Trainwreck: Feminist progress or postfeminist warning?

Warning: Contains minor spoilers

Amy has it all. She’s a “boss bitch” with a sick apartment and a job as a writer in NYC. Her character, also called Amy, sleeps with a ton of guys and doesn’t call them afterward, because all she wants is an orgasm or two. Sex positivity, woo!

But her seemingly carefree, empowered life is not all it’s cracked up to be. Amy’s toughened herself up in orderto become the ideal modern woman — a “cool girl” who can outdrink the guys and love ‘em and leave ‘em with no fuss no muss.

But while Huffington Post praises Schumer’s film as a “celebration of women’s rights” in its portrayal of sexual liberation, I’m not so sure.

Suffragette, for example, could be considered a filmic celebration of women’s rights… Trainwreck is not.

Buzzfeed hits closer to the mark, describing the film as a “critique of post-feminism.” Amy is a trainwreck and she’s not trying to “reclaim” the word. She’s not trying “destigmatize” sluttiness, or whatever it is liberals are playing at these days.

a_0Amy’s lifestyle isn’t celebrated, but rather presented as a manifestation of masochism. She sleeps with too many dudes, gets wasted every night, and smokes weed on the sly in public when she’s too annoyed/stressed to deal with what’s going on around her. Girl is a hot mess and she’s hurting inside.

Written by Schumer, the film is semi-autobiographical. There is certainly a sense of truth to it’s portrayal of the fun, confusion, and pain of being a woman in your early twenties.

Then the man comes along. Amy starts to fall for Aaron, a nice guy played by Bill Hader, but is afraid to make herself vulnerable. She’s been living a harsh life that, while not good for her, at least numbed her heart to pain.

The movie does follow rom-com rule number one — a man will solve all the female protagonist’s personal problems — but there are refreshing areas where the storyline diverges from the traditional path. The central conflict in the film is not a series of misunderstandings that prevent the two from being together – Amy and Aaron meet and get together without much of a hitch. Rather, the conflict arises after the two are coupled, as they wrestle with relationship expectations vs. reality. How do they both juggle their careers and their relationship? Where should Amy draw the line in being there for Aaron if it means sacrificing her own goals?

What shines the most throughout the film (and got the most laughs in my theater) is the undeniable moments of female perspective. When Amy is having a conversation with her sister, it feels like one sisters would genuinely have. Schumer wrote the film, in part, because she was sick of the same old stereotypes being portrayed about women over and over. In an interview on CBS Sunday Morning, she responds to the cliché that all women are clingy and want commitment ASAP by saying, “I don’t know any girls like that, actuallyGuys become the crazy texter.”

People are starting to realize that all women aren’t desperate to have kids and that many aren’t looking to immediately entrap themselves in a serious relationship. Plenty of women aren’t dating with marriage as the end goal or looking for “the one,” but instead are just dating casually and seeing where things go. Men, on the other hand, are turning out to be the needy ones, far from the commitment-phobes they’re portrayed to be.

The dude Amy is “seeing” at the beginning of the film later reveals that he was planning to ask her to marry him and is crushed when he learns she’s not that into him. Instead of comforting his bruised ego by pretending to be excited that he wanted to marry her, Amy just wants to go home — she’s way too high to deal with that drama. The whole exchange is. so. true.

In my experience and that of female friends, men are much more likely to want to entrap you into a serious relationship, get you to move in and become their housekeeper, cook, mommy, and all around devoted wifey. It scares them when you live on your own and have your own shit going on. If you’ve been with a guy who wasn’t like this, congrats, he’s halfway decent. But I’m sure you’ve seen shades of this sense of ownership, entitlement, and jealousy in even your chillest boyfriend.

NBA player, Lebron James plays himself, as Aaron’s best bro, and delivers a legit funny performance. (Side note: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie with so many gratuitous athlete cameos. Fan service to appease the men for watching a “chick flick?”)

In one scene, Lebron asks Amy, “What are your intentions with my boy?” It’s a great moment, because men actually DO do this thing! When you first start dating, a man’s friends will grill you about being “serious” with him, because they want to make sure that he has a firm grip over you and that you will not capriciously slip away.

In the end, (spoiler, but not really) Amy and Aaron affirm their love for each other… But it doesn’t feel like happily ever after. Amy makes it clear throughout the film that she hates children and has no intention of ever having any, while Aaron says he wants two by the time he’s 40.

You may be thinking, “But Amy changes over the course of the film. Maybe she changes on that.” Sure, Amy learns to open up and let herself be loved, but her distaste for children isn’t really related to that. Even as she gets closer to Aaron and quits some of her more destructive habits, she still likes doing her own thing and having freedom. There are absolutely no hints in the film that she would change those core aspects of herself to such an extent that she’d want to become a mother.

So Aaron and Amy’s whole relationship is pretty much doomed. Aaron is Mr. Right… For right now, at least. They won’t last forever, but that’s okay. They make each other immensely happy, so they’re going to be together even if it’s not permanent.

All in all, is there a feminist message in this raunchy rom-com? I think so. Trainwreck is directed and produced by Judd *gag* Apatow, which might explain some of the gross-out humor, but it feels like there’s more of Schumer in it than Apatow, and her autobiographical honesty is the film’s biggest strength.

It must be pointed out that John Russell Houser, a notorious misogynist, also saw the film as connected to feminism and the advancement of women’s rights. He entered a movie theater that was screening Schumer’s film in LaFayette, Louisiana on July 23rd, shot and killed two women sitting in front of him, and injured nine more people before turning the gun on himself. He had written the name of the movie and show time in his journal before the shooting, indicating it was premeditated and that he chose a screening of Trainwreck, specifically, for his rampage. Like Elliot Rodger, Houser murdered random women in an act of revenge against the female sex. Unlike Rodger, Houser left no “manifesto” explaining his actions, but frequently expressed his anti-feminist views at work and on conservative TV shows. There is little doubt in my mind that Houser chose Trainwreck specifically because of the film’s independent female lead character and Schumer’s reputation as a feminist comedian.

Men like Elliot Rodger, George Sordini, and John Russell Houser are not alone – mass shootings in the U.S. are commonly perpetrated by white male misogynists. These men are furious at women for stepping out of their prescribed roles in the patriarchal order.

A question I ask myself often is: “Is this a backlash to feminism gaining ground, or are things simply getting worse?”

Are men reacting violently to a crumbling patriarchy? Or is patriarchal propaganda gaining a stronger grip on men via technological advancements and an image-based media that constructs women as sex-dolls?

Does Amy Schumer’s film represent feminist progress? Or does her character represent a horrifying new norm wherein young women who have internalized porn culture disconnect from their own bodies, numbing themselves with alcohol and drugs in order to cope?

I don’t know the answers. But after thinking about it for a while, I feel like I need a good laugh. I recommend watching the film with your gal pals for some relief.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.