just to see the great comedy of Kate Clinton. For one hour I get to be part of a sympathetic audience listening to a lefty feminist who has a knack for mocking the absurdity of a culture that is corrupt, debased, and woman-hating.
When friends started to send me clips of Amy Schumer, I was both delighted and cautious — delighted because some of her work offers an excellent takedown of masculinity, misogyny and the sexual objectification of women, but cautious because Amy Schumer is clearly on her way to massive stardom, and anyone who studies corporate media knows that nothing coopts feminism quite like the profit-driven pop culture industries.
I had really hoped that Amy Schumer would beat the odds by building a comedy career with integrity. But the feminist in me knew deep down that the well-oiled machinery of corporate cooptation would come at her like a juggernaut. And here it is in all its glory on the cover of this month’s GQ.
It’s not at all surprising that, in a porn culture, Schumer would be silenced by a phallic image. Type “porn” into Google, and within 20 seconds you will see images of women being gagged with a penis till they choke. Unlike Schumer, these women are not making millions, and they don’t get awards from Glamour magazine where they can make jokes about “catching a dick” while dressed in expensive designer duds. These women are naked, with many “dicks” being pounded into their orifices as they struggle to deal with the physical and emotional assault that is now commonplace in porn. Indeed, most of these women would happily throw back the “dick” in exchange for decent housing, a livable wage, and affordable health and child care.
At the Glamour awards, Amy Schumer boasted that, at 160 pounds, she can always “catch a dick.” When I commented on my Facebook page that Schumer’s speech wasn’t anything to celebrate, I was told by well-meaning FB friends that I was missing the feminist message of the speech. It seems that if you are 160 pounds (fat by today’s skeletal standards for female celebrities) and still sexual (as measured by your ability to “catch a dick”), then you are an empowered feminist refusing to collaborate with today’s sexist beauty standard.
What is there to celebrate about “catching a dick?” I hate to break it to women, but men are not that picky about where they stick their penises. The company RealDoll does a brisk trade in selling sex dolls — I was told by a senior manager of the company that there is a long waitlist for these $6,000 items, whose “primary function,” according to Wikipedia, “is to serve as sex partners” and are “designed to recreate the appearance, texture, and weight of the human female.” So if a doll can “catch a dick,” then really, should women be measuring their sexual worth by how many men will stick a penis into them?
Ironically, as women are being increasingly silenced by having their mouths filled with penises or other phallic objects, sex doll company, True Companion, recently came out with the first-ever talking sex doll. According to their website, “Your TrueCompanion.com robot will deliver the ultimate in robot sex. Your sex robot will also be able to talk, listen, carry on a conversation…” I assume the “conversation” won’t be about women’s subordinate status in a patriarchy or how to organize a feminist protest, but more likely about how great the purchaser’s “dick” is and what she wants him to do with it. Maybe she will even say how empowered she is by having caught a dick!
Women who have broken into men’s spaces (comedy being one of them) have a feminist duty to other women to speak the truth of women’s lives, because other women fought tooth and nail to open those doors for them. Feminist comedians are especially well-suited to speak the unspeakable, because humour gives one license to speak the truth in ways that people often can hear. Amy Schumer certainly knows this, as some of her sketches have taken on topics such as the violent sports culture in a way that inserts a much-needed feminist voice into the national conversation.
As disappointed as some feminists are about the GQ cover, we shouldn’t be all that surprised, given that Schumer has a new film called Trainwreck to promote to mass audiences. Feminists are very familiar with this concept because we fight the trainwreck of patriarchy every day, and rather than buying into the porn culture imagery that silences us, we would do much better to use our voices to dismantle the power of the “dick.”
Gail Dines is a professor of Sociology and Women’s studies, and author of Pornland: How porn has Hijacked our Sexuality. She is the founding chair of Culture Reframed, a feminist non-profit health education organization.